Founded in 1919, the National Restaurant Association today has more than 60,000 members, for whom it provides education programs, networking opportunities, research and solutions to help generate revenue. As the organizer of a huge annual trade show—last year's event drew 2,200 exhibitors and 71,500 registrants—the association has a broad view of the challenges and opportunities facing the restaurant business. BtoB recently asked Annika Stensson, director of media relations for the NRA, about industry trends and best marketing practices.
BtoB: How is the economic recession affecting restaurant owners?
Stensson: The current economic conditions are the most challenging since the early 1980s for restaurants. Cautious consumer spending and rising operating costs are squeezing restaurants' already slim profit margins. Restaurants are coping by controlling costs any way they can—monitoring waste and negotiating with suppliers, for example. Some general trends we're seeing that help them do this and drive traffic include “going green” to cut back on utilities—such as saving water and energy—and offering value specials to entice consumers.
BtoB: What particular product or service areas are driving interest right now?
Stensson: Water- and energy-saving equipment is definitely attractive to restaurant operators right now. In fact, [establishing] sustainable practices is the best way to save money according to our recent survey of 1,600 chefs [“Third Annual Chef Survey: What's Hot in 2009”]. While many are cautious about capital spending, investing in this type of equipment shows ROI pretty quickly.
BtoB: What types of marketing messages and media are most effective at this time?
Stensson: If you're talking about marketing to consumers, anything related to value specials and promotions—dollar menus, two-for-ones, kids eat free, etc.—is hitting the spot. For restaurateurs, anything that can help cut operating costs, increase productivity and drive customer traffic is attractive. As far as media, we're seeing some shifting to online and electronic marketing channels, as they tend to be cost-effective and it's also how many consumers prefer to receive that information. —M. E. M.