We continue to harbour a keen interest in Singapore’s exciting food scene. It seems that every other day a new eatery, restaurant, café, bakery or bar opens. The list of restaurants to check out is constantly growing.
Our foodie friends have checked out the oh-so-hip-it-hurts establishments at Everton Park and Dakota Crescent, and have even rushed down after work on a Friday night to queue up at strictly no-reservations eateries. The F&B landscape is positively thriving. In this bullish market, however, there are consequences. We all know that the lifespan of a trendy restaurant is not very long. How many times have you schlepped down to the other side of town only to find that your food destination has ceased operations?
What is the secret to standing out from a crowded food scene and sustaining an F&B operation that continues to welcome regulars, you ask? While we are no authority in operating a food business, we can offer come observations and thoughts from our experience in food writing.
Think about the design and concept
As a diner, we’ve always found myself enjoying being in a “buzzy” F&B outlet. The atmosphere could come from the clientele, décor, background music, location or even the right amount of white noise. You can bet that the restaurateur has thoroughly thought about the concept—and the design—when you experience a buzz.
It seems that the establishment with a clear concept thrives. We often feel that the restaurant’s design is almost as important as the food. After all, if you were looking solely for good food, a great hawker centre would suffice. Think of Spa Esprit Group’s successful chain of eateries or even Din Tai Fung as great examples of F&B outlets with clear concepts and aesthetically pleasing interior décor.
Offer food that caters to everyone
When we think about longevity in the food business, we always notice that those that cater to a wide audience often do better than those that pull out all the stops to impress. Of course, there are establishments that do very well in the fine dining milieu. But unless you are a celebrity chef or have signed on with one of the big food groups (i.e. Tung Lok, Les Amis), you may want to stay away from the “special occasion” market.
The point is that you want people in your restaurant. Food and concept that is approachable (and, not to mention, affordable) is well received with everybody, from the university student to the retired couple. And if you win them over with your food and concept, you can bet on repeat visits—and word-of-mouth recommendations.
However, that does not mean you should stray from your restaurant’s concept. A good example of a restaurant that caters to everyone would be Poulet. A French concept restaurant that provides good French food at affordable prices.
We’ve mentioned buzzy eateries that are oh-so-popular that you have to make reservations weeks in advance (if they allow bookings). What is their secret? Creating buzz is a kind of art.
Work the social media engine and upload photos of your food, décor and patrons every other day.
Organise parties, invite your best looking friends and upload plenty of pictures on Facebook.
Invite trigger-happy bloggers and get them to post photos of your party/ food/ décor on their pages.
The thing about social media is that the noisier you are, the more buzz you create. Another trick is to make your establishment appear in demand—this reiterates points 1 and 2 where you have to create a place where people want to be (i.e. stylish-looking space and a full restaurant).
When creating noise for your restaurant, you want to be as visible as possible. Think about signing up with booking engines like Chope and Reserveit. These allow your name to be easily found when Googled as well as allow shy/ lazy diners to make bookings with a click of a button.
Hire the right PR team
A very effective way to create buzz is to hire the right PR people. There are a handful of agencies that specialise in F&B PR that can help you get the word out on your business through journalists that matter. Journalists rely heavily on these PR people to clue in on the latest openings during my food magazine days.
When your PR team disseminates the press kit and invites journalists over to your restaurant, you can be sure of being covered in a few titles.
Your PR team is also crucial when you are not a new outfit any more and you would like to remain in the consciousness of consumers. They would reach out to magazines and newspapers to pitch for an interview with the chef or restaurateur, or at the very least, offer up your venue for a photo shoot. When the average reader comes across your business’ name a few times, he or she will want to check out what all the fuss is about.
To summarize, although the food and beverage industry is saturated, it is possible to stand out from the crowd. All it takes is a little work, some creativity and a whole lot of perseverance.