Brand Building: The All You Can Eat vs the Gourmet Restaurant Strategy

Table setting*

My nickname and personal brand is Tad Chef. I’m not cooking or working at a restaurant despite that. It’s just that my real name is both difficult to spell and pronounce outside of Poland, the place I was born. The first syllable of my last name sounds like “Chef” though. Nonetheless I will use a food metaphor or allegory today because it is so apt when describing business strategy. It’s also easy to understand.

We all may work in different industries but we all need food and at least occasionally eat out.

A week or so ago I have written a post on how fast food generic brands can help spread the word about a business and ultimately make it succeed. Today I will compare two kinds of approaches you will find a lot in the restaurant business. There is the all you can eat and there is the gourmet restaurant strategy. None of them is really better than the other in my opinion but we can learn a lot from both. So it’s not just another simplistic quantity vs quality antagonism here.

It’s about building a brand that takes the best aspects of both quality and pricing to make their customers happy.

It’s not just quantity vs quality when it comes to branding, it’s also about trust and scarcity. How can we combine both to make our products or services worthwhile?

Let me tell you a story first. After I left college I worked at an Internet agency as a web developer for a while. As it was the good old days of the new economy I earned a lot more money than I had as as student prior to that job.

So I went to lunch to an exclusive gourmet restaurant with a coworker once, indeed we did that from time to time but this one experience was so memorable that I still had to think about it recently. Sadly it wasn’t memorable because of the superb quality of this gourmet place. I do not even remember how it tasted. We went there right after work so I was hungry. After sitting all day building websites

I was indeed hungry not just willing to try new kinds of food or something so I ordered an ordinary sounding menu including meat.

Despite having a table right away we had to wait quite a while until the food got served, after all it was a high quality restaurant. Of course I didn’t want to appear to be a barbarian so I waited patiently for more than an hour but also my desperation grew. Then finally the waiter approached with the expensive meal, it was I think 4 to 5 times as costly as the food in an average place.

The plates were almost empty, with just a touch of potatoes and a piece of meat not even big enough for a kid. I almost started weeping. I ate that in what appeared to be half a minute and then fled the place as fast as possible to never return again. Watching my desperation I think my coworker paid for the meal as an apology. I think I also entered the next fast food place I normally wouldn’t visit just to still my hunger.

So was it a bad restaurant? I guess it wasn’t. It failed miserably at feeding a guest though.

It was most probably just a place to eat out of curiosity not hunger. There are many luxury or at least expensive type of products that are perfectly impractical or downright useless. A Ferrari has no room for your friends or even luggage. Some designer watches are so difficult to read that you have to stare at them for a while until you can guess the time.

Some enterprise SEO software is so expensive that I won’t even be able test it as an SEO blogger.

I have been eating out a lot on the weekends with another coworker of mine. This guy was a very active young man who would dance all night and then go out with me on the next day again. So we were usually hungry as well. On Sunday we would go out to eat a brunch.

A brunch around here means you pay a fixed price once but can take as much as you want. In the rather modern cities where you have a lot of young people the prices are also moderate. It’s still more expensive than a fast food place and higher quality too of course but it only costs as much as a normal meal would in a restaurant.

So a typical brunch is basically “all you can eat”, one price no matter the amount of food a single person eats.

Also it’s self-service, the plates get served on a long table usually where everybody can pick their favorite dishes. So you don’t have to think about money all the time, you can focus on the pleasure of eating. Last but not least the food is ready on arrival, no need to wait for it while staying hungry.

I’ve already written that you can’t build up a business on low price only. By being cheap you signal low value or quality. By being too expensive you can’t succeed on a large scale either. Just think about luxury car brands like Rolls Royce. Only a select few will be able to afford them. So

you want to aim at the sweet spot of still competitive price while at the same time high perceived value.

Just look at the Tesla Model S. It’s both a ground-breaking electric car while it’s not yet costly enough to be only a toy for the rich. It’s competitor Fisker Karma was in contrast much more expensive, the teenage superstar Justin Bieber drives one made of chrome for example. Fisker had to file for bankruptcy, despite serving a growing market of cool electric cars.

The pricing is such a good compromise.

It starts at roughly $75 a month which is not really cheap but not expensive either. The most popular plan is twice as much with approx. $150 and fits the typical consultant profile with a few third party sites to work on. Even the agency pricing model is still not exuberant with ca. 4 times the entry level plan. It offers both white-label and a custom domain so that the reports can be branded.

The pricing is to a large extent a crucial part of the brand building strategy.

Depending on the price you can get viewed as low level or far off but you can can also impress with value for a reasonable price.

To make sure the costs do not skyrocket while customers underpay you have to set up some limits that make sense. On SERPs we have a limit on the number of keywords and websites. Even the starter plan offers 300 keywords and 10 websites though. You won’t leave our restaurant hungry with that but we will still make enough money to keep the service running smoothly.


* Creative Commons image by Dennis Wong