Learn how to stand out from the competition and create a successful concept for your restaurant without running out of budget!

13 mins read

Hospitality and catering are interrelated, while also being interdependent industries. We travel in order to experience the culture of a place, to taste the marrow of its tradition. For the visitor, sharing a greek salad and a bottle of Assyrtiko is an experience as important as exploring an archeological site.

In addition, the connection between tourism and gastronomy is strengthened even more in recent decades with the continuous rise of gastrotourism, the most important travel trend of the time. According to the World Tourism Organization, food is now one of the three main criteria for choosing a destination for most travellers around the world (UNWTO).

This way, we can understand the importance of the gastronomic experience that our hotel is expected to offer.

The Significance of the Gastronomic Proposal of a Hotel

It is no coincidence that the most successful hotel companies give great importance to their gastronomy. The restaurant, if properly structured, can be the soul of a hotel and beneficial in two ways, adding prestige by strengthening its corporate identity and contributing independently in the increase of the turnover. A gastronomic proposal can be the spearhead of a hotel brand in the battle for supremacy against the competition.

For example, Nobu Hotels by Nobu Matsuhisa and Robert DeNiro formed their corporate identity based on the popularity of the name of Chef Matsuhisa. He pioneered Japanese Fusion cuisine and spread it to the West, serving as a solid and unique base for the creation of Nobu Hotels. Each hotel unit (Barcelona, Chicago, Ibiza, Las Vegas, Los Campos, etc.) offered a different experience for their guests.

You can view the Instagram profile of Nobu Hotels here

Differentiating your product will attract more and more loyal customers

What these companies have in common, is that they have (at least) one strong Unique Selling Proposition (USP). USP is a term that first introduced by the American advertiser Rosser Reeves in the 1940s and to this day, it is one of the most widespread and influential marketing concepts. It refers to the feature that “dramatically differentiates” a product or service from the competition and makes it unique.

The benefits of a strong USP are the following, it attracts a larger portion of consumers, it increases the public loyalty to the company and it can provide flexibility in pricing the goods, which results in greater profits. A complementary and processing type of hotel restaurant does not need USP, but it is a prerequisite for a restaurant that aspires to be a point of reference, that attracts guests and reap the benefits.

Developing a USP is a demanding, multidimensional but extremely effective method and you  can follow it in five simple steps.

Step 1: Develop your USP according to your customers’ profile

The development of a USP begins with the identification and detailed description of the target group(s). The description of the target group is based on demographic characteristics such as age, nationality and income, but also on the motivation that invites the customer in your hotel (e.g. family vacation, business trip, etc.) as well as the consumer behavior of potential customers, i.e. the interests, the period of their stay in a specific destination, as well as the budget they are willing to spend for accommodation and food.

As with any other product or service, a hotel must target a very specific audience. This is a very important practice, since prospective visitors have ever-increasing choices, and through them they are longing to express their “individuality”. If you are addressing everyone, then you are probably not addressing anyone.

Step 2: Create a Concept after studying the market trends and having analysed the industry in which you operate

Based on the hotel’s target audience, the prevailing restaurant and gastronomic trends, and the microeconomic and macroeconomic analysis of the market, the concept of the restaurant can be developed, and this includes the corporate identity, the style of the restaurant, the type of kitchen, the aesthetics of the space etc.

Ideally, the USPs are being developed simultaneously and sometimes define a restaurant’s concept.

One of the most common mistakes made in concept creation is extreme conventionality. Hoteliers are people with a developed sense of hospitality and in their effort to satisfy every need of their visitors, they try to balance a menu (SETE, 2009):

  • the need of tourists to consume familiar, conventional, and “international” food,
  • the desire of tourists to discover the flavors of the place they visit, and all the gastronomic trends of the time.

This is obviously impossible. The inadequacy of this equation in combination with the existence of a single restaurant sets specific creative constraints. The existence of conventional and “international” proposals, for example, for breakfast, room service menu and swimming pool is from legitimate to necessary (depending on the hotel’s audience).

In order for a concept to be successful, it takes courage to reject the idea that a restaurant is required to meet all requirements for all hours of operation. If the coexistence of a club sandwich, burger, pizza and greek salad on the menu is a must for a restaurant, it must automatically accept the complete lack of identity and the significant quality restrictions that arise from a kitchen that produces “a little bit of everything”. Sometimes, it may be necessary to separate the restaurant’s night shift operation and establish a different corporate identity specifically for it.

Create a menu with a few, but good dishes.

The prevailing international trend, which is enhanced over time, places quality and specialisation (technical and geographical) both at the top of the podium at the expense of variety. The technical specialisation concerns the type of cuisine that becomes as specific as possible: for example, instead of a Japanese restaurant, a yakitori, ramen, tempura, sushi or kaiseki restaurant is suggested. While geographical specialisation refers to the focus with a magnifying glass on a single part of the map, as small as possible: for example, instead of Greek cuisine, Messinian or Cretan cuisine is suggested. The idea of ​​”unpretentious” and specialised gastronomy, of course, is neither new nor groundbreaking: The Nouvelle Cuisine manifesto, written by Gault and Millau in the 1970s, is based on the doctrine of “Reduce the size of menus, based on fresh, local ingredients and return to local cooking ”and describes the obvious: Legally, if you make a few things you know well, the result is more likely to be excellent.

The concept, therefore, must be specific and adapted to the target groups of the hotel.

An obvious choice is the local cuisine, which is the first in the preferences of tourists of any destination, especially if it has a well-established gastronomic identity (with obvious European examples countries such as France and Italy). However, local cuisine is not a panacea. Both the trends of lifestyle and fitness in hospitality and catering, are located at the diametrically opposite end of the axis from tradition and locality (for further information study the tool “market mapping”). Therefore, “lifestyle” hotels have chosen the concept of their main restaurant to be based on sushi (cuisine associated with lifestyle) and invest on the popular breakfast suggestions, such as poke and smoothie bowls. Everything depends, again, on the audience we are addressing.

Step 3: Identify and Analyse your Competitors and Compare them with your own business

According to Thorsten Heins (Former CEO of multinational companies) “If you are at the same level with your competitors, then you are lost”. In order to stand out, a business must have an excellent understanding of the market in which it enters. Therefore, the next step involves identifying-analysing competing restaurants and classifying them into direct and indirect competitors. Direct are those who provide the same services, are in the same area, have similar prices and similar concepts. Indirect are those in which deviations in one (perhaps two) of the above criteria are important, but these restaurants still have overlapping target groups and are comparable in the consciousness of the prospective consumer with what you represent.

The analysis of competitors, could ideally be listed in an excel file and it could include objective elements of each restaurant such as cuisine, aesthetics, size, opening hours, possible awards, image of the restaurant on online rating platforms such as Tripadvisor, online presence and prices. It could also include elements that need critical thinking to be extracted, such as USPs and general benefits. It is therefore necessary to visit the direct competitors, at least, to see for yourself what they do well and what they do not, in order to evaluate the experience they offer and to collect data that may not be available online (prices). At the end of this step, it is suggested that a SWOT analysis is performed in order to help you identify the points where you are superior and those where you are behind the competition, as well as to identify opportunities and threats.

Step 4: The USP should be attractive to the customer, in order to set you apart from your competitors and match the concept of your restaurant

If the previous steps are followed thoroughly, the foundations for the development of a strong USP will have already been laid. All that remains is to identify the element that:

  • differentiates you from your competitors (step 3)
  • fits the concept (step 2) and
  • is appealing to your target audience (step 1)

For your convenience, it is suggested to select the 3-4 most powerful and “easy to communicate” benefits from the SWOT analysis that meet the above criteria and work with them. Without the above steps, developing a USP is extremely difficult as the directions one can take are inexhaustible. Even though solid foundations have been laid, this process is still open-ended and conceptual, but it has been set in context.

The USP, must be related to the quality, the uniqueness of a service provided or to a combination of both. Theoretically, there is a price factor, but that type of  USPs have limited application capabilities in hotel restaurants. Quality USPs, must be objective and measurable. It is obvious that to the increasingly suspicious consumer public the axiom “we serve the best pizza in Athens” when it is not based on registered critics, it can be considered as arbitrary, arrogant, and cheap.

Quality claims are solid by invoking authority: They must be supported by reputable critics or restaurant rating agencies.

Summarising, a strong USP should follow these rules:

  1. Be objective and measurable.
  2. Be comprehensive and easy to communicate according to the demands of the target audience.
  3. Be well-designed, in order to be attractive to the target audience.
  4. Fit the concept.

Most USPs are based on the quality or type of food, the name of the Chef (with all that entails), the uniqueness of the services provided, along with the location, the view, or the aesthetics of the place.

Below, you can find examples of prominent restaurant hotels with a special Unique Selling Proposition, which could potentially be used as a reference point:

Casa Cacao is a boutique hotel – chocolate factory founded by the Rocca brothers (El Celler de Can Roca) in Girona, Spain and includes a chocolate tasting shop made by Jordi, the youngest of three brothers who has been recognized as one of the best confectioners in the world. Its uniqueness lies, if nothing else, in chocolate.

Miyamasou  is a traditional 6-room Ryokan (inn) outside Kyoto, Japan whose authenticity prevents the modernisation of its facilities (e.g. it even has shared bathrooms). However, to spend the night in one of these rooms, you must book it at least 6 months in advance and pay more than € 1000 for each night. This is because the price, as is customary in Ryokan, includes a dinner at the restaurant, known in the Japanese gastronomic community, that offers “Tsumigusa” cuisine (freshly picked ingredients). The Chef-owner of Miyamasou set up his kitchen according to the local ingredients, which he collected or fished himself. This approach of the chef, contributed to the spread of foraging as a gastronomic concept, won 2 Michelin stars and is known to have inspired René Redzepi in shaping Noma’s kitchen. Its USP is based on -absolute and unadulterated- locality, seasonality, and authenticity.

Step 5: Your USP should be present in every contact with customers, staff, and suppliers

When a strong USP has been recognized by a company, it must spread it with through all its channels of distribution, making it its flag. It must be included within every “point of contact” with prospective customers, more specifically a USP must be promoted through the social media, the website, even in the employees’ attitude and rhetoric. The hotel staff must be trained to communicate over the telephone or in-person with the necessary discretion so that it does not look sophisticated. Finally, once established, a USP requires protection. It must be communicated consistently and unequivocally true. If a company does not have the ability to meet the expectations it has created, it is doomed to defamation and failure. Maintaining uniqueness and differentiation is, therefore, a constant battle.

The key to a USP’s long-term success is its long-term viability.

Do not forget the Emotional Selling Proposition which can be much more powerful than your only advantage

You will notice that many reputable companies do not have a standard USP. This is because their USP was strong enough and had been communicated with enough consistency to establish itself in the public consciousness, in order to become a ESP. Emotional Selling Proposition is the development of an emotional connection of the consumer with the company. It is the USP that started as a soldier and reached the edge of the chessboard and has become a queen. Today, more than ever, the success of any business is based on the elements that makes it unique. A Unique Selling Proposition guarantees to stand out from the competition while at the same time its growth helps you to get a clear picture of your business from different angles, to express its uniqueness, to focus on its advantages and to make the most of it. Every industry has leaders and followers – what sets them apart is that leaders are usually the ones with the strongest and most sustainable USPs.