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Discover the future of restaurant marketing: is it time for a revolution?

It’s now a fortnight since we wrapped up the fifth edition of the Restaurant Marketer & Innovator (RMI) European Summit, which attracted hundreds of the sector’s best thinkers from 11 countries, over five events, across three days. More than 80 speakers from both inside and outside the sector took to the stage, or welcomed the industry into their venues.

We first started this community and event in 2018, off the back of a series of successful marketing workshops. The purpose was about giving recognition and a platform to professionals in non-operating roles in the sector across business development, marketing and strategy, with the event series now attracting a wide spectrum of roles from tactical marketers to chief executives.

Within this article, I’ll share some of my top takeaways.

The problem with data is it only tells you the ‘what’

For as long as we have hosted this event series, there has been a fixation on data, and, from a marketer’s perspective, the holy grail of the one-customer viewpoint. It seems we’ve reached a watershed moment where businesses are simply overwhelmed with the amount of data available to them, and what to do with it. Before getting too excited, please don’t think for a minute that I’m recommending we go back to days of old, where decision-making was based on gut feeling and intuition alone, because that would be a backward step. But there’s something to be said about blending the data with intuition and creativity.

This was eloquently underscored by our opening speaker, renowned behavioural scientist and vice-chairman of Ogilvy, Rory Sutherland, who said: “The problem with data is that data only tells you the what…and while data is very valuable, you need the why – and the why is normally psychological.”

When framing what that means, he referenced the book Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara, who applied a 95:5 principle. Under this principle, you should spend 95% of your time running a restaurant logically and as a finance director would want you to do, but spend 5% of your time being disproportionately amazing and creating the point of difference. I’ve personally referenced this as the “sizzle” for my career in marketing and couldn’t agree more.

If you’re not annoying your finance director, you are doing something wrong

Following on from the point around data addressed above, Sutherland continued: “If you’re not annoying your finance director, you are doing something wrong.” Which is, of course, tongue-in-cheek, albeit probably true if you are really being disruptive in marketing.

This does, however, come with its challenges around the place and respect for marketers within the sector. A clear theme of the RMI events for as long as I can remember is the question of “having a seat around the table”. This is in reference to the role non-operating positions, particularly marketing, play strategically and at board level. It’s clear that in the past, marketing has been deemed as the “colouring in-department” by some, a tactical department acting as a studio generating posters and managing menus.

When marketing works best, it represents the customer voice, challenges thinking, crosses departments and has the most holistic view of the business, owning the guest journey and customer experience. On stage, these discussions played out the ownership marketing should have in different areas of the business, particularly around proposition and menu development, and how marketers need to be more commercial and be able to demonstrate value to gain respect. When done right, marketing can be a driving force for success and drive a longer-term brand focus.

The global pandemic certainly helped shift the needle on the importance of these marketing and development roles as the sector became more omnichannel focused, increasingly reliant on technology and aware that future prosperity may well rely on a more diversified proposition and operating format.

The good news is we’re seeing more marketers on boards and moving into key leaderships roles, including that of chief executive, where a glass ceiling previously existed – the most common narrative cited by our “30 under 30” alumni over the past six years. Some great examples of marketers taking up the top job include: Jill McDonald, who until recently was chief executive at Costa Coffee and is now executive vice-president and president, international operated markets at McDonalds, overseeing five markets; Emma Woods, the former Wagamama chief executive who is now a non-executive director/chair of many great companies including Tortilla; and Alistair Macrow, chief executive of McDonald’s UK and Ireland.

A marketing background brings an ability to look holistically, think strategically and be more customer-centric, skills that make for a great chief executive or board director. As could be seen at the RMI event, there are many amazing women who hold senior marketing roles across our sector, who have a lot to offer and who should be seen as future chief executives. Not only would many be incredible at doing this job, but it would also be a breath of fresh air to see these appointments help overcome the terrible lack of gender balance we have in boardrooms across much of the industry.

Refuse to do any marketing for stores that don’t have their act together

A brand is only as good as your reputation. The brand is not a logo or the glossy presentation designed by your creative agency; it lives and breathes every day in your operation, being delivered by your people. You live and die by every interaction. Consistency is key.

There are frequently tensions between marketing and operations, especially when trade is tough. Often, marketing is looked at to boost performance of underperforming stores, but we heard multiple examples throughout the conference where it is clear the problem often sits with poor operational standards, customer service or site leadership. By investing time and money into marketing these sites, you are adding fuel to the fire, driving even more customers to an experience they are unlikely to enjoy and fanning the flames through the sharing of their experience to friends or online.

Vikki O’Neill, global marketing director with Vapiano, made the point in the best way I’ve heard when, towards the end of the conference, she told the audience that most marketers feel frustration when operators don’t deliver. She advised that you should refuse to do any marketing for stores that have poor scores, and once they have pulled themselves together, then invest in marketing. This was met with both laughter and applause. Legendary!

With so much inspiration and information, there is so much more I could write, but I’ll leave it there for now. It really is incredible to start the year on such a high, being surrounded by industry peers who remind me of what a fabulously vibrant sector we work in. I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone that helps make it the success it is – from our speakers and sponsors to the delegates that join and support us year in, year out.


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