I think one of the problems was location and the other problems were the problem that most restaurants have. Poor planning. Often Groove Magazine and I are asked to go to restaurants that desperately want media attention. Often they contact us 2 months after they've been opened. I am often reluctant to go to these places for I can feel the desperation from the owners and the restaurants.
For the first two months they invite friends and they do the wait and see approach. They hope that people will start to take notice of them and they wait.
Soon after they change signs and start making leaflets to hand out to people. Then they try to ask their friends about how to market. Then they offer specials and reduced prices. However, none of these things will work.
Think about it.
Marketing is hard.
People go to school to major in marketing and they get MBA's to work for big corporations. Marketing firms have embedded emotions on how we feel about classic coke, the new generation pepsi, the taste of the rockies: Coors, the luxuriousness of BMW, Gucci, Fendi, etc. Marketing can change someone's approach to a product and how they feel about it. There is a reason why a Japanese restaurant can charge 100 dollars a person for a sushi dinner, whereas Korean raw fish restaurants can usually charge around 30 dollars. The way that people feel about Japanese quality and attention to detail is higher than how they feel about Koreans. How can that be changed? A lot of money will have to be spent in marketing. You can also notice this phenomenon around the world for you'll see many Japanese restaurants run by Koreans. It's not because they are not proud of their culture, it's all about the money.
- New restaurants, before you open, you should have a plan of action. You should have a marketing plan. You could have the most amazing food in the world, but if no one knows about it, then it'll all end up in the trash. Jumping on a trend is not the best way to succeed because everyone else will jump on the same bandwagon.
- Location, location, location. Don't follow the field of dreams idea of "If you build it, they will come." Remember, in the movie, the family almost lost their home, their farm, and their sanity.
- Plan for the long term. Have enough money saved for 1 year of operation, because there is a good chance it will take 1 year for your restaurant to take off.
- You must differentiate yourself from the crowd, so make a signature dish that will grab people's attention. For example, Tartine's in Itaewon's signature tart is the Rhubarb tart. Primo Baci Baci has a pasta served in a bread bowl, Outback has black bread etc. This signature dish should have an attractive price and even if you don't make as much money off it, don't worry for it will bring you more business.
- Find your target demographic. Think about the people you want to attract to your restaurant. Many foreign restaurants, I've talked to say everybody. Sure, that sounds like a great idea, but it doesn't work. For example, the restaurant Agra in Itaewon specifically targets young Korean couples. The atmosphere is romantic and a tad dark. The interior furniture is modern Indian. This restaurant doesn't have the best of food (honestly, I think it's the worst Indian in Itaewon) but they are busy and they recently opened up a branch in Myeongdong. Think of the specific target audience, you would like and market to them.
- Have a budget for marketing. Most restaurants think they can do it themselves, but honestly? No, they can't. Build partnerships with people in the media. Advertise to your target audience. Get consulting from people in the field. Take notes of how these people market your business and next time, you will be able to do it yourself. Restaurants are hard businesses to manage, so it's important to have someone dedicated to marketing your business.
Daniel Gray is a food and restaurant consultant for O'ngo food communications. He is a regular contributor to the Korea Herald Newspaper and to the Seoul Tourism Website. He is the dining editor for the expat magazine, Groove Magazine. He is also a regular guest on TBS eFM's Steve Hatherly Show. He has worked with Korea Tourism (KTO), The Institute for Traditional Korean Food, and Agro and Trade Center on globalizing Korean food.