Marketing Lessons from “America’s Next Great Restaurant”

I had the opportunity last night to catch the pilot episode of a new reality program on NBC called “America’s Next Great Restaurant”. The concept of the show rather intrigued me – a group of contestants from various professions are given the opportunity to present their idea for a fast, casual restaurant to a panel of “investors” comprised of internationally renowned chefs Bobby Flay and Curtis Stone, Chipotle founder Steve Ells and executive chef Lorena Garcia. Like all reality TV series, the contestants will have rigorous challenges to go through every week and the last person standing will have their restaurant built in New York City, Minneapolis and Hollywood.

Yesterday’s episode showcased the top 21 contestants pitching their ideas for what they believe will be the next big thing in the world of fast and casual dining. Unfortunately, only 10 would be able to make it through to the next round. Throughout the proposals, I noticed some contestants integrating smart marketing strategies into their presentations to make themselves truly stand out. Here are some of the valuable marketing lessons I took away from the show:

Make Your Brand Memorable

When contestant Joseph Galuzzi presented his waggishly named “Saucy Balls” concept, I couldn’t help but laugh as the panel snickered at his amusingly titled restaurant. The origin of the name actually came from Galuzzi’s young daughter who had randomly suggested it based on one of his signature dishes titled “Grandma’s Meatballs”.

Despite the element of humor in his pitch, Galuzzi hit it right on the mark with his branding concept. Whether people get a chuckle out of the mildly inappropriate pun or deem it utterly ridiculous, “Saucy Balls” is quite memorable on either side of the fence.

Have Confidence In Your Idea

When former WNBA Champion and personal trainer Fran Harris conveyed her vision of a health and fitness based restaurant chain that would promote a nutritional menu with sports culture, she spoke with such conviction and enthusiasm that the panel instantly chose her as the first to advance on the show.

Pairing her confidence for her concept with knowledge of the restaurant business really helped Harris make an impact among the many unassertive contestants. This just goes to show that if you can’t stand behind your ideas, don’t expect to see them come to life.

K.I.S.S. (Keep It Short & Simple)

Presenting a 10 page menu with over 100 items is not an ideal marketing strategy for a restaurant defined as “fast and quick”. Neither is spending a good portion of your proposal time inflating a giant tent that has absolutely no correlation to your concept. While some contestants missed the mark of presenting a simple and unique restaurant, others hit it right out of the park.

Eric Powell’s “Meltworks” idea offered variations of the classic grilled cheese sandwich while Alex Terranova’s fusion taco concept “Hard N Soft Tacos” put a new spin on a traditional fast food item. The “Investors” were sold on both ideas due to the simplicity and focus on one speciality. With any new brand, it’s essential to start small and progress naturally, adding new divisions over time. Rushing to incorporate multiple branches into a new business will be a “recipe” for disaster.

Stand Apart From The Crowd

While a handful of contestants were eliminated for bringing the overdone “burger joint” or “chicken wing place” concepts to the table, other ideas held their own in the realm of creativity. Sandra Digiovanni cleverly designed a concept she called “Limbo”. Her idea was to create a restaurant that gave you the option of eating either healthy, bad, or both. “Limbo” would offer two separate menus – the first menu (“halos”) would offer healthy meal options while the second menu (“horns”) would present over-the-top “unhealthy” versions of the same dishes.

While Digiovanni’s food entry was well received, her concept didn’t rely on a specialty dish as much as it did on an interesting idea. It’s always fun and beneficial to find creative inspiration wherever you can. Take time out of your day to simply brainstorm and jot down any thoughts that may come to you. You never know when the next great idea for your brand may come about!

Scott Bykowicz is the Marketing Coordinator for FB Displays & Designs, Inc.

4 thoughts on “Marketing Lessons from “America’s Next Great Restaurant”

  1. Excellent example and very interesting observations that you took away from the show. I happened to catch some of it myself and you are right on.

  2. Hi Scott, thanks for writing this up – I really enjoyed reading the post and I think shows like America’s Next Great Restaurant, the Apprentice (at least in the old days) and some of these others really can provide great insight to any entrepreneur – regardless of industry. I just wrote an article about how this show has lessons for Tech entrepreneurs — perhaps your readers might be interested. http://explorics.com/2011/03/21/what-tech-entrepreneurs-can-learn-from-america%E2%80%99s-next-great-restaurant/

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