19 November

November 2013 Newsletter

Synergy Restaurant Consultants | Blog, newsletters, Restaurant Branding
Synergy Restaurant Consultants


We’ve been busier than ever at Synergy, a sure sign that the economy is continuing its slow-but-steady recovery.

We recently did a dine-around and discovery trip to Manhattan to sample specialty sandwiches and coffee shops, researching ideas for a new client based in Rome—we’ll be sure to share more information with you as this project unfolds. Things are also heating up in the Test Kitchen with lots of delicious new menu items in development, including herbed lemon chicken with couscous and other tempting entrees. And we are so proud to have been part of the great new menu revamp that our client Toppers Pizza just rolled out.

Speaking of revamps, you’ll definitely want to read this month’s article by our colleague Joan Lang on the industry’s rebrands, revamps and refreshes, many of which are targeted at repositioning older concepts for the new generation of health- and value-conscious Millennials. We’ve also got some information on the retro-chic menu trend of Italian-American specialties—meatballs, eggplant Parm, red sauce. And our readers in HR may be interested in the article on Arbitration Agreements, which are so much quicker and less expensive than litigation for solving employee grievances.

To your success, Dean Small and Danny Bendas

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Ahhhhh, That’s Refreshing

By Joan Lang

Photo Credit: License CC by 2.0 Copyright Flickr by Lauren Siegert
Photo Credit: License CC by 2.0 Copyright Flickr by Lauren Siegert

When it comes to foodservice brands, there’s been a lot of refreshment going on. In fact, we recently blogged about 7-Eleven’s new initiative, which covers everything from the logo to the store design and food offerings to the logo.


In fact, these days the idea of refreshing an older brand—or even rebranding altogether—covers a lot more than just a new logo and snappy trade dress. The competitive marketplace demands it.


Established brands may have name recognition and time-in-grade going for them, but they must also keep up with an explosion of newer concepts, changes in demographics and customer expectations, and other companies that are updating in various ways.


In 7-Eleven’s case, the c-store giant’s first major rebrand in 43 years is all about targeting health-conscious, on-the-go Millennials with hip, colorful servery graphics, and a more inviting foodservice display that touts healthier snacks and freshly made foods such as salads, rather than roller dogs and microwaved sandwiches.
And they’re not the only company that’s manipulating the concept to change their image:


– Staid and pricey Morton’s Steakhouse has introduced its more casual Morton’s Grille in the Houston marketplace, with a menu that features trendy (and less expensive) “Mix, Mingle & Share” selections like short rib tacos, deviled eggs and Veal & Mozz Meatballs, plus flatbreads, salads and non-steak “Food Envy” entrees including sliders, pot roast and Chicken Chop Diane

Silver Diner, a Maryland-based chainlet that has long presented an idealized version of the iconic diner, has also been pushing the envelope in the direction of the Millennial target market. Brand revisions include significant menu changes that center on more healthful dining habits, such as a “chef-driven fresh & local menu,” and more gluten-free, vegan and under-600-calorie options

– Wendy’s has debuted a sleek new store format that includes booths, a television set, free Wi-Fi, and even a faux fireplace, designed to encourage guests to linger and enjoy more of an experience along with their burgers—part a trend that the Orlando Sentinel dubbed “the lounge-ization of fast food”

– Other QSR participants in the movement include Del Taco (which capped a multi-phase rebranding effort with new menus and an ad campaign) and KFC (with a colonel- and fried-free new concept called “KFC Eleven’)

– In a bit of flip on that trend, Panera Bread—one of the original brands to blur the lines between fast food and a more upscale mode of quick service—has reversed its decades-long promise of eschewing drive-thrus with the addition of the convenience-oriented windows in select markets

– Family-oriented Mimi’s Café has moved to what it terms a French-inspired, chef-led positioning with a more sophisticated new menu (tournedos of beef, anyone?) that caps an ambitious turnaround effort since the chain was uncoupled from Bob Evans Farms

– Old Chicago has also used a menu overhaul to drive its brand updating efforts; the ‘70s-era chain partnered with Lettuce Entertain You to plot a made-from-scratch course that includes fresh-dough pizza, more salads, pastas and shareable appetizers, and a 36-tap craft-beer program. The “pizza and taproom” update necessitated revised kitchen layouts, as well as new back-of-house systems to help ensure faster service and more efficient turnaround

– Fondue and date-night brand The Melting Pot has been retooling its menu to encourage guests to stop in for casual dining occasions, not just birthdays and Valentine’s Day. The romance and the four-course Big Night Out cheese and chocolate fondue packages remain, but there are also individual entrees like Spinach & Artichoke Ravioli, Teriyaki-Marinated Sirloin, and various proteins with mix-and-match preps and sauces

Brand efforts like these continue to make news—and can only grow in importance, particularly among brands that came of age at the dawn of the theme chain back in the 1970s and 1980s. The recent success of Bennigan’s back-from-the-dead rebranding strategy demonstrates how savvy these ambitious efforts can be.

Need help with a brand refresh of any size and scope? Contact Synergy Restaurant Consultants.

Red Sauce Renaissance

By Joan Lang


Photo credit: CC by Flickr user Stacy Spensley
Photo credit: License CC by 2.0 Copyright Flickr user Stacy Spensley

Well, the world has come full circle—and proof that the food-trend pendulum is always swinging, the red sauce Italian joint has come roaring back after several decades’ worth of displacement by Tuscan, Roman, Sicilian, Calabrian….


Not that these wonderful and authentic regional Italian cuisines aren’t still popular, but there is also renewed pride in the Italian-American culinary lexicon. We’ve seen it in the surging popularity of menu items like meatballs and pizza (including news-making versions like this Chicken Parm Pizza), and in a return to casual, welcoming Italian restaurants serving comforting and uncomplicated food.


This is the cooking adapted by immigrants to a new land, where familiar ingredients were challenging to find but hunger for the traditional ways endured. Now in its third generation and proud of it, red sauce is born again in contemporary ways, with a taste for innovation and the kind of careful sourcing and housemade artisanship that has helped to transform so many restaurants in this country.


Chef and cookbook author Lidia Bastianich has certainly captured the Zeitgeist with her road trips into the heart of Italian-American cooking, but there’s a lot more going on. Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone of New York City’s Major Food Group are setting the trend on fire with their restaurants. This is especially true of their newest, Carbone, which opened earlier this year on the site of the legendary Italian-American Rocco’s. Featuring upgrades of classic Italian-American specialties like veal parmesan and linguine with clam sauce, the restaurant has become one of the hottest new spots in town.


Sauce restaurant is another example of the trend, which chef-owner Frank Prisinzano describes as “heavily influenced by Italian history, tradition and my childhood spent in my grandmother’s kitchen.” Part restaurant and part butcher shop for his other neighborhood restaurants, Sauce proudly touts Italo-American comfort foods like tomato “gravy” with meatballs, steak pizzaiola, and handmade ricotta cavatelli.


The Red Hen, in Washington, DC, calls itself an “Italian-influenced American restaurant,” serving the likes of rigatoni with sausage, gnocchi, and cacio e pepe (a simple but newly popular pasta preparation made with nothing more than good cheese and a lot of black pepper), plus flights of fancy such as wood-roasted beets with pistachios and seared veal sweetbreads with pea shoots and soft polenta. The wine list is heavy on bottles from Italy, including unusual “orange wines,” which are made by very, very old fermentation methods.

Divieto, in Doral, FL, calls its food “Italian-American fusion,” with a menu than ranges from fried calamari with marinara sauce to salmon carpaccio, veal scallopini to grilled yellowfin tuna. It’s all served up in a tin-ceilinged room complete with booths, black-and-white tile floors, and an atmospheric back bar.


There’s also Little Nonna’s, a new red-sauce restaurant in Philadelphia. This popular, intimate little spot does indeed serve up “Nonna” cuisine. The bill of fare includes arancini (rice balls shaped like the namesake “little oranges”), spicy pork and broccoli rabe subs, eggplant Parm, and homemade cannoli, and the house-bottle cocktails include classics like the Negroni. Most noteworthy is the famous Sunday gravy, chock full of braciole, meatballs and hot sausage, served over pasta of the night with the meats on the side—recreating an experience that legions of Italians here in America grew up with, every Sunday after Mass.
Many of these dishes are ripe for migration on less thematic menus, tapping into a collective memory of simpler times that extends beyond Italian ancestry.

ADR Agreements Make Even More Sense Now

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that courts “cannot invalidate arbitration agreements which waive class actions . . . .” While there is a fair amount of detail to this rule, the basic principle is that the only weakness to arbitration agreements was that if an employee filed as a class member, and the court approved it, the arbitration agreement was not applicable. Now that has all changed.
Arbitration Agreements, also defined as Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) Agreements, are designed (and approved by the courts) to mitigate challenges from employees. Under an Arbitration Agreement, the employees’ complaint is heard by a retired judge and is settled almost immediately, rather than going into litigation. Most all rules of court apply.


Benefits include a substantial reduction in time, as the time it takes to get in front of an Arbitrator is far less than is the situation with a normal court case. The decision is binding—for better or worse. All the facts are considered, and both parties go into this process understanding that what the Arbitrator says goes. The cost to defend the case is substantially less, because all the preparation and filings and legal wrangling are unnecessary. Finally, for operations that consider themselves compliant and who address their employees ‘concerns quickly and efficiently, this system is far more effective at solving issues, because you do have the opportunity to demonstrate what you have done in regards to a particular complaint.


There are certain regulations related to changing over to an ADR system. We recommend that you contact your labor law attorney to discuss. The benefits for you and for your employees could be substantial.

Tip of the Month

If you think offering healthy menu options is not an issue that affects your operation, think again. A new consumer survey by AlixPartners reveals that so many patrons are concerned about finding healthier choices that they are less likely to dine out in 2014—on top of decreases in restaurant traffic this year. For more details on this and other findings, take a look at this topline report from the firm’s new “2013 North America Restaurant & Foodservice Outlook: Fall Update.”

Blog, newsletters, Restaurant Branding