While casual dining restaurants struggle, P.F. Chang’s is shoring up sales and foot traffic.
- This is thanks to an overhaul of the chain’s marketing.
- The company spends $US0 in traditional advertising now, with majority of its efforts focused on digital.
Casual dining chains these days are not exactly thriving: chain restaurants have witnessed six consecutive quarters of year-over-year declines.
Not P.F. Chang’s. While others struggle, the Asian bistro chain is shoring up sales and foot traffic.
Since a management overhaul about two years ago, the chain has been on an upswing, outperforming competitors in the casual dining space by 75.6% in sales, and 81.7% in foot traffic in the first quarter in 2017, according to the APT index.
But that wasn’t always the case. When Dwayne Chambers took on the helm of the company’s marketing in late 2015, the brand was struggling: spending inefficiently on as many as 13 different agencies and consultancies without attracting an audience or getting much returns.
“It was like spending a whole lot of money planning for the trip, and very little money on the trip,” Chambers told Business Insider. “That had to fundamentally change.”
Chambers decided to overhaul the chain’s marketing with a digital focus, bringing the bulk of its creative and digital efforts in-house. It only works with three outside partners today: a media agency, a PR agency and a video production company.
“Typically only 3-6% of a company’s sales go towards marketing in the restaurant industry, and at P.F. Chang’s, it was less than 1%,” said Chambers. “At our sales being at about $US1 billion, you can imagine how easy it was to eat that up. It was a no-brainer.”
The company spends $US0 in traditional advertising now, according to Chambers, doing almost everything in-house. It has an internal marketing team of 30, spanning everything from creative and marketing strategy to media strategy and communications.
The restaurant chain is doubling down on data as a part of its marketing overhaul, targeting specific demographics with specific content. It has unified its rewards program, making it easy for users to sign up through whatever channel they prefer and has also been using data to inform its campaigns.
For Chinese New Year this year, for example, the restaurant chain ran a sweepstakes to attract new clients to its marketing database as well as re-engage old ones. Once someone registered, they received personalised digital surprise offers that were designed to drive them in-store. Users could also spin a Chinese New Year-themed wheel and win additional prizes.
At P.F. Chang’s, the food is made from scratch daily in every restaurant, with the chefs using all-natural meat, responsibly sourced seafood and local produce whenever possible. Each egg roll and dim sum is hand-folded and made, and even sauces are made from scratch. But that is hardly the perception that consumers have of casual dining restaurants, much less the chain.
To alter this perception, and attract existing and new consumers, the chain has also embraced a new brand message, encapsulated in the phrase “Farm to Wok.”
The phrase is brought to life across its social media properties, including Facebook and Instagram, as well as an online content hub where it promotes ingredients and recipes of its signature dishes like Mongolian Beef.
The brand is going a step ahead, also investing in creating mini-documentaries around its suppliers. Last year, made a film around the Muranaka family, a third generation Japanese family that grows the green onions used in all P.F. Chang’s restaurants.
Chambers insists it is just the brand trying to bring its authentic story to life, rather than pandering to changing tastes and taking a page out of the farm-to-table and clean-eating movements’ playbooks.
“It’s always been our story,” he said. “The only difference is that now we’re telling it.”
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