I feel as though I must qualify my hopefully humorous and entertaining entry, by giving you my resume first. I want you to know, I am qualified to have the following opinion. Somewhere between my professional marketing experience, my Foodie desires and my role as a consumer of restaurant services . . .my opinion is valid.
I do not want this post to be mistaken as me "hatin" on anyone in the restaurant business. I am writing this because I am confused by my hometown chain, Houlihan's. Every time I visit them, I get more and more confused about what I am seeing, tasting and experiencing. Then, when I get an email from them titled: "Kiss up to the Boss with a Nooner", I throw up my hands and have to chalk it up to I must be "too old" to get it. Then I have to wonder, maybe it's not me. Maybe it is them. Perhaps a better question to ask is: "Do they get it?"
Having been a Marketing Director in the casual dining restaurant business for many years in my recent past, and as someone who truly loves restaurants and the business of running them, and as someone who really would like to see success coming from a restaurant company headquartered in my hometown of Kansas City. . .I make this plea . . .Houlihan's, what is it that you want to be when you grow up?
You seem to be having a mid-life crisis at the moment. I am sorry, but I am your friend. Sometimes friends have to say things that hurt. You remind me of the girlfriend that seemed fine and normal and then suddenly you run into her and she has broken up with her boyfriend and has cut off all her hair and gotten a tongue ring . . .it just seems a little extreme. What are you doing? Who are you trying to talk to? Who is in charge?
Let me explain to you where my confusion is coming from. Let me weave together for you what I am seeing, eating and experiencing to perhaps shed light on why I am perplexed as to where you fit into my consideration set.
Let me break it down for you this way, Houlihan’s has:
- Boring, basic, casual dining bar & grill looking locations on the outside.
- Inside there are crazy vintage French/Italian food posters on the wall and lampshades and dark mood-lit black leather booths with an upscale bistro feel about them.
- The menu itself looks like something that escaped from prison - urban, cold metal cover, arranged in a nonsensical way with edgy, cheeky descriptions.
- The food is some odd mix of sliders, home cooking and “craz-sian” Asian dishes that are so hip they hurt, but they can't really pull it off in taste or execution.
- To drink . . . 1/2 gallon Long Island iced teas that cost less than a Happy Meal at McDonald's when they are on special.
- The entire staff is dressed in low-rider, gang-wear t-shirts with fake names and pseudo sexual things printed on their shirts like: “Try it, you’ll like it”, “Worth the wait”, and “Taste the Rainbow”.
The best way I could sum up their concept at the moment is: “Cirque de Soeil meets Chicano prison inmate and they go to France and eat Sushi.” Seriously, someone needs to just PICK IT. The marketing communication I hear talks about "Nights out with the Girls" events with Sex in the City overtones, then I receive emails that come across like Beavis and Butthead wrote them.
I have to confess, that I was never a huge fan of your concept to begin with, as I am not one much for restaurants that feel like chains and that serve me the usual, predicable fare. I also like places a little more gourmet tasting/acting than yours. Hey, don't be that way, I am just trying to be honest.
I think the reason that I bring all of this up now in our relationship is that I hear through the gossip mill and industry trades that you have been given the money to really revamp your concept into something totally new. Is that why you have been doing all of these crazy experiments on yourself? Are you in the throws of trying on a bunch of hats to reinvent yourself with the right one? The one that makes you look the best? Land the big clients? Make the big bucks? Are you looking for the one that fits?
My simple advice is to ask your current customers what they like most about you and how they use you and what they want from you. Provided they are a growth segment of the population that goes out to eat at least once a week . . .then craft yourself in their image of you. Try to be the best YOU you can possibly be. Pick the one accessory that you are going to wear, and wear it with pride. Make it cohesive, make it coherent, make it tasty and delicious.
Know that I will be thinking of you throughout your transition, and wishing only the best for you now and in the future. Good Luck!