Exclusive Sneak Peek: How to Become a Blue Ocean Operator

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The market waters are red with the blood of intense competition. Many concepts within the bar and restaurant industry have become saturated. Competition is tough, wages are on the rise, America is facing immigration challenges… There’s a perfect storm on the horizon.

The only way to survive is to break free from the middle of the market. You must stop competing and stand out in your market. You must head for the Blue Ocean. When you escape the shark-infested red waters of competition, you sail into the cool, calm and open market area known as the Blue Ocean. Here, you’re the brand of choice. Here, your guests pass by the other restaurants for yours. Here, you have a steady stream of applicants who want to work with you.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. There are plenty of examples in this industry that sail the Blue Ocean: Shake Shack, Chick-fil-A, Spago, TAO Nightclub.

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Getting to the Blue Ocean requires a shift in mindset. Let’s be honest—you can’t escape the Red Ocean with the same thinking that got you into those competitive waters. To get something new, you must become someone new.

Read this: Are You a Red Ocean or Blue Ocean Operator?

In Las Vegas, at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show, I’m going to go into a total roadmap that will get your restaurant or bar to the Blue Ocean. You’ll just need to be there and ready to make the mindset shift that will put you on the right path. Allow me to give you a little sample of what I’ll be talking about in my session.

Create the “Cult” in Culture!

In your market right now, there are restaurants and bars that are very similar to yours. I hate to be the bearer of bad news: you’re not as special as you think.

  • You can buy the same food from the same vendors.
  • You can hire from the same labor pool.
  • You can market to the same guests.

So why do some standout while others remain stuck in the doldrums of the Red Ocean? It all comes down to culture. While menus can be copied, service models can be replicated, and concepts can be knocked off, culture is impossible to imitate.

Why? Because culture is a living thing that’s fed by the energy, core values, and vision of the leader. Culture, at its essence, is cultivated. It’s nurtured. It’s tended to like a garden. If you fail to care for your culture it will be overrun by negative energy and bad behavior quickly, becoming a pit of despair for a poor guest experience. Just like all living things, what you feed your culture matters.

The good news is that you can begin to cultivate your culture today! The key is to be consistent when you start down this path. Oh, and fair warning: If you have neglected you culture for a while, it’s going to take some time to get it back on track. Be patient and stay the course.

Bring back appreciation. If you look at studies focused on the reasons people leave companies, the main reason isn’t money, it’s because they don’t feel appreciated. This is such an easy fix that you have no excuse not to start showing more appreciation to your team immediately (unless you’re just an asshole). If you’re new to the appreciation game, start with something easy: say “Thank you.” Those are two of the most powerful words in the world. Make a commitment not to leave your restaurant or bar without saying those words to each and every member of your team.

Create a virtual water cooler. We are, at our core, herd animals. We come together to form communities and share in the bounty that comes from those connections. We all want to connect with other people. It’s hardwired into your DNA, and unless you have a psychological issue (like being a sociopath), you crave being connected to others.

Traditional workplaces have the water cooler or breakroom to get together and share stories or catch up with each other. In the restaurant and bar world, that can be a little more difficult. Why not make it easy for your team to bond by setting up a private Facebook group just for your team? It becomes your virtual water cooler for social interaction! Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, kids or sports. Share recipes or whatever else you want. You’re only limited by your imagination and creativity.

Read this: Don’t Lead a Horse to Water, Make it Thirsty

Of course, being on a social media platform you’ll want to establish some firm guidelines and policies about appropriate and inappropriate posts. Keep it focused, keep it positive, and keep it fun so your team will want to go and share their lives with the team. Culture is the social glue that keeps teams together long term!

Think of Your Menu Like a Bikini

There is an old joke that goes, “Everyone can wear a bikini at the beach, but not everyone should.” The same goes for your menu. Granted, with the inventory you have in your business right now, you could create a couple thousand menu items if you really sat down and thought about it. But why? To show off how creative you are? I hate to tell you this, most of your guests do not care how creative you are. That Cabernet-poached pear with gorgonzola ice cream sounds really cool, but can you sell enough to justify it a place on your menu?

Stop being creative just to be creative. Be outstanding at dialing in your menu items’ flavor profiles and execute each dish or cocktail consistently! Too many restaurants and bars create their menus around their egos and not what’s best for the guests. Hey, if you’re Grant Achatz, by all means, push the edge on culinary and beverage innovation. There are around two percent of chefs and mixologists in the world who can command the prices to be creative at that level. The rest of the industry should focus on being the best they can be in their market.

You become the best with consistency in both product and service. That comes from becoming obsessed with training and becoming your best. Remember that restaurants only become better when the people in them become better people. That starts with you becoming better, getting your ego under control, and creating a menu that’s a reflection of your brand.

Be Where Your Guests Want You to Be

Uber Eats isn’t going away anytime soon. The desires of markets change—sometimes very quickly—and those who adapt will get a piece of the market share. Being the last restaurant in your market to jump on a trend isn’t a good market position; better to be the leader than a follower.

Love it or hate it, third-party delivery services are what guests want. You can jump in or lose market share to those who have already adapted. Just remember that to take no action is an action...it’s just not smart action

You want to focus your brand (if applicable) to this key word: convenience. That’s where the most opportunity for growth is this year. Third-party apps, curbside pickup, or drop-n-go catering are a great way to increase sales.

Read this: Be More than Good Enough: Transform Your Bar into a Destination

Gen Z and the Millennials love to stay in, order food, and stream movies from Netflix, Hulu, and other platforms. This is where your current market is residing—at home. To not offer solutions that fulfill their needs means you’re missing out. Granted, if you’re a microbrewery, delivering beer might be a legal issue in your market. So, why not push curbside pickup and encourage your guests to take growlers home? Cocktails on tap are another option for filling up a growler. There’s a restaurant near me that has a killer Paloma on tap. I’m not a beer guy but tequila is right up my alley!

Start Story Marketing

Everyone has a story behind their bar or restaurant. It doesn’t matter if you’re the grandchild who’s now running a family-owned business, a lawyer who decided you hated practicing law and wants to follow your dream of being a chef, or the mom who wanted to start a gluten-free line of entrees for home meal replacement—we all have a story to tell.

The sad thing is that most restaurants and bars fail to tell their stories because they think they need to only promote their food and beverage in their marketing. And while those are good things to market, they don’t have nearly the power of a great story. Just look at the movies you love. Chances are high that you love the stories they told and not just the big car chase scene three-fourths of the way through. Storytelling invokes reactions and marketing is all about stirring up emotions.

When you fail to trigger a response in your marketing, you’re failing to connect with your target demographic, a.k.a. your ideal guest. You’re not marketing, you’re just making noise. There’s already plenty of noise on social media—you need to be clear and concise when telling your story. That doesn’t mean you need to suddenly master cinematography and post perfect videos and Instagram stories. Perfection is unattainable and it’s far better to throw videos out there and refine your skills as you. The key is to just get started. Turn that damn camera around and share your story!

Now, these are just a few of the topics I’ll be covering during my session, “Competition is for Suckers: How to Become a Blue Ocean Operator,” exclusively at the 2019 Nightclub & Bar Show. I’m going to have a special gift for all who attend on Monday, March 25 at 3:00 p.m., so make sure to grab your passes now. Like, right now! What are you waiting for?

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