Innovation · Business Development

Innovation in the Restaurant Industry?

Lucas E Wall

October 7th, 2016

I have tried to approach players in the industry with different results when trying to discuss our offering. A few months ago I realized some old face to face networking could give me different results and found the National Restaurant Association Innovation Summit, which happens every September in Austin, TX. The summit calls and brings innovators, which is exactly the type of decision makers I’d wish to engage.

But, trying to attend proved to be a very expensive and frustrating experience.

The NRA charges $10K minimum to be there and gives start-ups a booth. Another option they offer is the Start-up Alley during the NRA Show, happening every May in Chicago. That also costs thousands and requires one to set-up a booth. The alley exposes start-ups to the general public attending the show. As much as I enjoy explaining my ideas to curious people, we entrepreneurs need to engage directly with innovators. In short, neither event allows entrepreneurs to attend to network and engage with individuals face to face.

I wrote to the president of the NRA directly bringing this to her attention. In all her professionalism and charisma, I haven’t heard as of today, and I hope it changes in the future, a vision of a different future.

How have you tackled bringing new ideas to the restaurant industry? Are there conferences, groups, shows, publications that focuses on innovators and do not require thousands of dollars of investment just to pass the door?

David M

October 7th, 2016

Who are you trying to get in touch with?  Restaurant owners? (what type, where)

Without knowing more and assuming you are just trying to get some clients under your belt, Yes start local.  If it were me, I would reach out to a smaller chain.  Find a restaurant that has anywhere from 5-80 locations.  Prove your product adds value and you will get more business.  Another option is to connect with some of the people who set up the franchises.

Tom DiClemente Management Consulting | Interim CEO/COO | Coach

October 7th, 2016

I've taken a look at enough to get what you're doing but haven't explored it deeply.

The food and beverage service market, as opposed to the manufacturing and distribution side, is a very local segment. It is one best started locally and face to face to get traction. In two businesses I regularly advise, one an internet marketing firm with this industry as one of its major sources of revenue, the other focused on building brands exclusively in this segment, they started with a local approach to build a portfolio of actual clientele, testimonials and case studies.

From there, it was a matter of internet marketing to spread the word. Neither of these firms have ever attended trade shows in this industry. Both are now successfully following this step by step approach of geographical expansion.

I am a proponent of trade shows for many industries but know nothing about the National Restaurant Association.

However, when starting to explore a new industry for any of my companies or a company I am advising, I have never jumped in as an exhibitor at the get go. I have always surveyed the event first as an attendee. Walking around the show allows you to meet a lot of people in a short time and many are willing to hear your pitch. I've never not come away with more than enough leads to justify my attendance. When they have been closed to members, I can usually get into the show with one of the companies exhibiting or by letting the association know that I need to survey the venue before we start exhibiting at future events.

I'm not sure if you have tried any of these methods.

Dane Madsen Organizational and Operational Strategy Consultant

October 7th, 2016

Trade shows are inherently an expensive event with a nebulous return. Many associations have morphed into trade show production entities.  Some are good, some are bad.  Usually I attend to walk the floor prior to committing to a both. Small companies can be lost in the noise. Your best track is, as Tom mentioned, build a local proof of concept that you can use/build on to generate interest. These will cost less than the trade show and have more value because they are real world and will make you smarter about the space. When you are ready, the trade show may be a good use of time to get to the audience you need, but it is a waste before you have a real product in the market. 

Lucas E Wall

October 8th, 2016

David - We believe Chief Marketing Officers will benefit the most from our analysis. There are a lot of advantages in going local as suggested by Tom and Dane (thank you both!).

I only wonder if the challenges and approach to marketing challenges of the owner of one location will be in line with those of a >100 locations CMO. I suspect some problems will be amplified, some will be diminished, some will exist on one end and not the other.

Overall, could it be two different markets and therefore we risk creating a product for one that doesn't work for the other? How do we navigate this?

David M

October 8th, 2016

Lucas-I would have to know more about your product and how it works.  The initial thought is if you can show how you can help one location, you are then in the gates and will have access to more. 


Keep in mind many “Chains” be they retail or restaurant often locate in areas where the demographics they are reaching are similar so they can consolidate their marketing efforts.  Many factors play…but it could be Population of 50k people and more…average household income of $80k.  Whatever it may be.


So in terms of the CMO for 5, or 50, I don’t think you will have as much of a variance as you might think.  Much of the work has already been done.


Especially in local areas.  For example, there is a restaurant in north Texas that is growing very fast.  They now have 80 locations up from 5 10 years ago.  Well…north Texas is pretty much north Texas.  And because corporate has detailed specs on where to build new restaurants, it is very likely that your marketing efforts for one restaurant 10 miles from another will be very similar.


But it also depends on the structure and freedom of the franchisee.  Again, if it were me, I would personally reach out to the CEO, make the brief pitch of why your product brings more value than your competitor.  Then I would ask for a “test store” perhaps one that has been struggling in meeting revenue projections.  If you can show an increase in that, you will get a second, third, so on.


Regarding individuals who help put together materials for franchising, if you can illustrate success, it could be that your product becomes a useful addition  as part of the services offered to the franchisee from the franchisor.  And then you have access to numerous companies rather than one at a time. 

Tom DiClemente Management Consulting | Interim CEO/COO | Coach

October 8th, 2016

Hi Lucas,

Perhaps I don't have a sufficient understanding of your offering but I'm not clear on how starting local before scaling up geographically will result in a different product. 

However, they are different market segments and make decisions differently, so it will require you to develop new marketing approaches as you build out and scale up. 

This approach is one I've used before, and not only in this industry. In starting locally, I am suggesting starting with locations that vary from 1 location (may be too small though) to small chains with maybe 10 to 15 locations in a single metro area. These tend to be more approachable than national chains. But the decision maker will likely not be a CMO but rather the owner or CEO. These companies are also typically using other local marketing services and there is a possibility, if you aren't in competition with them, that you can get early wins by teaming with them - that's a big question, whether you're synergistic to any of those other marketing firms or purely competitive. My feeling was that you add something to the typical marketer serving these local companies.

After you get wins locally, you normally then start scaling up with a broader internet marketing campaign. This may lead you to small companies in other locations but, aimed correctly, it will also open you up to the multi-state companies that are in the 50+ location range. 

But every time you scale up, you face a different segment that makes decisions differently and your competition will change as well. At each stage, you will need to modify your marketing approach accordingly. 

I understand that you can't go too small or the data set you collect may not be meaningful or may not be representative of the behavioural models you've already developed. But big data analytics is not just for big businesses, it's applied to smaller businesses too. It's up to you to decide how small you can go and yet deliver meaningful results and that will probably depend on how wisely you select your initial targets.

Hope that adds something for you.  Tom

Alan Holmes Master Connector

October 7th, 2016

Happy Friday Lucas.I would like to share insights from a former restaurant worker(busser,diswasher,janitor).The industry itself changes often,but in the end,when you have an innovative product/idea...Amazing things happen.As far as the last request of are there among your list..groups that do not require thousands to pass through the door?Yes there is..mine.See