For the best advice on any subject, it's said you'll do well if you "go to the guy who wrote the book on it," which is precisely what organizers of the London Restaurant Franchising and Innovation event did when they booked Carl Reader, author of The Franchising Handbook, to address conference-goers at London's Grange Hotel last month.
He did not disappoint. In the hour-long presentation on innovation — "the thing that's been on [his] mind lately" — Reader explained why this subject is integral to restaurant success in the rapidly changing global business environment. The U.K.-based business, accounting and franchising expert told the audience that, though franchising itself has remained relatively unchanged, the way we do business certainly has not.
Reader said that today's world is one in which the rate of change has become ever more rapid and constant due to the equally rapidly increasing rate of innovation today. As a result, he said, only brands that strategize, innovate and create new ideas as quickly, fluidly and constantly as innovations demand will truly thrive.
To sustain success, only one path to innovation exists
According to Reader, innovation comes in four basic types, but only one type — sustaining innovation — will work well over time for restaurant brands. Innovation in the business world in general may come through research, product and service breakthroughs, and even disruptive actions and products. However, Reader said his experience strongly suggests that only sustaining innovation substantially improves restaurant brands enough to equal business success over the long haul.
"This is 'sticking to the knitting,'" he told an audience of restaurateurs from 17 different countries. "This is where most of your stuff should be happening in my view. ... It's how you differentiate yourself from your competitors and ... I've found we couldn't do without this stuff."
For a prime example of sustaining innovation, Reader pointed to Amazon, asking the audience how many of them had signed up to Amazon when it first became a player in the industry. Most participants raised their hands. Then he asked how many in the audience currently used Amazon Prime. All acknowledged that they did.
"Yeah, you order it at 10 in the evening and it's there the next day. That changes the whole way you buy things," he said.
In the case of the restaurant industry, this type of sustaining innovation addresses diners' overall demand today for ever-faster service. But, Reader said, diners today are making numerous demands of restaurant brands — including everything from different types of service to meet different customer needs to products that contribute to health and well-being.
The successful brands, he said, are those that see these core customer needs and innovate ways for their business to meet them.
Areas to consider for restaurant innovation
In Reader's view, three particular elements in business hold special promise for restaurant brands that want to make sustaining innovation a part of their business model.
Audience participation opportunities: For instance, this might involve personalizing products to a diner's favorite sports team or other individual characteristics or pastimes.
Automation now and tomorrow: This is the new reality and it's up to restaurants to innovatively apply it to their brand, concept or customer.
Virtual reality: This tech offers restaurateurs new ways to give franchisees a literal look at the daily life of the brand.
Augmented reality: As Reader sees it, the use of this technology by restaurants is more "Pokemon Go" than "Robo-Cop." He said that uses might include allowing diners to scan a plate of food to obtain health benefits and other related information inside of their own restaurant "reality."
Subscription service models: This approach turns the restaurant into one of the services customers include in their budget of regular living expenses.
The roundup: Be something special
In Reader's view, innovation is a great tool that restaurants can use in a variety of ways to address the omnipresent question: What makes this brand different, special and better?
Restaurateurs who carefully consider what their customers expect and desire as they innovate for will fare best. But first, they have to know where their brand's place is in the market and where they want it to be. Only then can they can consider automation and technology as viable ways to spur innovation and get the brand to the place they want it to be.
As Readers, who is the father of two girls, told the audience that he hopes these two children will choose well in their lives by taking the path that leads them to experiences and people that surpass the "average."
Then he added, "Actually, in business, we've got that same choice to make as well."
S.A. Whitehead Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.