Competition Proof Your Concept: Identify and Nurture Your Restaurant’s Competitive Advantages

In the ever-evolving world of the restaurant industry, staying ahead of the competition is a constant challenge. Whether you’re a seasoned restaurateur or just starting your culinary journey, understanding and leveraging your restaurant’s competitive advantages is essential for long-term success. In this blog post, we will explore what a restaurant competitive advantage is, how to make it sustainable, the difference between strengths and competitive advantages, and how to identify them.

Competition Proof Your Concept: Nurture Your Restaurant Competitive Advantages

What Is a Restaurant Competitive Advantage?

Your business’s core sustainable competitive advantage(s) is the unique and enduring strengths or attributes that set your business apart from its competitors and allow you to maintain a dominant position in the market over the long term.

Here are a few great examples:

  • In-n-Out Burger and Raising Cane’s offer customers a “focused menu” doing one thing well.  Meanwhile, Cheesecake Factory offers both high-quality scratch-made food and mass appeal with an expansive menu.
  • Velvet Taco offers high quality tacos with international flavors in a fast casual environment. They also innovate flavors weekly through their WTF (Weekly Taco Feature).
  • Chik-fil-A lives so deeply into their purpose (To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us) that they close every single Sunday.

Long-term winners in the marketplace know and protect what makes them unique. This advantage can manifest in various forms, including exceptional customer service, a signature dish, a prime location, or even a distinctive ambiance. Essentially, it’s the “X factor” that makes patrons choose your restaurant over others that can’t be easily duplicated by competitors.

What are the Seven Main Competitive Advantage Types?

  1. Cost advantage
    Cost advantage lets you distinguish your products by producing and offering them at a lower cost than your competitors while maintaining acceptable quality standards. You can attain cost advantage by constantly improving efficiency, refining and streamlining the production process, achieving economies of scale, or cutting costs in various areas. McDonald’s “Dollar Value Menu” is a good example of a cost advantage or Applebee’s recent return of the “Dollarrita.”

  2. Differentiation advantage
    Differentiation advantage involves offering unique products or services of superior quality, more features and benefits, or a stronger brand image, albeit at a premium price. Differentiation can help you build customer loyalty.

  3. Focus Advantage
    Focus advantage comes from targeting a specific market segment or a niche. By narrowing your focus to a particular customer group, you can customize your products or services to meet unique needs, solve specific problems and pain points of that group, and stand out from the competitors. It can improve customer loyalty and increase profit margins, provided the target market is big enough or the competition does not pose a significant threat.

  4. Speed advantage
    When you attain a speed advantage, you can be faster in product development, manufacturing, delivery, customer service, or bringing the products to the market. It enables your company to be more agile and respond more quickly to changes in the market than your competitors. For example, Velvet Taco’s weekly taco feature or any firm that excels at “limited time offers.”

  5. Innovation advantage
    Innovation allows you to develop new products and services or introduce new business models that disrupt existing markets or create new ones. Innovation advantage can help you stay ahead of competitors and create new opportunities for sustainable growth. For example, Sweetgreen’s focus on technology and automation.

  6. Geographic advantage
    Geographic advantage involves having a strategic location that gives you easier access to resources, suppliers, or customers. In fact, many of the dominant players in the restaurant industry are regional restaurant groups. Read: 10 Legendary Regional Fast-Food Chains You Must Try

  7. Customer service advantage
    A customer service advantage involves superior customer service and support. You can gain it by enabling faster response times, personalized support, diverse customer support channels, or better communication. Customer service advantage helps businesses build strong relationships with customers and create a loyal customer base.


How to Make Your Competitive Advantage Sustainable

Sustainability is the key to ensuring your competitive advantage remains effective over time. Here are some strategies to make your competitive advantage long-lasting:

  • Continuous Improvement: Regularly assess and improve the elements that make your restaurant unique. This could involve refining your menu, enhancing customer service, or investing in technology to streamline operations.
  • Consistency: Delivering a consistent experience is vital. Customers should be able to count on the same level of quality, service, and atmosphere during each visit.
  • Adaptation: Be prepared to adapt to changing customer preferences and industry trends. Your competitive advantage should evolve as your customers’ needs evolve.
  • Invest in Employee Development: Your staff plays a crucial role in maintaining your competitive advantage. Invest in their training, motivation, and job satisfaction to ensure they provide the experience that sets your restaurant apart.

Why Strengths Are Different From Competitive Advantages

While strengths are an essential component of your restaurant’s competitive advantage, they are not the same. Strengths are the internal attributes and resources that your restaurant possesses. These could include a skilled chef, a loyal customer base, a convenient location, or a unique recipe. Competitive advantages, on the other hand, are strengths that you have leveraged to outperform your competition. For example, having a renowned chef (a strength) becomes a competitive advantage when you market the chef’s specialties to draw customers away from other dining options. See the following venn diagram:

How to Identify Your Competitive Advantages

Identifying your competitive advantages is a critical first step in developing a winning strategy. Here’s how to do it:

  • SWOT Analysis: Perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis to pinpoint internal strengths that can be leveraged.  Learn more about SWOT here.
  • Market Research: Understand your competition and target audience. Analyze what your competitors are doing well and where they fall short. Identify gaps that you can fill.
  • Customer Feedback: Listen to your customers. Their opinions and feedback can provide valuable insights into what they value most about your restaurant.
  • Unique Selling Proposition (USP): Determine what makes your restaurant special. What do you offer that others don’t? Your USP is a core component of your competitive advantage.
  • Benchmarking: Compare your restaurant to others in the industry. Benchmarking can help you identify where you stand and where you can excel.

OnStrategy offers the following formula for determining your competitive advantages:

Your Business + What You Are Best At + Why = Competitive Advantage

I also like Marty Neumeier’s Onliness Statement approach. “When everybody zigs, zag,” wrote Marty Neumeier in the appropriately named Zag — The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands. Zag is a book about brand strategy and differentiation. It’s short, pithy, and decidedly practical — structured as it is around a 17-step process designed to help you “find your Zag” and differentiate your offering. At the heart of this process is Neumeier’s onliness statement (see above) — thusly named because it’s a single sentence with which to describe how and why your offering is different from that of the competition.

Identifying and nurturing your restaurant’s competitive advantages is an ongoing process that requires dedication and innovation. It’s what will keep your establishment not only surviving but thriving in a competitive culinary landscape. Stay true to your unique offerings, continually adapt, and provide a consistent and exceptional experience, and you’ll be well on your way to being competition-proof.

10 Ways to Nurture Your Competitive Advantages

Once you’ve identified your restaurant’s competitive advantages, the next step is to nurture and develop them. Here are some key strategies to help you maintain and enhance your unique selling points:

  1. Invest in Quality: If one of your competitive advantages is offering high-quality ingredients, be diligent in sourcing the finest products. Consistency in quality builds trust and keeps customers coming back.
  2. Customer Experience: Pay close attention to the entire dining experience. Exceptional customer service, a welcoming ambiance, and attention to detail can reinforce your competitive advantage.
  3. Innovation: Keep your menu fresh and exciting. Experiment with new dishes, seasonal specials, or unique flavor combinations to captivate your customers’ taste buds.
  4. Marketing and Branding: Effectively communicate your competitive advantages through marketing. Showcase what makes your restaurant special in your branding, website, social media, and advertising campaigns.
  5. Engage with Your Audience: Listen to your customers and engage with them on social media and in-person. Their feedback can help you fine-tune your offerings and improve your competitive position.
  6. Training and Development: Invest in your staff’s training and development. A well-trained team can better deliver on the promises that make your restaurant stand out.
  7. Keep an Eye on the Competition: Continuously monitor your competition to ensure your competitive advantages remain unique. Be ready to adjust your strategy as needed to maintain your edge.
  8. Gather and Act on Feedback: Encourage customers to provide feedback and act on it. Their insights can help you refine your competitive advantages and address any areas of improvement.
  9. Collaborate and Innovate: Explore collaborations with local businesses or chefs to introduce unique experiences or promotions. Innovating through partnerships can set you apart.
  10. Community Involvement: Engage with your local community. Participating in events or supporting charitable causes can strengthen your brand and competitive advantages.

Remember, nurturing your competitive advantages is an ongoing process. Stay attentive to changing trends and customer preferences, and be flexible in your approach. By consistently investing in what sets your restaurant apart, you’ll ensure that your competitive advantages remain strong and attractive to your target audience.

Want to Learn More?

Consult to Grow® provides various tools and services to help you improve your operational performance as you scale and grow your business.  We can expertly assess your scalability, develop tactical plans, facilitate planning, and more. Ready to get started? 

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