I was recently asked to speak at the Adur and Worthing Food Expo about restaurant marketing and branding. The event focused on food intolerances and it was an amazing day organised by Andy Sparsis of Proto Restaurant Group, Sharon Clarke of Worthing Town Centre Initiative and Adur and Worthing CouncilsYou can see my talk at #awfoodexpo on YouTube.

Being a ‘food intolerant’ (wheat, dairy and egg white) foodie, I want to share with you how food intolerant customers can help your restaurant to become more innovative and grow to be a strong, healthy brand.

So what is the definition of marketing?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing suggests that marketing is about satisfying customers at a profit. However, it has been proven that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal. You have to EXCEED customers’ expectations for them to become loyal. Think about it, if you visit a restaurant and it is just OK, would you rush to go back?

There is good news for restaurants in the South East because the Office for National Statistics reveals that disposable income increased by £1500 per household in 2014/15 compared to the previous year and the South East has the second highest level of disposal income in the the UK.

However, to earn all this disposal income people have to work harder and as a result, they have less time to relax. When they do have one spare night to go out as a couple or a family, that evening is cherished. They want to feel special. They want to have the best experience and don’t want to feel like they have wasted their precious time.

Restaurant marketing is about much more than menu and advert design

Menu and advert design is classified as ‘promotions’ which is just one of the seven marketing P’s and you should only promote your restaurant once you have something to shout about. Therefore, your restaurant needs to keep adding customer value which means you need to understand what customers want. This article will help restaurants to keep customers EXTREMELY satisfied.

There is a marketing tool called PEST to help businesses to do this, however, PEST and restaurants don’t really belong together, therefore for this exercise I shall use the evolved marketing tool called STEEPLE.

How does STEEPLE work? Each letter of STEEPLE represents an element of the macro-environment which highlights potential threats and opportunities for your business. This blog explains the ‘S’ element of STEEPLE. You can watch my talk to find out about the other STEEPLE elements. I will also cover the other STEEPLE elements in future blogs.

S stands for SOCIAL. This looks at changes in trends and what happens here eventually results in new legislation.

Think demographics. Think diversity, food intolerances and celebrity chefs! Much of what we eat is down to the celebrity chef of the moment and many of them are raising issues such as sugar-overload and wastefulness.

Am I an alien?

Food intolerances and allergies are high on the agenda. This is a subject close to my heart because I have am intolerant to diary, gluten and egg white. When I was first tested, 197 out of 200 foods were fine. Wheat, casein (dairy) and egg white were no-go areas. Unfortunately these three foods appear in most every processed food and restaurant menu.

Do you know how much I crave for a huge french stick with lashings of Brie? Occasionally I relent but I regret it for days afterwards. I’ve not seen a restaurant dessert menu that is dairy, gluten and egg white free. This is frustrating because I only have to pop to Waitrose and see the almond milk and oat cream which I successfully use at home.

When I attend a function with a set menu and I advise them of my food intolerances, I am generally given the same dish as everyone else, without the sauce, which is dry and not something I look forward to. Then for dessert it is fruit salad, while everyone else is enjoying cheesecake or similar. Waitrose sell dairy-free ice-cream. It’s delicious.

Food is only 50% of the problem. Imagine you are meeting a top client at a restaurant and you ask the waiter or waitress which dishes are safe. On occasions, the restaurant staff have looked at me like I’m an alien and common comments include, ‘there’s always one!’ or ‘high maintenance’ – perhaps in jest, but still hurtful. Not a great environment for positive energy or impressing valuable clients. Needless to say I choose restaurants where I feel safe and that the attitude to intolerances is embraced. What I’m saying here is that attitude is as important, if not more important than your food. This is your chance to be a restaurant leader and see people like me as an opportunity to practice innovation.

Diversity breeds creativity

Food intolerances give restaurants an opportunity to be creative. Did you know that diversity breeds creativity? The allergen laws are becoming stricter – why wait until the laws push you into change?

I applaud restaurants like Proto Restaurant Group who have introduced separate gluten-free menus and are sensitive to customer needs.

Basically I have little time to eat out, so when I do, I want as much choice as other customers and to be treated as a valued customer – not a pain in the neck.

After being diagnosed with intolerances I ate at home for the first couple of years because I was fed up with the lack of safe food on offer. I created some fabulous dishes and launched #smileyfoodface and you can follow me on Instagram.

I wonder how many other people with food intolerances are also eating at home because they can eat more interesting dishes than they can when they are out?  The whole attitude needs to change.

I’d be interested to hear of other restaurants that are safe for people with food intolerances. Please call Vicky Vaughan on 07909 693172 or email vicky@thebrandsurgery.co.uk and I will help to promote you.