Re­vamp­ing to be sure that you still have a pizza the action

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA & MARKETING - BREN­DAN SEERY

YOU CAN see the signs in the white pa­per draped across the store­front win­dows at shop­ping malls across the coun­try. And nowhere has the re­ces­sion’s deep bite hurt more than the restau­rant in­dus­try.

In­ter­na­tion­ally, it is said to be a re­al­ity that more than 80 per­cent of eater­ies close their doors within two years – without the im­pe­tus of a down­turn – so how do you adapt to changed cir­cum­stances if you’re a top-name din­ing des­ti­na­tion?

Ian Hal­fon, co-owner of Bal­ducci’s at the V&A Water­front in Cape Town, says, “Inar­guably, ev­ery busi­ness in the world has been af­fected in some way of an­other.”

He adds: “You just need to read For­tune mag­a­zine and Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view and you will see that ‘white table­cloth’ restau­rants all over the world have been af­fected by the down­turn in the econ­omy – most prob­a­bly be­cause the in­vest­ment bankers and clients looking for th­ese huge re­turns ate par­tic­u­larly well!”

Bal­ducci’s has been af­fected, but com­par­a­tively mildly, be­cause “we have re­acted quickly and changed with the times”, adds Hal­fon.

“The re­sult of this global re­ces­sion is that we have learnt to op­er­ate far more leanly and ef­fi­ciently and have re-strate­gised: hence the Bal­ducci’s make-over. The mar­ket has changed in that both the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional tourist mar­kets have shrunk.

“We have fur­ther im­proved and mod­i­fied our con­cept and have come out with an awe­some new menu. This re­volves around what peo­ple want – sim­ple and easy food without de­tract­ing from qual­ity and delectabil­ity.”

Bal­ducci’s brand essence is that it is “un­der­stated Euro­pean el­e­gance” and its dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor “is that we are the only South African Ital­ian chic restau­rant – we have taken ever-pop­u­lar, ver­sa­tile and easy Ital­ian cook­ing, us­ing the best and fresh­est in­gre­di­ents, and given it an African feel, eg ostrich Bolog­naise.”

But the restau­rant has also come up with a mar­ket­ing twist to suit the strait­ened times: gourmet ham­burg­ers.

Hal­fon says openly: “I sup­pose if it was not for con­straints on con­sumer spending, ad­mit­tedly we most prob­a­bly would never have re­searched and de­vel­oped this amaz­ing burger with our vi­sion (trav­el­ling to Amer­ica four times in a year, for ex­am­ple) to pro­duce the best yummy and con­sis­tent burger with per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ments.”

Meat used is top-notch Karan beef, he says.

Mar­ket­ing the evolved con­cept is done through PR and ad­ver­tis­ing in se­lect pub­li­ca­tions, but Hal­fon be­lieves the best sales pitch comes via word-of-mouth.

“It is most prob­a­bly the best and most cost-ef­fec­tive you will ever re­ceive. But then, put your money where your mouth is.

“If you pro­duce a good prod­uct and you are pas­sion­ate, cus­tomers will just keep on com­ing. But be what you claim to be.”

But, above all, if you’re in the eat­ing busi­ness, you need to “evolve and roll with the times”, he says, if you don’t want to be­come an­other fis­cal ca­su­alty.

ROLL WITH THE TIMES: Bal­ducci’s in Cape Town had to re­vamp its menu to give peo­ple what they want and can af­ford.

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