As a child, my mother would often stop me from doing stupid things by saying: “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do that as well?” I’d like to rephrase this for the F&B folk of Shanghai—“If everyone is opening [insert trend du jour] style restaurant, should you do it as well?” The answer is almost always no. But when a new restaurant concept pops up in Shanghai, everyone flocks to it. And it’s only natural that you’d want a slice of that pie. Often though, you aren’t one of the first do start said concept, and you’ll never catch up.
Consumers want what’s new, fresh and exciting. Being the nth poke restaurant to try and fight for market share is not going to end well for you. We get it, everyone wants to be the next Little Catch. They launched a great concept with tasty food—and crucially, they brought something fresh and new to Shanghai’s dining scene.
I’d hoped that restaurateurs would be on a mission to do something original, but instead what we’re seeing all too often are a bunch of wannabes bringing nothing new to the table and still thinking they’re entitled to sponge off the trendsetters for some profit.
I’m not saying that once a successful restaurant has established themselves as the benchmark in the industry, then that industry is completely off-limits. But if you want to capitalize on a newly formed market, then you need to either go for a different version of at least one of the following: price point, offering of goods or quality. If the industry leader of poke bowls charges RMB55 for a bowl, then don’t copy their model and charge MORE, unless you can produce a better product.
This week I had what was essentially a poke bowl at a mainstream restaurant chain in that had recently decided that “bowls” would be the newest addition to their menu, which was quite a significant event for a restaurant whose menu has barely changed for years. For a higher price (RMB68) than the industry leader, I had the misfortune of being presented with dingy, gray tuna and an overabundance of cheap cabbage. This in fact did hit one of my three points of different from earlier—quality, but they clearly didn’t get the memo that if the quality is lower, then the price needs to be as well. This is why McDonald’s doesn’t charge Beef & Liberty prices for their burgers.
Had this same offering been RMB38, while I wouldn’t have been blown away, I would have consoled myself that this what you get for a RMB38 poke bowl. The same thing I tell myself whenever I should find myself at 2am shamefully eating rock hard chicken nuggets delivered by a disgruntled McDonald’s deliveryman because every other food outlet is closed.
How do we move past this dilemma? As much as Id like to say just come up with original ideas, we all know that’s probably not going to happen. So, how about taking a concept that’s working well in another country and be the first to bring it here? Can do. There are thousands of great concepts flourishing around the world, just snag one of those and be the first to bring it to Shanghai.
There are your keywords: Bring it to Shanghai. Nando’s is pretty great. Chick-fil-A is even better. And can someone please bring Whole Foods Market to Shanghai? You can thank me later when you’re rolling around in your bed made of money.
Written by Christopher Pitts | Head Chef at Table No.1
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