Case Study: Eddies Trackside Bar & Grill
Idea Wanted: Word-of-mouth ideas to drive food sales.
Monroe, Washington is a tale of two towns. Like so many small communities across America, city leaders like to show off shiny new growth that comes in the form of development from big business brands. Such is the case in Monroe, Washington, a city of 16,000 people 30 miles northeast of Seattle.
Monroe’s future is different than its past. Founded in the 1880’s with the arrival of the Great Northern Railroad, Monroe’s roots are blue collar. Construction, trade, and agriculture jobs fill up the employment rolls. But recently, the city turned its growth attention to the new, North Kelsey Area Development. Courting big name brands like Lowe’s, new buildings are springing up on the north side of the Stevens Pass highway that runs through town. The new development is just a couple hundred yards from the railroad tracks that are the backbone of Monroe…and the historic part of town. And that brings us to our case study.
Eddies Trackside Bar & Grill is on the other side of the tracks, literally. It’s a blue collar bar and grill owned by Stacie Ballweg and Wendy McDowell. When the city of Monroe turned it’s attention to it’s shiny new development, historic downtown Monroe became an occasional memory. That historic area of town is where Eddies and many other locally-owned businesses are located. (See it on Google Maps & check out the street view)
While Eddies has brisk alcohol sales, food sales lag far behind, comprising only about 15% of total business. This is perplexing to Wendy and Stacie because they serve what they perceive to be high-quality food. Stacy is also a caterer and prides herself on providing unique foods. Fresh, never frozen hand-formed burgers, hand-battered mahi-mahi fish & chips, sliced roast beef melted Tillamook Swiss French Dip sandwich. Yummy! Except, nobody’s buying…or very few are. In her request for ideas, Wendy says: “Our food is high quality and well prepared, yet we are having a hard time overcoming the “bar” branding.”
Eddies has little to no money for advertising and the hope is to create word of mouth, thereby creating more food orders. Let’s understand how word of mouth works.
For Eddies Trackside, that formula would like like this:
The customer experience should always be built on the brand. When the brand and the customer experience are consistent, it creates the fuel to drive word of mouth. If there is inconsistency between the brand and the experience, people don’t know what to say. The Eddies Trackside brand was born of a line from a song called Eddie. It’s a brand built on a rough and rugged salt-of-the-earth man who loved his wife. It’s a brand filled with the great northwest heritage of railroads and logging. Blue collar all the way and a great story. And therein lies the word-of-mouth obstacle for Eddie’s Trackside Bar & Grill.
There is a disconnect between the Eddies brand and the Eddies experience. The brand says blue collar. The menu communicates something different. Blue collar men with modest incomes want hearty, inexpensive, good-tasting food. It doesn’t really matter to them that there’s hand-battered mahi-mahi in their fish & chips. Fresh, never frozen beef in my burger? Not if it costs more. Eddies brand is not connected to their food experience. Therefore, there is no reason for customers to order, or talk about, the food. Customers are coming for the brand, not the food. Here’s what’s happening at Eddies:
The Ideas: Reformulate the menu and create conversation about the menu.
- Align the food and prices with the brand.
– Create a menu with blue-collar food choices: Burgers, chicken-fried steak, fries & onion rings, bar-b-que, Nothing fancy. Hearty meals with affordable prices, preferably everything $6.99 or less. Does that mean sacrificing food quality? Yes. I’m not recommending that you give them scraps, but there’s no need to serve prime beef or mahi-mahi.
- Give the menu a personality.
– Give all menu items railroad-themed names. In fact you might want to give the menu itself a railroad name. Have fun with it. Get your customers involved in naming the items. The “Boxcar Burger Basket,” and the “Chain Gang” never-ending basket of fries.
That’s the first part of word of mouth: give people something to talk about. The second part is give people the opportunity to talk about it.
Create Menu Conversation
- Have a new menu roll-out night.
– Book a band with a food-themed name. Get them to start playing early one evening at 5pm. If you can’t find a band with food in their name, change their name temporarily for the evening. Give them certain menu promotional copy to read periodically throughout the evening.
- Sample the new menu.
– Each half-hour during the menu roll-out promotion, sample an item from the new menu. You don’t have to give them the full item, but let everyone get a taste of what they want.
- Add a dash of excitement.
– Give out a few prizes such as Eddie’s T-shirts. Print the – Eddie’s logo on the front and the menu on the back. Pass out a limited number of free appetizer coupons.
- Solicit new menu suggestions from customers.
– Get customers involved. You may even have a contest. Tell the audience you need a name for your chicken-fried steak. Take votes all evening long. The one who names the item gets it free the next 10 times.
– Find out if you’re missing something that customers want. Then give a customer full credit for coming up with a new menu item. You may even want to intentionally leave an item off the menu so a customer can suggest it to you.
Update: What Happened?
I checked in with Stacie and Wendy a couple of months later to see if they made any progress. To their credit, they took action…with great results. Read what happened in my update post: Case Study Update: Eddie’s Trackside Bar & Grill