There are a lot of challenges that come with the growth of a company, especially with a business as complex as a restaurant. But if handled correctly, all those struggles can be overcome.
Take Maggiano's Little Italy, for example. It exists in the higher-end chain restaurant category with competitors like the Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang's China Bistro. It has semi-scratch kitchens, large locations and multiple business lines that make it particularly hard to scale. And yet, it managed to grow. In fact, Maggiano's is the only high-end Italian food chain that has scaled to the size it is right now: 44 restaurants.
How did it pull that off? Maggiano's president Steve Provost shares his thoughts on how he has built the company's reputation, while staying true to its origins.
Small Player Advantage
"Economics is destiny in any business," Provost says. "While there are some challenges, we also have the advantage of not spending a lot of money on expensive TV commercials talking about how good we are. We want your friends to tell you how good we are."
Smaller brands with a "megaphone" now have an advantage. "The world is changing and the beauty of being a smaller player is that we're now in a better world for non-marketers," Provost says. "With the rise of social, you can tell your story much more extensively."
Staying True to Its Brand
There's no simple answer for what a company should do with its brand, since each one is different. All you can do is stay true to your own.
"The hardest thing about any brand is whatever you do has to be done off of who you are," Provost says. "The ideas that stick are the ideas that fit the brand."
For Maggiano's, its brand is about being indulgent. That's how consumers think of it. It can never instantly reverse itself and become all about health, for instance.
It's also focused on family. Diners go there to eat in a big group for long periods of time, and they expect exquisite service. If Maggiano's can't provide that expected level of service, then it has failed.
Acting Small and Big
Maggiano's has combined two models of doing business: the entrepreneurial model and the big company model. The entrepreneurial model involves one innovator with a great gut instinct and the ability to stay nimble and react quickly to what customers think, while the big company model is about long-term processes that are highly scientific and about getting the customers involved with every process.
"What we try to do at Maggiano's is get them both together," Provost says. "Both have flaws. The gut instinct could be wrong or you could fall in love with the process and lose sight of the end result."
"Our goal is to be a billion-dollar brand—100 restaurants and more—but never sacrifice the unique service experience that we have," Provost says. "We want to grow responsibly, recruit and develop world-class chefs, and find the sites that are special."
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Photo: Courtesy of Maggiano's