Jason Li writes for Nee Hao Magazine about the importance of marketing for Chinese restaurants and take away owners, and the changing habits and trends of the British Chinese people. He is the recent author of The Goose Bump Effect – A Practical Beginner’s Guide to Marketing Differentiation Tactics and Value Creation, spends all his pocket money eating at Chinese restaurants in Manchester and London when the pain of terrible ready meals gets too much.
The New Year is looming and the British and Chinese community is waiting in anticipation of eating something delicious in a Chinese restaurant.
For many of the British Chinese who have moved out of the family home… it is the one last remaining identity.
Even today in Britain, we are still practicing this one cultural phenomenon that has been carried overseas by our ancestors; eating in Chinese restaurants as a family As generations breed a new, more modern, and Westernised Chinese child, Chinese people in Britain have a number of changing habits, values and culture that for many is both a mix of the Chinese mainland and new Western home. (If that doesn’t sound messed up then you should see the cat’s face when my parents talk to it in Chinese – it’s kinda ‘Chinglish’ cat language!)
Why is this important to restaurants?
Well what we are seeing over the generations are the changing tastes, values, beliefs and role of BBCs in Britain. I was a child of parents who ran a take away. I even ran my own for 6 months to “have a go” at it. Why not?… all my English friends thought it was my rite of passage at school. They’d say things such as: “Well I guess you don’t have to worry about a job after school as you’ll take over the chippy, right?”
Like most of you who read this magazine, I’ve since left the Chinese take away world and joined the office. It’s completely different, and it always surprised me in the beginning if I met a Chinese person in the office. Although now a days I’ve got used to it.
Now you will see young BBCs in non-chip shop work on equal par with a native English person in Selfridges (why do they not sell fridges?) or an office job such as IT or accounting. This is the new generation of BBCs in the last 30 or 40 years and this lifestyle change is going to keep on increasing.
Where once take aways shut on a Monday or Tuesday night, and Chinese people worked every other night of the week, now the BBC working population are free most nights of the week. Where once Chinese people only went out to eat on Sunday afternoon to yam cha, now BBCs may go on Saturday too. And where most Chinese people could cook good Chinese food, now most BBCs can’t cook Chinese food (yes, even you ladies are struggling to keep up with the recipes passed on over those thousands of years.)
A different marketing approach if you’re a restaurant or take away owner
So what we are seeing in Britain is that the customer’s habits have changed. But in 2013, maybe some market research might help your business understand what is happening to the Chinese people in your local community. In fact when was the last time you took some market research? Every business believes they know everything about their customers, but even giants like Woolworths got left behind with the times.
Understanding the customer
More recently, marketing has been important for businesses to thrive and could well help Chinese restaurants. A vital part of marketing is to understand the customer. So for a Chinese restaurant it could be: what do customers these days like to eat, how much will they spend, who are they eating with at the dinner table, what languages are BBCs speaking, how many BBCs do business meetings in restaurants, how many bring workplace business colleagues to the restaurant during the week, how many wear business wear, how many visit a buffet, and where do they eat.
If you don’t believe eating and drinking habits change then go into a Starbucks and watch. This only happened in Britain in the last couple of decades and coffee houses are now everywhere where pubs once ruled. Have a drive around your local town and count how many pubs are shut down because they could not move with the times. Can you remember when no-one had their head down whilst reading a mobile phone in restaurant? It’s another sign that things have changed! (Some things do still remain the same; such seeing yet another Andy Lau poster staring at you in a Chinese DVD shop near you.)
Examples of new marketing strategies
The next stage is to take this information and create a plan to serve your target market with the right products and services. So let’s say your restaurant has noticed many BBCs are now office workers who work 9-5pm, can’t cook Chinese food well (that includes me), are willing to spend £8 twice during the week to get some food. Then you have a new opportunity for a mid-week market.
As another example, if you find 50% of the BBCs will be eating alone, you could have a corner of the restaurant that offers the opportunity for office workers to sit where they want like MacDonald’s do – so you may have to rearrange table arrangements to reflect this.
You may find from your research that BBCs still like “mum’s food”, but as they live away from home they would pay to eat “as if at home.” You could have a set menu or a buffet with food that your mum would make. So it could be four different soups and 6 different dishes to choose from that is based on traditional food eaten in the home. (You’ll have to run tests to see what works and what doesn’t, there’s no fixed answer to solutions to your research.)
The BBC generation
Now I’m not saying the above marketing strategies will work. What we’re saying here is that in 2013 there is a great opportunity to get to know the BBC generation that has evolved and for Chinese restaurants to also evolve and suit the requirements of the modern BBC.
Of course, most aspects of Chinese restaurants such as Dim Sum Sundays will always work well. But have you ever been on a few Thursday night restaurant/karaoke birthday parties or Friday night late night meals where quite a few BBCs are red faced after three drinks? Then it might be time to see if there are more opportunities to serve the modern BBC.