Oscar Wilde once said that consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative. I’m pretty sure he never ran a restaurant.
I suppose it’s true that consistency is sometimes associated with being conservative or lacking flair. With thousands of messages vying for our attention, we’re usually drawn to whatever is new or trending. It’s tough to make headlines without making waves.
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Restaurants are no exception. We get daily updates on new concepts, new menu items, new marketing campaigns, and new trends for finding and retaining the best people. Sustainable competitive advantages are rare. Companies constantly test different ideas in an effort to stake out a unique competitive position.
With all this activity in the visible spectrum, it’s easy to overlook the more mundane, day-to-day tasks that drive everyday dining experiences. Good operators know what resonates with diners: regardless of brand or segment, we judge restaurants by how they meet our expectations. And as much as operators push for operational brilliance every shift, most would admit they’d probably be happy if they executed at a really good level on a routine basis.
The reality is that providing a quality experience day after day is a lot harder than it seems. Great shifts are always the goal. But replicating them in the face of numerous daily challenges is another matter. It would seem that organizations that perform well consistently could, over time, turn this feature into a unique competitive positioning. And taking it a step further, this positioning should lead to performance that is better than brands that are not quite so adept.
So is there any evidence to support the theory that consistency is linked to sales performance? Unfortunately, our measurement tools aren’t ideal. We’d love to have uniform and detailed research findings that rate each brand on its ability to deliver consistently. In the absence of this, we have to use a proxy.
Let’s assume that strong organizations have built infrastructures to establish and maintain high standards. It makes sense that they would have less variability in performance across their system. Regardless of how well the brand itself performed, it could be argued that having relatively fewer outliers (that is, sales more clustered around system average) is an indication of consistency.
We tested this hypothesis with the Financial Intelligence (formerly Black Box Intelligence) database of casual dining units. Using chains with more than 25 locations, our sample included 32 brands and almost 7,000 locations. For each brand, we determined the comp sales performance of each restaurant. Then we calculated the “spread”, or standard deviation, for each brand. The larger the standard deviation, the more variability there was in performance within the brand.
As shown below, the range of results was pretty wide. Brands with low variability in sales had standard deviations under 3%. Brands with high variability had standard deviations over 9%. Twelve-month comp sales for all the brands in the analysis was (-0.9%). The average standard deviation was 5.4%.
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The ten brands with the lowest variability (4.1% standard deviation) had comp sales of (-0.3%). The ten brands with the highest variability (6.9% standard deviation) saw comp sales of (-2.7%).
It goes without saying that a whole host of factors influence sales performance. Linking results to any single metric is unwise. Nonetheless, our view into the casual dining space suggests a relationship between overall performance and variability within the brand.
Consistency isn’t something we typically measure, but it may be one that warrants more attention. It’s not sexy like a blockbuster ad campaign or a shiny new prototype. And it isn’t a discrete event or initiative that you can point out on a trend line. Those who get it would say it’s about doing everyday things uncommonly well: know the brand, understand the guest, put the right people in the right roles, create great messaging, establish high standards, communicate lavishly, and hold people accountable.
Exciting? Probably not. It takes uncommon focus and a strong belief in the mission. I’ll bet even Oscar Wilde would have agreed.