Eat’n Park catches guests’ attention with a shinier, more convenient package

 

When it rains on a Saturday morning, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group President and CEO Jeff Broadhurst is happy. He loves rain on the weekend — to the dismay of his wife — because more people will go to an Eat’n Park restaurant.

Broadhurst, who has been leading the company for 20 years, says that they measure everything, including the up and down of sales from weather.

“We measure a lot of things here,” he says. “Sometimes we make fun of ourselves, and some of the individuals that are constantly measuring things.”

You do need to balance that data with your gut feeling — you can’t get too wrapped up in measurement. But Broadhurst says measuring can help you learn from the experience so you can move forward, try again or get out of it.

“It ultimately comes down to having some details, some measurement tools behind the scenes that at least guide you — that we think this is the right way to go, based on this data,” he says.

By measuring everything, Eat’n Park noticed some dips in its sales numbers about five years ago. In some cases, Broadhurst says it was particular meal periods, but overall the sales numbers were dipping more than they had in the past.

It wasn’t dramatic, but it was noticeable.

Build trial

Part of the change came from the fact that Pittsburgh was an underserved restaurant market up until five or 10 years ago.

Now, there’s an influx of new concepts and there’s only so many people who live in the area. These competitors, who are typically more independent than chain, are helping change the perception of food.

“That then clearly made us really look internally, and say, ‘What do we need to do, more than we’ve done in the past, to make sure we’re relevant?’” Broadhurst says.

It’s not like the 67-year-old company hasn’t changed before. In 1996, the company founded Parkhurst Dining Services, a contract dining and catering-services company that now accounts for 50 percent of its business.

It also added other concepts to its restaurant division — several Hello Bistros, Six Penn Kitchen, The Porch at Schenley and Delicious Raw — and created an online store that ships Smiley Cookies across the country.

The company has good brand recognition. People think they know what an Eat’n Park is because they grew up going to the restaurant. The problem is that it’s not exactly the same company it was 20 years ago.

“There are some guests that hadn’t been in our restaurants for X number of years — pick it, 10, 20,” Broadhurst says. “They went to the Eat’n Park of 30 years or 20 years ago. They loved us back then, but they didn’t want us now.”

Therefore, it was a matter of figuring out how to build more of what Broadhurst calls trial, which means either attracting new guests to the restaurant or changing perceptions so that lapsed customers, who don’t understand how the company has evolved, will come back to Eat’n Park.

“It became very clear because we had some of these new competitors that came into the market that had newer, shinier boxes,” Broadhurst says. “I must admit their team members weren’t as good as ours, because I truly do believe we’ve got the finest team members in the industry, but our boxes, our buildings just didn’t drive trial.”

He was confident that once someone came into the restaurant and received a high-quality, value product and good service, they’d be back. It was a matter of getting them in the door in the first place.

Innovation isn’t flawless

In order to change perceptions and continue to evolve its brand, Eat’n Park had to catch people’s attention.

Some of that comes from adapting the menu, especially now that new kitchen equipment provides more flexibility, but Broadhurst says you have to be careful.

As a 67-year-old brand, Eat’n Park has the advantage of unbelievably loyal guests that eat in the restaurants every single day of the week. It also knows that any time it makes a change, it may hear about it from a huge group of loyal guests, he says. It’s a very difficult balancing act, especially for the marketing team.

You also cannot get stagnant with your core products. You have to invest. You cannot think: We’re making some money here, let’s move on and do something else.