US Diners Eat Up Menu Marketing Manipulation of Top Restaurant Chains

Menu Brand Comparison of Arby's,Cracker Barrel, Ruth's Chris and More

© McDonald's, reprinted with permission from AboutMcdonalds.com

This year, hungry U.S. consumers will be choosing between more than 625,000 restaurant choices for each of the 700 million times they dine outside of their own kitchens.  For those 625,000 restaurants, using marketing campaigns just to get noticed is only half the battle.  Competing to be unique is the other half.

Gaining a competitive edge is difficult in the retail restaurant sector because news travels fast and success is borrowed even faster.

 The only truly unique aspect of any restaurant that can be "owned" is the menu. Menu items, in general, are "borrowed" by competitors all the time.  But the actual specific recipes for the items on a restaurant's menu belong to those who create them.  

So the top restaurant chains in America have learned how to use their only truly unique feature as the cornerstone for brand differentiation.  Clever branders are using menu marketing manipulation not only to lure consumers into their dining rooms and drive-thrus, but also to compel those same consumers to avoid the dining rooms and drive-thrus of the competition.  So far, American diners are eating the menu marketing manipulation up.

What "menu marketing manipulation" does is to create an identity for the menu itself, and disparage the identity of competitors' menus at the same time.  In essence, just by the way they describe what the menu is all about, the underlying message from menu marketing manipulators is "Here's why you want to eat here now and why you never want to eat at that other place ever again."

What follows are some current menu market manipulation examples from some of the largest U.S. restaurant chains.  

Menu Marketing Manipulation of Top Restaurant Chains

A & W "All American" Menu for All-American Customers
"All American Food" and a Menu Filled with "All-American Classics"
The "All American Food" image of the A&W Menu positions the entire A&W restaurant chain as "All American," creating an emotional connection by association with patriotism and pride

Arby's Maximizes a Meaty Menu
"Celebrating the art of Meatcraft™ with a variety of high-quality proteins and innovative, crave-able sides"

The Arby's focus on its "meats" differentiates it from all of its burger and fries competitors

Ben & Jerry's Licks the Competition With Menu Personality and Politics
"Peace, Love and Ice Cream"

The Ben & Jerry's flavors are its "menu" and with flavors like "Empower Mint," it's hard to miss the progressive values and social activism that is woven into every aspect of the Ben & Jerry's business.

Bennigans Irish-American Menu Branding Fusion
"American Fare with Irish Hospitality" 
Benigans creates a fusion between the chain's Irish name and brand image and the popular American fare on its menu with its carefully crafted marketing sloga
Click for the Bennigans menu>>

Bojangles Busts Bigtime With Biscuit Barbs
"Never-frozen Marinated Chicken, Made-from-Scratch Biscuits, and Signature Fixin's"

Without directly disparaging its competitors, Bojangles manages to shines a spotlight on the aspects of other everything-frozen, not-from-scratch, nothing-special fast food chicken competitors that diners might not find so appealing. 

Cafe Tu Tu Tapas Tango Tastes
"Tastes from Around the World That Are Works of Art Themselves"
Focusing on the global origin of its menu items rather than on its sometimes criticized tapas-size portions, Cafe Tu Tu Tango positions itself as a romantic dining destination that is worthy of the in-house working artists that make the Tu Tu Tango dining experience truly unique.

Cracker Barrel Scratches an Itch for Down-Home Dining
"Honest-to-Goodness Homestyle Meals Prepared From Scratch"

Cracker Barrel has always positioned its menu as "home-cooked," but in the past that has included the vegetable cans that were opened and reheated just like mama does at home when she's in a hurry or on a tight food budget. Cracker Barrel's current "prepared from scratch" menu positioning adds a dollop of authenticity to its home-cooked claim.   

Del Frisco's Menu: A Little Steak With Your Award-Winning Wine?
"Impeccable Chef-Driven Cuisine with an Extensive Award-Winning Wine List"

If every full-service fine dining steak restaurant chain in America claims to have the best steaks, then in the mind of the dining consumer, somebody has to be lying, and it's probably all of them.  Del Frisco's sidesteps the dubious debate by focusing on the caliber of the professional who's cooking the steaks, and the wine selection that will make you not care much about what the food menu has to offer.

Loco El Pollo Menu Is a Mixed Menu Message
"Healthful, Freshly Prepared Food Hot Off Our Open-Flame Grills Cooked by Our Grill Masters"

The name says Mexican, the brand positioning says Backyard BBQ, the menu says a little bit of both.  Rather than compete head-to-head with fast food franchise favorites like Taco Bell and Dell Taco, El Pollo Loco hopes to sidestep direct competition altogether with menu positioning that's all about the grill. 

Hardee's Is for the Hearty
"A Menu Worthy of Your Hunger... If you're gonna eat, you should Eat Like You Mean It"

While smoke-and-mirrors marketing efforts of its competitors are focused on contriving a healthy image for their unhealthy menus, Hardee's (and parent brand Carl's Jr.) are brave enough just to claim and own the opposite position with bigger, worse, bulge-building burgers. Its next branding slogan could simply be "It is what it is." 

Ruth's Chris
"The Steak Dinner Done Right"
It's not so much about what Ruth's Chris thinks makes a steak dinner "right," which is... "Signature steaks seared to perfection, finished with butter and parsley, and served on a 500-degree plate."  It's about the clear implication that its upscale, fine dining steakhouse competitors have "got it wrong,"