Top 3 effective ways of marketing your restaurants and how to “make a strong comeback” during challenging times

Platform Hospitality Group
“Brand development is an on-going conversation amongst the people working on it, with the maturation and evolution of your products, and with the guests who have experienced your brand. The brand identity doesn’t stay fixed at the moment you open your doors to the customers. However, strong fundamental brand values held on by a passionate team will make sure that the brand matures wisely.” – Hui Ying, Platform Hospitality Group

Since 2016, Platform Hospitality Group has launched in Kuala Lumpur contemporary concepts through a combination of modern design, welcoming hospitality, and incredible flavours. Notable brands include Entier, beautifully designed by award-winning Shanghai-based design firm Neri & Hu. Entier, an old French word meaning ‘whole’ or ‘entire’, is the inspiration behind their nose-to-tail culinary approach. Filled with lush greenery in both outlets, Botanica+Co is one of the most irresistible establishments in the city.

In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, the F&B industry is doing everything to keep afloat and stay relevant in the competitive business world. Marketing is crucial right now. Here, Tay Hui Ying, Director of Marketing, Platform Hospitality Group shared learnings on the right marketing strategies for your restaurants and how Platform Hospitality navigated the unchartered waters and “came back quite strongly.”

Key Learnings 

  1. Making of a brand is an on-going process of negotiation between all parties involved – chefs, management, FOH, BOH.
  2. Be receptive of your customers – what they write about you online, how do they feel when coming through your doors? What are they telling our staff? We gather all these connecting dots and strive to make our restaurants better than before.
  3. The best marketing is your food quality and execution if you don’t have somebody within your group to focus on marketing. Quality food and service will leave an impression on your guests, who will be your marketeers.

The start of Platform Hospitality Group 

Tell us more about how did you get your job?

This company started in 2016 with a few professionals in the industry coming together; some are veterans with decades of experience. My husband and I relocated to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. The idea of starting a small café evolved into two fully-fledged deli and restaurant: Botanica Deli and Botanica+Co, and Platform Hospitality Group developed from its beginnings with these two restaurants in Bangsar South. My role is in overseeing brand development, marketing and communications at Platform Hospitality Group.

Building a brand is an on-going discovery and re-writing of the narrative. Your brand will develop its character as it matures.

However, you must have your core values. Products and service of good quality at the least, constant refreshment of offerings, good design and branding, are the core of Platform Hospitality Group’s concepts.

It is also essential to pay attention to the needs of your clientele surrounding each restaurant. For example, we serve a large office crowd in our restaurants in Bangsar South during lunch, so we have to tailor our offerings also to fit their convenience.

We have a lot of repeat customers at all of our restaurants. That is why we are continually working on new ideas and thematic promotions all through the year. Being versatile in what we do has kept us going stronger than before MCO now, and it is essential to do these while keeping to our brand and operational philosophy.

Let’s talk about your restaurants at Alila Bangsar. What made your team take this risk of managing several restaurants within a hotel?

 Being able to consolidate your resources in one location creates many opportunities for your business, we see this as a strength rather than risk. Alila Bangsar, having been designed by the famous Neri & Hu, is a unique property within Kuala Lumpur’s hotel scene. We were confident that if we executed our restaurants by our company’s philosophy, Alila Bangsar would be reputable for its remarkable F&B.

 The making of Entier

 It took one full year to develop Entier, from concept to opening.

Having gathered relative success with Botanica+Co, a restaurant of a new concept that appeals to another clientele was in the pipeline. Through some contacts, we met Chef Masashi Horiuchi in Singapore and began our discussion with him in joining us. 

Chef Masashi had over two decades of fine dining experience at Michelin-star restaurants in Europe, and I think he carried that aspiration in helming a fine dining restaurant to Kuala Lumpur.

However, the group envisioned that an avant-garde concept bridging immaculate food quality with a low-key ambience would be more sensible considering the evolution of the dining industry.

Our new restaurant needed to be one where our guests will visit multiple times, a place with authentic cuisine but executed in a surprising manner, and a venue void of the fuss of fine dining. It has to be a concept the team will enjoy developing. Chef Masashi is a very open-minded chef, and he went on that line of thought with enthusiasm.

The inspiration for nose-to-tail philosophy came by when I celebrated my birthday at a Japanese restaurant in Singapore. The omakase menu that evening featured a tongue-to-tail Wagyu experience, and the idea was brought to Chef Masashi, where we fully developed that concept to where Entier is. 

Nose-to-tail also represents whole-ness, and along with our brand consultants, we developed the name Entier, which means ‘whole’ or ‘entire’. Apart from a nose-to-tail focused menu, you will also find this philosophy come through in other aspects of Entier – logo, graphic design, interior design, furnishings, tableware and plating. 

The menu is the brainchild of Chef Masashi’s quest for perfection, and his ambition to create a French fare of his personal style. Since he first moved to Kuala Lumpur nine months prior to the opening of the restaurant, he packed his schedule with farm visits, connecting with suppliers, numerous research and development and tasting sessions with the team. His curious spirit saw him combing through Malaysia looking for ingredients he was never exposed to. 

Set the Tables
“The menu focused on types of ingredients and sharing plates, dishes with ingredients served as a whole or featuring parts you don’t usually find in restaurants, a place with a lively and fashionable ambience, and a restaurant with an uplifting spirit.” Hui Ying, Platform Hospitality Group

Entier is very conceptual, and the team is continuously making discoveries about it as we move along.

Marketing during the pandemic

 What are your learnings so far?

As with everyone else, we had to quickly pivot our business into a takeaway-only concept for those two over months of MCO. This included streamlining the menu to include dishes that were popular and good for taking away, creating online purchasing platforms and digital marketing campaigns, strategizing the operations in a logical manner in view of all the guidelines given by the government, and so on.

As the world went into a stay-home mode, new patterns surface, and it was important that our team was quick to discover what was in demand and to create products and services that captured these opportunities.

 It was not easy executing all the new ideas we came up with, with the majority of us working from home, and suppliers’ offices being closed as well. We just had to keep each other going and stay motivated, and to stay focused on our aim – do our best to keep the business going, because we expect the better days to return.

“The MCO created unexpected opportunities for us. At Botanica+Co, we now have Family Sets which can be enjoyed for dine-ins or to take-away, more pastries, introducing a new line of house-made gourmet oil infusions, condiments, pastes and pestos (from end-September onwards).” – Hui Ying

 A few learnings on marketing during the pandemic:

  1. Attractive photos are important
  2. Appropriate messages for the pandemic period containing kindness, family, friends, love, unity, etc
  3. Products that combine a good taste with an element of fun or DIY are appealing
Set the Tables
“At Entier, our gourmet products which were all created during MCO (bottled pantry goods such as butter, jam and pates, and burnt Basque cheesecake) were extremely popular. We carry these on even after the MCO, and I think the pandemic allowed us to see opportunities to develop new and exciting products.” – Hui Ying

Since you have a reputation for producing something of a certain quality, whatever you launch, people are eager to try it out. This is what Platform Hospitality is about.

The margins are not high in the F&B industry. Some restaurants do not have the allowance for downtimes, and the MCO presented a period of ‘down’ like never before. We must have good vision, be quick and decisive in how we turn the business around to move forward.

 Recently, we announced the closure of Pacific Standard Bar. We did not envision the bar business resuming normalcy with the uncertainties of the pandemic. The space is currently used as a dining extension for Entier, and we are now working on a new concept springing out from Entier – Le Comptoir d’Entier. Think this as the playful little brother of Entier. So, stay tuned!

 The marketing strategy is to enhance the customer experience, even the smallest detail – providing envelopes of paper bags for your masks, converting our standard menus to one time menus, QR codes to minimize physical touch, hand sanitizers.

How to build your brand 

Many business owners right now do not have the privilege to have a dedicated marketing person. What are the basics that any owners need to know when managing their marketing?

 Building your brand is a constant conversation. If your restaurant doesn’t have a dedicated person doing marketing, the best way is to put yourself forward.

When people talk about your brand, that in itself is the best form of marketing – rather than you talking about yourself.

You have to be in the restaurant – to ensure the quality of what you put on the plate, overlook that the set-up is in place and the ambience is right, and to create that personal touch with your guests. You want your guests to convey the message you’re sending out, “Hey, I went to restaurant ABC, and you know, it’s a small restaurant, but the quality is great.”

 What’s important is the sense of you being there to market the brand yourself. People are helpful during this season. You can ask them to write a review for you on Tripadvisor, Google, your social media platforms. 

A good experience for the guest need not be in the form of a nicely-designed menu or decorated ambiance. Instead, tasty food and drinks cooked with soul, and a personal connection with the guests, could make the guest yearn to return.

 The positive side of Covid-19 

Can you share a positive story in light of Covid-19?

We received many encouraging messages via digital platforms during MCO, and it surprised us. We also saw people posting on Instagram, throwing back to their last dine-in at our restaurants, how they looked forward to dining with us again, and some sent well wishes hoping that they will still see us around after the MCO. We have been very fortunate, and we are thankful that we were able to come back quite strongly after the MCO. It is a tough time for everyone.

Set the Tables

Having passionate people in the team who are dedicated to their roles, and being there to make sure that things are in place is extremely important. Staff morale is most likely to be low everywhere in such a crisis, as part of the management team or as a business owner, this is when you need to surface and hold the fort. You will inspire your team to take on your side. The Platform team has been fortunate to have strong players to weather through this storm together.

Images credit: Platform Hospitality Group. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 


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