Q&A: Phillips goes grassroots

Published on
January 18, 2010

Executives at Baltimore-based Phillips Foods and Seafood Restaurants understand the challenges of operating in today’s economy. That is why they are reducing labor, becoming more efficient and focusing on grassroots marketing efforts to build their business. In December, Phillips Seafood Restaurants launched a “Get Hooked” promotion that was so successful that the chain of seven company-owned restaurants and 10 franchised locations extended the promotion through March.

Michelle Torres, director of marketing for Phillips, recently talked to SeafoodSource about the economy and the company’s grassroots marketing campaigns to promote seafood.

Blank: What is the “Get Hooked” campaign, and how are you marketing it?
Torres: It is a featured section on our menu with five or six different fish selections [including grilled salmon, mahimahi, red snapper and crab-crusted barramundi], along with a green salad and any of our soups, for USD 24.99 each. I think it is the price point that is attractive, and most of our menu is all about crab. This puts more emphasis on fish. Our staff went out and canvassed with flyers to the hotels, businesses and residences within about 2.5 miles of each restaurant.

Flyers sound like a inexpensive way to market. How else are you promoting Get Hooked and other specials?
Our budget is not finalized yet, so that is why we are using flyers. We use e-mail marketing, too, sending two e-mails a month. We are looking to incorporate social media into our Web site, starting off with Facebook. We are building out our corporate page, which will bounce the retail user into our restaurant [section], and vice versa. We are working with the convention centers and downtown associations. For example, in Baltimore, we contact the groups coming to conventions prior to them coming into town.

What other spring promotions will help Phillips sell more seafood?
“Restaurant Weeks” in most cities … give the opportunity for people who may not have tried your restaurant to try it. Starting now through March, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and Atlantic City’s Restaurant Weeks are running back-to-back. Everybody started a week or two earlier this year; the restaurant associations are looking for ways to boost [business]. We offer a three-course fixed menu for USD 35.10.

How is Phillips tightening its budget, and what are your growth plans for this year?
In November, we put a very aggressive labor plan in place. Now, managers do more; they may open the bar and the bartender comes in later, or they work as a cashier or a line cook. We are careful with ordering. Everyone is told to see what their usage is and order accordingly. Then, if they have a group show up unexpectedly, they might have to go to the local market to pick up lobster. For our company-owned restaurants, we don’t have any growth plans. On the franchise side, there are several contracts on the table. Most of our growth, if the contracts go through, will be in airports.

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