On the spot: Scott Smith, Restaurants Unlimited

Published on
September 12, 2010

To kick off Portland, Ore.-based Newport Bay and Newport Seafood Grill’s new, combined menus and get loyal guests back to the casual seafood concepts, the restaurants conducted an unusual promotion. Newport Bay and Newport Seafood Grill held a day-long “Name Your Own Price” campaign on 8 September, allowing guests who ordered the two restaurants’ popular Alaskan Cod Fish and Chips to name the price they would like to pay for the entrée.

Scott Smith, CEO of Restaurants Unlimited in Seattle, which acquired the two Newport locations in 2007, said the promotion was an innovative way to bring back guests who may have thought items on the sister restaurants’ menus were priced too high for casual eateries. On the Spot talked to Smith about the restaurants’ redesigned menu and what’s ahead for Newport Bay and Newport Seafood Grill.

Blank: Why did you shift to a new combined menu?
Smith: The previous owners started remodeling Newport Seafood Grill to be more upscale, and Newport Bay was left the same way [as a casual restaurant]. We tried to run two different concepts, but that was confusing for guests. We introduced a single, all-day menu for both locations, and took lobster tail and king crab legs off the menu. Over the years, the menu had gotten priced too high for the category, so now we have nothing on the menu over USD 20. We also put the servers in new uniforms that are more casual and are tied in with the new menu.

Describe the new menu.
We focused on our famous Fish and Chips, which are carried in three different varieties. Halibut is typically the No. 1 seller, followed by cod and the sampler fish and chips. We also have a “build your own” surf-and-turf for USD 9.95 each. The surf-and-turf includes a grilled 6-ounce steak, with the guest’s choice of garlic prawns, seared scallops or stuffed sole. It has become one of our most popular items. We are selling around 32 a day.

Why and how did you run the Name Your Own Price promotion?
We needed to get people back and separate the brand. Guests were confused and thought we were priced too high. We wanted to reward loyal customers, draw in new guests and bring guests back. We promoted it through FSIs (free-standing inserts), radio campaigns and in the restaurants on check-holders. We trained the front-of-the-house staff on how we were going to serve it and ordered plenty of product. Even though we sell the Fish and Chips for USD 12.95 each, the cost of the product is USD 2.19 each. We asked people to leave the money they felt comfortable leaving, based on their experience.

What were the results of the promotion?
We took in an average of USD 3.14 each on Fish and Chips, and our comparable store sales for the day were up 93 percent. Our add-ons — appetizers, cocktails and desserts — are USD 1,200 on a typical Wednesday. For that day, they were USD 9,800. We had 20 to 40 people standing outside at lunch, and then the word got out through blogs and social media. At dinner, we were on 90- to 120-minute waits.

How do you plan to keep sales higher on a regular basis?
We created guest comment cards for the promotion and asked people to leave their e-mail addresses. Also, in two weeks, we are launching our “2 For USD 25” promotion, which is a separate menu, from which guests can select two entrees and an appetizer for USD 25. The majority of the entrées will be seafood-based. In the next 60 to 90 days, we will create four main fresh seafood offerings that you can have prepared three or four different ways, such as teriyaki style or lemon-butter sautéed. For the fall to December holiday season, we are putting together our seafood festival promotion, but we haven’t finalized that yet.

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