Nation's Restaurant News - Oct 2011

Speaking through design: The Palm on wordless communication

By Vanessa Van Landingham

Goal: Use ambience to tell guests a story of family heritage and authenticity, without breaking the bank.

As Washington, D.C.-based The Palm Restaurant Group approached its 85th anniversary, executive vice president Bruce Bozzi Jr. picked up on a disconnect between the experience the family-owned chain wanted its guests to have and the somewhat “corporate and stale” image that was being presented to them.

Solution: Rather than jumping right into remodeling, focus on design and service to refresh all customer-facing touchpoints.

In January 2010, Bozzi, whose family has co-owned The Palm since the first location opened in New York in 1926, started taking a hard look at elements that affected the customer experience — everything from employee uniforms and service style to candles and music. After a series of focus groups and research at restaurants around the country, The Palm launched its systemwide “refresh” project.

It first updated its logo, making the colors more current and the design more welcoming.

“It was very corporate, we felt, with the circle around it, with the green and the red. The colors were really dated,” Bozzi said.

Following the logo revamp, the chain updated its website, chose new plateware, redesigned the menu, rolled out new menu items and re-engineered others, introduced new uniforms, and rethought its training and marketing strategies in terms of the fresh, warm image it wanted to project.

“We were really trying to strip the corporate-ness that had grown into the company away and become much more authentic to the Italian heritage and the two families that still own the restaurant [the Bozzis and the Ganzis], and to resonate with our guests on more of an emotional level and be really interesting to the next generation of Palm customers,” Bozzi said.

The rollout of the changes in the company’s Washington and McLean, Va., test stores was completed by October 2010.

“By Jan. 1, 2011, we wanted to be very clear: All right, this is what works. Then we divided the company into two to three restaurants a month starting in February, and we just had two teams going … into the field and training and putting all these things in.”

Bozzi expects his team to have all of The Palm’s 28 restaurants updated by the end of this month. The entire process will have cost about $1 million, an average of about $35,700 per store. Bozzi said it’s been worth it. Covers are up between 2 percent and 3 percent for 2011, and sales have been up the whole year, sometimes between 12 percent and 13 percent in a given month. 
In addition, after the refresh in the test stores, guest satisfaction scores ticked up, with the Washington location seeing customer survey scores increase from 75 to 91 in the “taste of food” category and from 67 to 78 in the “pace of dining” category.

Bozzi hopes the experience will be further strengthened by gradual systemwide architectural remodels to Palm stores, which will begin next year with the Boston location and span the next couple of decades. The chain is designing a prototype to use as a launch point for those updates.

“It’s just a good moment in time for us to be able to present ourselves and build a restaurant from more of an emotional place,” Bozzi said.

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