Are F&B Flops Uber Unlucky?

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Over the years, we have seen quite a few high profile F&B failures in Singapore. They include Rainforest Cafe at Liang Court, Hello Kitty Cafe at Downtown East, and of course the numerous bubble tea shops whose bubbles have popped.

The latest casualty in the scene is Uber Burger. This uber upmarket joint has folded on 7 February 2007 barely 10 months after a much-heralded opening. Famous for their S$101 Wagyu Burger stuffed with truffles, foie gras and all things decadent, they claimed to offer unique mouth watering experiences that you can never get at cheaper chains.

Launched with much aplomb - including very extensive media coverage in the major dailies - Uber Burger claimed that they succumbed to the decision to cordon off roads in Suntec City in September 2006 due to the IMF-World Bank. According to the report in Straits Times Life!, it chalked up losses of about $110,000 in that month alone. However, this statement was disproved by its neighbouring restaurants, some of which enjoyed booming business in the last three months.

What are the lessons that we can learn from these culinary "crash-and-burns"?

First, the price must be right for the product. Certain old habits die hard. In my mind, a burger no matter how dolled up, is still cheap fast food. Granted that I do love wagyu beef and foie gras. At more than $100 a pop, I would rather spend my hard-earned cash on a much more exquisite dining experience.

Second, the ambience (physical evidence in marketing parlance) must fit the price point. When I pay $101 for a meal, I expect to be pampered like a king or queen, not sit in plasticky chairs and tables with blaring rock music. Creature comforts still rule in the world of high class cuisine.

Third, uniqueness and originality is key. The first usually (not always) gets the biggest bite of the cherry. Gourmet burgers have been around for some time in various Western restaurants. Similarly the demise of many bubble tea outlets can largely be attributed to the fact that many are "me-too" shops.

Fourth, constantly innovate and stay ahead of the competition. Think long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains. The F&B business is rather capital intensive in view of the equipment and manpower needed. Fads, gimmicks and promotions can only bring you this far. You need to re-invent your menu and surprise your guests to remain relevant.

Fifth, you need to generate mindshare and top-of-mind-recall when it comes to your category. This means some investment in marketing or even better, Word-Of-Mouth efforts. In the words of Jack Trout and Al Ries (gurus of positioning theory in marketing), you should also "own" the category. Unfortunately, there are already many others who are associated with quality burgers prior to Uber Burger.

Finally, do be mindful of prevailing tastes and concerns. In this day and age, people are increasingly mindful of their health. Loading them with sugary diabetic-inducing drinks or artery clogging fatty foods may be fine occasionally. However, making it an everyday affair may be too much of a good thing!

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