Reporter's Notebook

Sticker shock for bd's

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You’ve heard the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in the case of bd’s Mongolian Grill, a few pictures may be worth thousands of dollars in additional sales.

Over the past two months, I’ve had a chance to catch up with the 31-unit brand’s president, Joe Phraner, who talked about bd’s pursuit of higher sales and profits by developing and up-selling add-ons to its core create-your-own stir-fry offering. A lot of emphasis is going toward appetizers, beer and cocktails, and desserts.

Through May of this year, bd’s had increased add-on items’ share of total sales to 14.5 percent, up from 12.5 percent a year earlier.

“We did it with a little tweak in thinking, in that a lot of times people look at that add-on menu as a cost of goods helper, but we’ve looked at it really as an additional profit center that drives more sales,” Phraner said. “I’m willing to take a 50-percent cost of goods, with the understanding that I’ve got you in the restaurant, which is the hard part, and I can come up with a great drink, appetizer or dessert, sell it at a reasonable price and make it a value for you. I may only make $2 on a $4 piece of cheesecake, but that’s the customer I already have in the restaurant making an additional $2. That’s a profitable visit for us.”

The part about bd’s drive for more add-on sales that I liked most was the chain’s method for advertising those featured appetizers, drinks and desserts. It was a point-of-purchase decal on tables that Phraner described as an “out of the way, in your face” piece of creative.

Beginning in March, the brand removed its table caddies and pop-up cards in favor of this sticker on tables that show a featured appetizer, cocktail, beer and dessert, priced usually at or around $4.

“It’s all people, product and promotion,” Phraner said. “We’ve got the products, and we get our team involved in making sure we’ve got the right ones. The sticker really helped the promotion. It’s right there and the guests can read it, but I like how it’s a prop for the servers, who can say, ‘You really have to try our crab rangoons or our $4 Long Island Iced Teas.’”

As far as marketing and operations go, this decal strikes me as a cost-effective, subtle way to move more of the appetizers and drinks, which admittedly have slimmer profit margins than the core stir-fry but are incremental-sales builders nonetheless.

The decal also involves everybody who interacts with the guest, Phraner said. The servers are told to talk up one part of the add-on menu, and the host staff or managers doing table visits will tout another part.

Bd’s changed the decal in May and is preparing another switch soon, this time to celebrate the brand’s 21st birthday, Phraner said.

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