Fondue restaurant chain The Melting Pot will be the featured company on the Dec. 9 episode of “Be the Boss,” a new A&E reality-competition show.
For the chain, the exposure on the one-hour program will provide a prime opportunity to get the word out about its revamped menu, which is to launch officially in all of its restaurants by February 2013, reports Sandy D'Elosua, national director of marketing and communications for Front Burner Brands, the restaurant management company for The Melting Pot.
The show, from the executive producers of CBS’s “Undercover Boss,” ups the competitive ante by having two employees from a company vie to earn what they think is a promotion to a management position. In truth (the audience is in on this), the winner will be given his or her own franchise business with the company, while the runner-up gets the promotion.
In the case of The Melting Pot -- the second of six companies to be featured over the show’s first season -- the contestants are Jason Long, general manager of the chain’s Warrington, Pa. location, and Terry Love, lead server at its Louisville, Ky. location. The runner-up will be named the chain’s “director of team member communications,” according to D’Elosua.
Selecting the potential competitive candidates involved extensive vetting both by The Melting Pot, with the assistance of its franchise business consultants, and by A&E -- and from The Melting Pot’s standpoint, a critical criterion was evaluating how well a candidate could convey the chain’s new menu/positioning, says D’Elosua.
The new menu will “highlight customization of the dining experience, encouraging guests to take charge of how much they want to eat and the amount of time they spend dining at The Melting Pot,” she sums up.
The backdrop: The Melting Pot, a fine-dining chain, began to see sales slow in the U.S. in 2010, nearly two years after the recession hit. According to Technomic’s Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report, its sales declined by 2.1%, to $225.5 million, in 2010. Since then, its sales have been flat, Franchise Times reported in May 2012.
Reasons: The chain has been best-known for its four-course, $40 dinner -- an offering that tends to make it a destination mainly for special occasions, particularly during an economic downturn. In addition, a four-course meal can take up to three hours, VP, franchise development Dan Stone told FT.
While that fits very well in the cultures of other countries into which The Melting Pot has been expanding, the time factor -- along with the average dinner price point -- poses a challenge to growth in the more harried U.S. culture.
The new menu/marketing positioning, based on research, isn’t down-pricing individual offerings. Rather, instead of pushing the full-evening fondue experience, it’s letting diners know that they can drop in to have “just fondued cheese and wine, or just a chocolate fondue dessert after a movie,” says D’Elosua.
Goal: Up the average customer’s annual visits (currently about 1.8 times per year) by emphasizing the ability to opt for less expensive and less time-consuming fondue experiences.
The challenges presented to the contestants on the “Be the Boss” episode provided ample opportunities to highlight this new positioning, says D’Elosua.
In addition, during the Dec. 9 airings of the Melting Pot episode, the company will run a Twitter gift card sweepstakes. Those who become Melting Pot Twitter followers can enter by tweeting messages about the episode to @TheMeltingPot, including #BeTheBoss and #FondueEffect hashtags. Ten randomly chosen winners will receive $100 Melting Pot gift cards.
The chain isn’t paying for the exposure on the show, but is paying for collateral materials to promote it -- as well as, of course, the costs involved in funding the winner’s franchise business and the runner-up’s promotion, according to D’Elosua.
The Melting Pot is supporting the show exposure with promotions and engagement content on its Web site, Pinterest and Facebook presences; videos on its YouTube site; and a Facebook advertising buy. Its efforts also include public relations outreach to national and regional trade media, and consumer bloggers such as the Clever Girls network. In addition, it’s invested in promotional collateral materials such as wraps on the menus in its franchised restaurants.
A&E is promoting the episode through its own media assets, and its sister Lifetime network.
The Melting Pot currently has 140-plus restaurants in 36 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico, and has more than 15 locations under development. One focus is the Middle East, where about a dozen locations are being developed through a deal with a global franchise service provider based in that region.