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August 14, 2017

DINING CASUALLY

From fast casual to fast fine, there is no lack of choices when it comes to casual dining restaurants in the Philippines. There is a glorious mix that ranges from homegrown concepts to global brands that have satisfied the hunger pangs of Filipino diners, offering a diversity in service styles and menus.

The question that passes through a lot of people’s minds may be if the era of casual dining has come and gone. Are we at a saturation point in the market? We are definitely seeing demographic shifts in the dining market, boosted by the growth of millennial consumers. But far from diminishing the growth of this segment, we are seeing its evolution to embrace their expanding customer base.


KEEPING BRANDS RELEVANT
Around five years ago, one of our issues for F&B World focused on the rapidly evolving casual dining scene, that already boasted of an impressive breadth and depth that could rival its Asian counterparts. I was just going over this particular issue that featured the top honchos of Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. (GRCI), the group behind the successful California Pizza Kitchen (CPK), Applebee’s, International House of Pancakes, Gyu Kaku, Mad for Garlic, and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro when I had the opportunity to catch up with some of the recent promos launched by CPK.

This included the 3rd run of CPK Pizza Wars and the celebration of Pizza Day 2017 (which will be held on August 15 and 16). “CPK has distinguished itself as a pizza authority attributable to its wide selection of innovative and artisanal pizzas. But more importantly, the secret behind the success of CPK here is, of course, the people behind it. Which is why, apart from showcasing the talents of our pizza chefs who are equally passionate about food as we are, we wanted to challenge them to take their culinary skill set to new heights.  And sure enough, they have proven to be up to that challenge,” said Bob Vallar, Marketing Manager of GRCI.

Garlic Cream Cheese and Sausage Pizza was this year’s grand prize winner at the 3rd CPK Pizza Wars competition. The pizza combines the savory delights of garlic cream sauce, smoked sausage, Mozzarella, Fontina, Parmesan cheeses with tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms and a sweet balsamic glaze. The pizza will be available during the National Pizza Day promotion on August 15-16.

During the National Pizza Day promotion of CPK, customers can order any of the regular pizza selections and avail of any of the new pizza flavors for free. The five featured pizzas include Cheese Triplets, Ham and Mango Cucumber Pizza, Pizza Italiano, Primavera Delight, and Chicken Asparagus Artichoke Pizza.

The challenge for a number of operators is creating relevant promotions that stay true to the brand’s identity. The strong emphasis GRCI and CPK places on brand culture is seen with how promotions are crafted to showcase its roots of California creativity and a reliance on their employees to deliver the brand promise of a culinary adventure. Their efforts reflect the company’s aim to please its core customers, while enticing a new market.

Recalling our interview all those years ago, I vividly remember how owners Archie Rodriguez, Gilbert Go and Manuel Zubiri were optimistic about their part in the growing casual dining segment. Rodriguez affirmed at that time, “One of the things that is very clear is that Filipinos are all about families. Our perspective is to keep on catering to the ever-growing needs of the Filipino family. It is fortunate as a country that we are in the unique position where the dining scene is changing dramatically. People choose those with more value. If the Filipino family desires better things, hopefully we are there to accommodate those needs.” (F&B World April May 2013)

I look forward to the next bites that GRCI will dish out, as this dynamic company is proving that they still have more memorable dining experiences to serve.

 

UNIQUE VALUE PROPOSITIONS
Value for casual dining does not necessarily relate to price alone. For today’s diners, price is just one factor combined with food quality, ingredients, taste, and the overall dining experience. A heightened interest in traceability and sourcing, health components, even the company’s background may impact dining decisions.

At the recent Australian Grass Fed Beef on the Menu culinary trail, I was able to catch up with two restaurateurs who have made their casual concepts unique, appealing and still remained totally in sync with their personal and professional persona.

Paul Perez, whom I know because of his connection with Australian Meat and Livestock, is also the Founder behind Pappa Diddi’s Handcrafted Ice Cream. The homegrown brand has grown from its origins in Maginhawa to a fourth branch in Sapphire Bloc, Ortigas. He describes it as “a shop where everything is hand crafted from ice cream to the food.”

The interiors are also a creative blend of upcycled materials with comfortable nooks, that draws in curious onlookers as well as regulars. “Everything here is upcycled, and is a tribute to my father. He was a lawyer to different farmers.”

At Pappa Diddi’s, Perez transformed his father’s old law case files into a chandelier and old law books into decorative wall hangings.

Having grown up in Tuguegarao, Perez oversaw the savory menu that is a tribute to his heritage, with an emphasis on quality ingredients. For the promotion, Pappa Diddi’s is serving the northern specialty of Batil Patung, a play on the local term for toppings and the Pappa Diddi’s Fusion Burger.

Perez explained that everything in the dish is handcrafted from the rich stock made with Australian grass fed ground beef to the freshly prepared pasta. “The quality of the beef really matters, since it will be the base for the beef stock and the sauce.” Batil Patung combines Australian grassfed ground beef, linguini noodles, beef stock, poached egg, cabbage, onion, carrots and spring onions for a satisfying meal.

Australian grass fed beef burger infuses a delightful local twist with a layer of banana blossom patty, pineapple ring, sunny side up egg, pickles, kesong puti and honey mustard with a choice of ube, malunggay or pandan buns. This is part of the Australian Grass Fed Beef on the Menu promotion until August 20.

Chef Jessie Sincioco opened Chef Jessie Grill at The Grove by Rockwell, along C5 last September. The concept has a more relaxed ambiance compared to the bustling Top of the Citi or the fine dining environs of Chef Jessie Rockwell Club. Its menu revolves around the specially built charcoal-fed oven, where mouthwatering charcoal dishes have been served to great satisfaction.

For Chef Jessie, her choice of ingredients is always of great concern. Value translates to quality that fits within a certain price range, given her menu’s more affordable items. She promises to whip up tantalizing dishes that may include Australian grass fed beef chuck sinigang, similar to what she grew up with in Bulacan.

Charcoal Grilled Grass Fed Oyster Blade Steak with Mustard Sauce, Mesclun Green Salad and French Fries will be served at Chef Jessie Grill during the Australian Grass Fed Beef on the Menu until August 20.

Charcoal Grilled Beef Striploin Steak with grilled leeks and potatoes will be available at Chef Jessie Grill until August 20.

Slow-Roasted Grass Fed Beef Cheeks served with poutine and sautéed spinach is part of the Australian Grass Fed Beef on the Menu promotion.

THE FUTURE OF CASUAL
The broad appeal of casual dining bodes well for its future. Operators are seeking ways to retain and expand their market with appealing concepts, promotions, value propositions and compelling narratives behind the brand. Casual dining players need to understand their customers without forgetting their brand culture, and in the process, stay relevant to this rapidly evolving market.

 

NOTE:
The CPK National Pizza Day promotion will run from August 15 to 16 in six of its Metro Manila outlets. Customers can avail of a Buy 1, Get 1 offer that includes one of the five new premium pizza flavors.

Australian Grass Fed Beef on the Menu items will be available until August 20 with its 60 partner restaurants. The promotion is organized by the Australian Embassy in Manila, Victoria Government and Australian Meat and Livestock. Be sure to check out menu offerings at 22 Prime in Discovery Suites, Epicurious, and other restaurants near you.

 

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