The substance of restaurant branding in China

China Paradigm interviewed Philippe Ricard, the founder of La Creperie and La Cabane restaurants based in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Ho Chi Minh City. In this China business podcast, the French entrepreneur discusses how he manages French creperies in Asia, restaurant branding in China, and tells us more about the coronavirus’s impact on his restaurants in China.

The coronavirus’ impact on restaurants in China

With more than 80% of restaurants forced to shut down during the outbreak, the food and beverage sector was among the most impacted in China (learn more about the impact of the virus on the F&B sector). Due to the many governmental restrictions and the fear of the population to visit venues, restaurants have faced a particularly difficult time during and after the outbreak (learn more about the post-outbreak impact on restaurants). Accordingly, in March 2020, almost 70% of Chinese catering enterprises surveyed reported having an 80% – or more – reduction in the number of dine-in customers.

French crêperies in Asia
Source: Statista; Change in number of dine-in customers after coronavirus COVID-19 coronavirus among Chinese catering enterprises in China as of March 2020

The end of the strict restrictions did not go together with a back to normal according to Philippe Ricard who managed French crêperies in Asia. Customers were not yet ready to adopt a pre-crisis way of living. In his different venues, Ricard made the observation that local people were reluctant to go back to his restaurants while his foreign clientele was quicker to return to his venues to enjoy crepes and ciders. During the interview, our guest also explains that his restaurants in Shanghai have been obliged to drive more sales through delivery APPs in order to maintain financial stability. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way to do business.

‘We wanted to push even more deliveries because that is one way to also increase our sales and make possible […] to cover all the fixed costs

Pursuing restaurant branding in China via deliveries

Like many other international restaurants established in China, La Creperie tries not only to offer a culinary experience but also seeks to provide a change of scenery to its Shanghainese customers. The decoration has been well-thought and all the details in the restaurants remind us of the hilly French region. A Britanny map, images of lighthouses, or the salt and pepper laying on the table are all details that create the brand of La Creperie.

Following the shift in distribution channel during the outbreak, restaurant branding became more challenging (learn about our branding strategy in China). Pushing deliveries thus means to risk tarnishing the image of the restaurant. While controlling the whole customer experience through dish presentation, warm dishes and friendly service is possible in-house, these elements become less controllable via deliveries (learn more about the food delivery sector in China). Ricard’s restaurant thus had to think deeply as to how best to deliver its products to customers across Asia. He and his team have been working on the packaging to provide a semblance to the restaurant atmosphere and have adapted their recipes so that they resist the journey in delivery bags.

‘It means that at the customer’s place, it could be different. We are taking this time to rework our recipes, our presentation, our packaging to make sure that the product at the end is still the same’

restaurant branding in China
Source: ChinaDaily; Food delivery in China has become an essential stream of revenue for many restaurants

How to bring a mixed customer base in China?

Running an international cuisine restaurant in Asia is easier when a large community of the cuisine’s region lives in the country (learn more about how to run a restaurant in China). While this statement holds true for most restaurants, La Creperie has also been able to attract local customers to a fairly large extent. Ricard explains that all his restaurants have parity of local and foreign customers over all his venues in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Ho Chi Minh City.

‘At the very beginning, we had mostly French people coming and then more and more foreigners and then locals. We can even see now that in one of the restaurants it is like 50/50. […] There are many French families or French companies who are bringing their staff or their friends to our place and that makes our place more known from the locals

La Creperie was first visited by the French community but, over time, the restaurant has gained popularity among locals. According to our guest, this is about building trust with the customers but more importantly, it is about word of mouth. He mentioned that French people started introducing his restaurants to locals and where proud of telling stories related to Brittany. It thus seems that authenticity is an essential ingredient to make a foreign food restaurant successful in China.

Related reading: Everything you need to know about running a French restaurant in China


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