With the UK flirting with recession and with people increasingly tightening their belts the restaurant industry has been one which has been seen the brunt of the impact. People trading down have seen a boom for the take-away providers and thus has left restaurants facing the challenge of differentiating to increase appeal to customers.

Offering authentic meals at competitive prices is now not enough to seize customers as it is a practise undertaken by many companies and so now differentiation is the challenge facing the restaurant market. The key is to give customers a reason to return, not to expect them to remain loyal which had been the case previously.

Frankie and Benny’s, founded in 1995, is an Italian-American restaurant which holds a diverse product offering ranging from Pastas to Burgers and Pizzas to Steaks. The food is fitting to its Italian-American roots as too is the theme held within the restaurant which reflects a 1950’s backdrop which is evident through the music played, the restaurant apparel and the attire of the staff.

From not having visited one of the outlets in 5 years, I found a slight sense of surprise that nothing had seemed to change from the restaurant that I once visited. I agree that it is key for a franchise to share a feeling throughout all of its outlets however, after stabilising from their strongest period at the turn of the century, it feels as if the restaurant have rested on their laurels in regards to innovating and heightening the customer experience.

Upon being greeted by a friendly and approachable member of staff, we were shown to our table which was placed in the corner of the restaurant, out of reach to the main eating area. Although this led to a quiet experience, this was at the cost of the atmosphere where our table felt desolate and separate to the main restaurant and for a Friday evening this was a heavy disappointment.

The disappointment of the ambience was a fraction of the consternation we found as it took 13 minutes for our table to be offered drinks. Although this is not acceptable for a restaurant of any standard, the fact that the 6 other occupied tables were waited on by 6 staff either means a tailored experience for each party or that we were simply cast aside for a waiter with a spare 5 minutes.

With the staff being the face and voice of the restaurant, it is key for a positive and friendly aurora to be emanated throughout the complete experience, as this with ultimately bring customers back. However, bearing this in mind, the speed and efficiency of the service was in tone with the interactions we had with some of the staff, when they felt generous enough to serve us.
Upon our first order of drinks, we were surprised that we had to hand over the Drinks Menu to the waitress as they were unfamiliar with the new drinks introduced in a recent marketing drive. However, such minor discrepancies can be easily overlooked unlike, when our food was being served, we were startled when a senior member of staff shushed one of our guests as they asked for cutlery, which admittedly isn’t a complex request and is usually considered a standard at any restaurant.

As it is said, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating’ and fortunately the sour taste left by the staff was alleviated through the good quality of the food in which we were served. We had a good sampling of the Bacon Cheeseburger, Barbeque Burger, Garlic Bread and an array of other side dishes. The first taste of a meal is with the eyes and the food we were served look professional and as if it was made with care. All of the meals were given in generous portions and all were nicely cooked and made with high quality ingredients. The condiments available and served with the meals were assets to the course and complemented the pallet nicely. The food was of an incredibly high standard and warranted the price of £13approx per main with none of our party, or any parties in the restaurant, having any issue with the food. The burgers in particular were a stand out performer, although all of the food on offer looked recommendable.

The final assessment of the experience is from the drinks and in particular, the cocktails. As aforementioned, the staff were unfamiliar with the new range of drinks and from looking at the new menu it is clear why. Boasting a range of cocktails available in both singular glasses and jugs which are perfect for sharing allowed for everyone to try a bit of everything and to enjoy the drinks they liked. All the drinks were well made, served professionally and fresh which was clear from the crisp taste of the Mojito or the sweetness of the Strawberry Shortcake. Everyone is catered for with the drinks as there is a selection of non-alcoholic cocktails which still hold the great taste of its alcohol laced counterparts.

Altogether, our experience of Frankie and Benny’s was mixed, if the staff could reach the heights of quality that the food has then the restaurant would appeal to all through its unique theme and good offerings. It is evident that this maturing restaurant franchise has not forgotten a core essential to success with its diverse and high quality food and drink offerings and so keeping a high level of satisfaction. The foundations are laid and there is real potential for the franchise to boom once more and it is felt that this can be done through ensuring staff compliance and satisfaction. In times where restaurants need to shout about their strengths and differentials, Frankie and Benny’s who have enough to shout for, appear only to give a muted whisper which is lost in the echoes.