Primary, secondary, tertiary customers; Can’t we have them all?

This is an excerpt from my book (No Tipping Required) on helping restraint owners, servers, cooks, and the rest create a place that’s fun to work at, the customers love, makes lots of money, and the customers love.

Now before we go any further we need to be clear about target markets, yes I would like everyone to eat at your establishment too but IT WON”T HAPPEN.  Over the years I have seen so many restaurants water themselves down to appeal to the masses, this comes from mission statements like “…to be everyone’s first choice…yad yad yad…”  This leads to a mediocre meal that no one can really complain about, is that what you would like to be known for?  If so, it’s ok, that’s what a fast food franchise is for, and their models will ensure you make money from day one.  Which oddly enough would accomplish the first goal of this book…interesting…do I have your attention?

However, if you are looking to be more than that you will need to have a clearly defined (although it may be broad) target market that you are looking to attract.

Your primary target market can be anything, but needs to be specific.  If you are creating an authentic ethnic restaurant, you will naturally be focusing on customers from that culture as your primary target, if you want to create a specific atmosphere in the restaurant think of the type of people who would be there, or enjoy the food you plan on creating.

Are these your Primary market segment?Quickly picture your “ideal customer” and write down 3 characteristics about them.




Now combine those 3 characteristics into your primary target.  Let’s say for example your characteristics were suave, rich and good looking.  Your target market would be me…ok just kidding but it would be a specific primary target market.

So combine those three characteristics and write down a few examples of who your primary target market might be:

The next question is what secondary target market comes with them.

Every primary target market will have some predicable secondary target market that will join them for dining.  For example, husbands and wives may bring their significant other, business people may have business meetings, and parents bring children, and so on.

So thinking of your primary target who is the most likely candidate to join them for a meal at your establishment?  Write them down, as many as possible.

note book – in the published book this would be writing space>

Now I would like to prepare you for one of your challenges in any business but one that has ruined many fine restaurants, as well as your primary and secondary markets some unforeseen tertiary markets will come to your restaurant too.   Let me give you an example:

A restaurant decides its primary target market will be children 4 to 10 years of age, and creates a menu and environment to attract them.  Well the thing is the children will not be coming alone to the restaurant, so the secondary target market is…their parents.  So along that line the restaurant creates a separated, sound proof play area to give the parents some quiet time.  Voila you have a concept, but like I mentioned earlier there are some unforeseen tertiary markets.  When the parents are away the grandparents (at the urging of the grand children) bring the children there, and because the location is convenient sometimes chose to come alone sometimes now that they know about it.

Now in this example the tertiary market is somewhat predictable, with any family restaurant you will get multiple generations however sometimes however the tertiary market will not be as predicable, or perhaps as desirable.

What often happens in the restaurant industry is a tertiary market shows up that was unexpected, and like any good business owner the restaurants make some small changes to accommodate them as well.   Unfortunately is an effort to be something to everyone they often end up being something less than desirable to most.  Here is an example”

One of the first restaurants I worked in was a family restaurant theme, dinner for Mom and Dad, accommodations were made to make the children and grandparents welcome as well.  It was a fine concept with good food; however our tertiary market was actually a symptom of location. We were located in a shopping mall with a leading discount mega chain as one of the anchor stores.  Each month, social assistance cheques came out at the beginning of the month, and the first week of every month was very special time at the restaurant as folks stocking up at the discount chain treated themselves to dinner out.  The management and owners decided that this tertiary customer group was not really desirable due to the stress I put on staff and the condition of the restaurant.  Step one was to isolate the smoking section ( back in the day when we had those ) from the restaurant, however that only succeeded in alienating our secondary customers; parents with older children who would come out to have a drink and appetizers in the evening.  The section was moved from the parking lot side to the mall side with windows that essentially put them on display to anyone shopping in the mall.  Now with lower revenues and profits and the same challenge the management and owners decided to raise the price point on the menu to make it unappealing to the tertiary customer group.  They succeeded…but they also alienated their primary market, families in the area that no longer could afford to come out for dinner every week, they become biweekly or monthly visitors.  This restaurant suffered a slow lingering decline before closing and moving to another city.

Now in this example do you feel the decisions made were in the best interest of the primary customer group?  What could have been different if the decisions had been compared against the primary customers likes and dislikes?

You will need to be crystal clear on who your primary customers are, to the extent of posting a banner in your office that says “We are here to serve <primary customers> first!”

This is your compass, every decision you make should be compared against your primary customer’s tastes.

If you were running a vegetarian restaurant would you bring in steak?  No. Not initially, however here is what happens:

Any one up for #TweetaBeer? From your phone to your table!

Your primary customers (vegetarians) will bring with them at some point non-vegetarians to try your food and you have some sort of feed back system so you know how your guests are enjoying their visits (more on this later).  After weeks and months of feedback along the lines of “I want meat!” “The food was good but protein is great.” Or “where’s the beef?” you start to think to yourself maybe we should include some sort of alternative dish, so you do.  The non-vegetarians love this and give you feedback to bring in more, so you listen to your customers and you do.  Thiscycle repeats itself until one day you have a generic restaurant with some vegetarian options on the menu, and your primary customers are no longer your primary customers, they have been downgraded to seconds, or thirds, or they may no longer even want to come to your restaurant.

If you started your vegetarian restaurant with a vision, a dream of creating truly great vegetarian dishes, I ask you now “where is that dream?”

As always I am Dave Williams, your business steward and I hope you’ve found a valuable idea inside the Idea Vault.


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