Are F&B Flops Uber Unlucky?

February 16th, 2007   •   16 comments   


Courtesy of www.uberburger.com

Over the years, we have seen quite a few high profile F&B failures in Singapore. They include Rainforest Cafe at Liang Court, Hello Kitty Cafe at Downtown East, and of course the numerous bubble tea shops whose bubbles have popped.

The latest casualty in the scene is Uber Burger. This uber upmarket joint has folded on 7 February 2007 barely 10 months after a much-heralded opening. Famous for their S$101 Wagyu Burger stuffed with truffles, foie gras and all things decadent, they claimed to offer unique mouth watering experiences that you can never get at cheaper chains.
Launched with much aplomb – including very extensive media coverage in the major dailies – Uber Burger claimed that they succumbed to the decision to cordon off roads in Suntec City in September 2006 due to the IMF-World Bank. According to the report in Straits Times Life!, it chalked up losses of about $110,000 in that month alone. However, this statement was disproved by its neighbouring restaurants, some of which enjoyed booming business in the last three months.

What are the lessons that we can learn from these culinary “crash-and-burns”?

First, the price must be right for the product. Certain old habits die hard. In my mind, a burger no matter how dolled up, is still cheap fast food. Granted that I do love wagyu beef and foie gras. At more than $100 a pop, I would rather spend my hard-earned cash on a much more exquisite dining experience.

Second, the ambience (physical evidence in marketing parlance) must fit the price point. When I pay $101 for a meal, I expect to be pampered like a king or queen, not sit in plasticky chairs and tables with blaring rock music. Creature comforts still rule in the world of high class cuisine.

Third, uniqueness and originality is key. The first usually (not always) gets the biggest bite of the cherry. Gourmet burgers have been around for some time in various Western restaurants. Similarly the demise of many bubble tea outlets can largely be attributed to the fact that many are “me-too” shops.

Fourth, constantly innovate and stay ahead of the competition. Think long-term sustainability rather than short-term gains. The F&B business is rather capital intensive in view of the equipment and manpower needed. Fads, gimmicks and promotions can only bring you this far. You need to re-invent your menu and surprise your guests to remain relevant.

Fifth, you need to generate mindshare and top-of-mind-recall when it comes to your category. This means some investment in marketing or even better, Word-Of-Mouth efforts. In the words of Jack Trout and Al Ries (gurus of positioning theory in marketing), you should also “own” the category. Unfortunately, there are already many others who are associated with quality burgers prior to Uber Burger.

Finally, do be mindful of prevailing tastes and concerns. In this day and age, people are increasingly mindful of their health. Loading them with sugary diabetic-inducing drinks or artery clogging fatty foods may be fine occasionally. However, making it an everyday affair may be too much of a good thing!

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16 comments

  1. tanguy
    posted on Feb 16, 2007 at 3:38 PM

    very good article… a wrong marketing positioning… what about the location of this outlet ? Was it on an appropriate one (I mean in the financial district…?) ?
    I have already heard competition in the f&b business is particularly tough in Sg…

  2. posted on Feb 16, 2007 at 6:12 PM

    What? It folded? I haven’t tried the burger yet! Shucks.

    With customers like me, who are not loyal and like to try new dishes, it is difficult for the restaurants to be around for long.

    Lucky I’m not in the food business.

  3. Lam Chun See
    posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 3:45 AM

    Never heard of this place before.

    Like you simple and incissive analysis.

    Can you pls write about the Botak Jones ‘stall’ at Clementi. They seem to have long queues everytime we go there – not for their food. We love the chicken rice stall next to it; but now get turned off by the crowds and noise (mostly young adults).

  4. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 1:24 AM

    For me, I will think twice, think double twice to eat at this high profile restaurant.

  5. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:54 AM

    Chun See. My friend wrote about the Botak Jones stall, at Ang Mo Kio (but not the one at Clementi). Here’s the post.

    If you are asking Walter for opinion on Botak Jones marketing concept, I think it is its wackiness and the power of word-of-mouth. The food is pretty good.

    Very nice and less of the young adults crowd. At least that was the case the past three times when I was there.

  6. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 6:26 PM

    祝你:百事可乐!万事芬达!天天娃哈哈!月月乐百事!年年高乐高!心情似雪碧!永远都醒目!

  7. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:26 PM

    tanguy,

    I believe that the location is unlikely to be a factor since its neighbouring restaurants did better. The key issues were that people’s perception of a burger were strongly entrenched within a certain price range, and that if they did pay a 3 figure sum for a meal, they expect a premium service and experience. Both of which were lacking in this instance.

  8. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:27 PM

    eastcoastlife and Pauline,

    No wonder our F&B concepts are failing! Actually I am not surprised since Singapore’s market is notoriously finicky. In addition, we just don’t have the critical mass to sustain very novel and out-of-this-world concepts for long. This is also why many theme parks here have failed through the ages.

  9. posted on Feb 17, 2007 at 11:37 PM

    Chun See and oceanskies,

    Thanks for your comments. I must definitely go and check out this Botak Jones. Have to see what the fuss over them is about. I have read and heard about them too, and there must be something WOM-worthy that they are doing. For a start, the name is quite catchy!

  10. posted on Feb 18, 2007 at 11:20 AM

    I heard about Botak Jones too! Shall check it out also and see why it is receiving rave reviews for its food.

  11. Anonymous
    posted on Feb 19, 2007 at 5:18 AM

    I’m in no way affiliated with said retaurant but i do think its prob numerous factors that have caused its demise other than the novely of having a $100 burger etc

    Everybody keeps talking about the $100 burger, but they do have a full menu of $9 / $12 etc burgers and they did have happy hour nights etc I know cos i work nearby.

    My non F&B 2 cents is just that if offered the wrong product and the wrong place, and the $100 burger reputation preceded it. So that was too much marketing for you…

    GrEg
    http://www.gr3g.com

  12. posted on Feb 19, 2007 at 2:12 PM

    Greg,

    Thanks for popping by and enlightening to know of your experience with Uber Burger. Its certainly an “overpositioning” in this case, where the $100 burger virtually overrides all other possible claims to fame. Location is also one thing but I believe that good food doesn’t necessarily need to have premium locations to succeed.

    Thanks for dropping by and do come by often!

  13. wedge
    posted on Feb 20, 2007 at 2:27 AM

    me and my friends tried it last dec, though we never tried the $ 1xx burger, we tried several different burgers at that time. we were all disappointed, none of them burgers we tried we’re really special. not surprised that they’ve folded

    in our experience, they overpromised and underdelivered

  14. posted on Feb 20, 2007 at 1:08 PM

    wedge thanks for popping by! Certainly, the reviews for the other burgers were not peachy keen. I didn’t visit the outlet myself, but I heard that they didn’t quite deliver just as you have said.

  15. posted on Feb 21, 2007 at 2:52 AM

    oh..it folded? din know that man..but I wouldn’t fork out $100 for a burger..might as well go to Carls Jr and eat my heart out…

    Gotta go check out Botak Jones tho…man I am so out of touch with food these days…Kopi Tiam anyone? :p

  16. Lam Chun See
    posted on Feb 21, 2007 at 11:22 AM

    Sorry to all ‘young adults’. In my comment above I wrote ” …. noise (mostly young adults)”.

    No link intended between the 2.

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