Secret Recipe is a Malaysian restaurant franchise that is holding steady in spite of the fact that is located on a jinxed boulevard in Khayaban-e-Shahbaz. The jinx seems to only work on restaurants and so far it’s victims have been U&Me café and the Bread People, two joints that were adjacent to where Secret Recipe is now located, and vanished without a trace. Now it has the jazzier Studio Café to contend with which is the only other beacon of light on this deserted street which gives a haunted look at night. Sure it has the newly opened ‘Diner’ also in the same lane, but its located far off in the main commercial area.
Both Secret Recipe and Studio Café are akin to each other barring a few differences. At least food-wise they taste quite similar even though Secret Recipe’s array of choices is far more than Studio Café’s which is more focused on its other two offerings; photography studio and sheesha lounge.
The forte of Secret Recipe has to be the way it has created its menu. Although it may not appear to be a great advantage but the way Secret Recipe has put photos of almost and every item it offers right on the page where it is mentioned makes a world of difference. It gives you an idea of the size of the portion not to mention what the dish actually looks like and whether the customer would like it or not. And there are no exaggerations. Although the photos are of top-notch quality, there’s a disclaimer that the actual thing may vary from what it is shown. But we found there wasn’t much variance between the illustration and the real thing. The biggest thing was that the photos helped us decide not only what to order but how many items to offer. Since we found the portions shown in the photos of nominal size, we ordered an extra item to ensure that we didn’t remain hungry.
And this is the basic lesson all restaurateurs have to learn. If the customer doesn’t satiate his appetite with what he has already ordered, chances are he won’t order more because it would take that much more time for the additional dishes to arrive. So by putting accurate pictorial depictions of your offerings in the menu card, you may not only help the customer but also end up with more sales just like in our case where we ordered an extra item.
Yes the restaurateurs may argue that even Copper Kettle doesn’t put pictorial representations of its meal in the menu, why should we? The thing is, CK is an established brand whose most of the items have already been tried by their loyal customers plus its portion size is more than sufficient that the customer won’t have to go for anything else.
One thing Secret Recipe could definitely improve upon is its service. Nothing bad really. Just the waiter assigned to us was a bit over-zealous opinionated chap who wanted to influence our every decision. His job really is to help us out if we need the help, not thrust his own opinion down our throats. For instance he was skeptical about us ordering one of the dishes because in his opinion we wouldn’t able to stand the lobster sauce in it. Now what made him think we wouldn’t like it? Then we opted for Grilled Mexican chicken he insisted on changing it to beef because, again in his opinion we had too many chicken dishes. If we were some trashy customers, this would have turned out to be a hellish day for this guy. Fortunately for him, we just politely declined. And then he had the annoying habit of popping up every now and then to say, ‘’Hope you are enjoying your meal”.
And now coming to the crux of the brand, The food.
Mexican Grilled chicken was the biggest disappointment. The worst thing you can do with any dish is keep the salt low but the spices high. This creates an imbalance which is unsavory on the taste buds. The right balance between these two critical ingredients leads to that desirable ‘Wow’ moment. And this moment was had by consuming the terrific ‘Neptune’s Delight’- grilled fish covered with lobster sauce. This is one entrée you definitely need to try at secret recipe.
Chicken Cordon Bleu was good as well- thick-crust chicken filled with mozzarella cheese and smoked chicken. The Ginger and Mushroom Steak was your usual steak that can be had at virtually any good restaurant. No striking features here.
Coming to the desserts, the New York cheese cake was quite good but not as good as the one we had at The Sports Bar. The Chocolate Walnut Brownie with Vanilla Ice Cream fared better than the cake.
Coming to the portion sizes, secret recipe could definitely improve upon the size. Plus they could add some sort of a sauce (thick garlic mayo) to the entrées which would enhance the offering at little cost. This was felt the most in Chicken Cordon Bleu case where the offering was a little bit on the dry side and the addition of a sauce would greatly spruce up its image and taste.
Finally, their marketing endeavors, which have been a mixed bag. Unlike the other restaurant brands, it has done well to come up with a website and an aesthetically pleasing one at that, one that showcases all the menu items in the best possible light. Not only that it has also come up with a Facebook page, one that has been able to capture over 7,000 fans. However, it is not as proactive as some of the other cafes on facebook including studio cafe and One on One.
On ground, Secret Recipe has done well with some old-fashioned but time-tested marketing tactics. One of them is coming up with new recipes every now and then to keep the regular customer hooked to your stuff. Secret Recipe has come up with a host of new items and most importantly they have kept them apart from the regular menu, promoting them on a banner as well as a number of cards put on a stand on the table. Most of the restaurants miss this simple trick.
One more thing Secret Recipe could have done is add pictures of these items as well. Although it would have been time consuming not to mention costly as well, but if that’s the difference between the customer selecting the new item or not, then it’s an effort worth investing into.
Another tactic they are using is their lunch offer: Buy one and get 50% off on the second item that you buy. It’s a bit complicated and deceptive in the sense that most people confuse it with either the buy 1 get 1 free deal or 50% off on the total bill. So it doesn’t make that big a difference in the bill, and yet consumers are responding to it, which is evident from the fact that the place was buzzing with just enough people to give the impression that people love eating out here. And that’s what should be the aim of any restaurant. Keep the place loaded with just enough crowd even if that means incurring a few extra expenses.
For all intents and purposes, Secret Recipe is still in its infancy stage in Pakistan and will need to consistently provide value for money if it is to survice unlike many other brands on this jinxed lane of Khayaban-e-Shahbaz!