‘Mr Sirloin’ raises stakes at restaurants

By Yin Yeping Source:Global Times Published: 2013-9-10 20:03:01

Diao Ye established a successful jojoba oil company before launching the Diao Ye Niu Nan restaurant chain in May. Photo: Courtesy of Diao Ye

Diao Ye established a successful jojoba oil company before launching the Diao Ye Niu Nan restaurant chain in May. Photo: Courtesy of Diao Ye

To some of his competitors, Diao Ye is a rebel who doesn't play the "restaurant game" the way proprietors ought to. But to foodies and budding entrepreneurs, he is a pioneer in the cutthroat hospitality industry.

The founder of growing Cantonese-cuisine restaurant chain Diao Ye Niu Nan, Diao admits he is an "unusual" restaurateur on the local scene.

"Those who shake up one industry normally cross over from another industry," said Diao. "Such newcomers are not bound to an industry's so-called rules. They are therefore more likely to put themselves in customers' shoes when running a restaurant."

Diao is no stranger to the business world. Before his foray into the restaurant industry, he founded jojoba oil producer AFU.

No longer considered an outsider to his competitors, Diao has opened two restaurants in Chaoyang district. Recently, Diao secured investment to the tune of more than 60 million yuan ($9.8 million). His two restaurants are estimated by a venture investment firm to be worth a combined 400 million yuan. Diners at his restaurants spend on average between 100 and 200 yuan each, Diao said.

Diao bought "secret" sirloin beef recipes from Dai Long, a renowned Hong Kong chef, for around 5 million yuan. Together with an online customer-oriented strategy, the recipes form one of his restaurants' main attractions.

Nevertheless, the success of his restaurants do not solely lie with their sirloin dishes. Diao claims what makes his restaurants stand out from competitors is that he operates them from the perspective of a customer.

His restaurant has a Sina Weibo account to engage with microbloggers, and new dishes on the menu are based on feedback from Weibo users.

Apart from Weibo, Diao Ye Niu Nan also uses mobile social network WeChat as a marketing platform.

"We use these two online social networks to connect with and hold on to our customers," Diao said. "One key advantage of the online era is that it allows businesses to evolve based on direct feedback from customers."

Currently, Diao has more than 40,000 followers on his personal Weibo account. He spends most of his time online responding to enquiries from customers. Almost every question posted on Weibo is answered personally by the man affectionately known as "Mr Sirloin" by his loyal customers.

Weibo is a valuable platform for Diao Ye Niu Nan's online to offline (O2O) strategy. Diao uses O2O to promote events, even if they arouse controversy for their salacious nature.

Before the opening of the first Diao Ye Niu Nan restaurant in May, Diao unveiled a marketing scheme titled "Invite a goddess to have sirloin" on Weibo.

The campaign invited diners to nominate who they believed was a 21st century goddess. "Many people named [Japanese adult video star] Sola Aoi as their ideal goddess, so we invited her to attend the grand opening of our restaurant," Diao explained.

In an impressive marketing coup, Aoi accepted the invitation and posed with diners for photos circulated on Weibo on the day before the restaurant's opening. In a further publicity boost, she gave favorable comments about the restaurant's food. Aoi's appearance and comments were forwarded thousands of times from her personal Weibo account, spreading word of Diao Ye Niu Nan to an unprecedented audience.

But not everyone found the marketing ploy in good taste, with some labeling it "inappropriate" for a family restaurant.

However, Diao points out that statistics speak louder than words. Currently, 80 percent of customer feedback about his restaurants is positive.

"Those 20 percent who have negative reviews are normally the result of our high-profile promotions raising people's expectations to levels higher than actual circumstances," he said.

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