Will Think For Food

span class=”thumbnail-caption” style=”width: 500px;”>Cole’s P.E. Buffet promo

There’s a couple of new restaurants in our neighborhood, and this being downtown Los Angeles, there always seems to be something popping up regularly. What I mean by that is that downtown LA is going through a revival right now, and although there is a great need for street-level retail, there is also a lot of competition to be the best–which keeps it interesting for us who work and live here. The two new eateries I’m speaking of particularly are Blu LA Café and Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet.

Blu LA Café is a new little restaurant on the bottom level of the Pacific Electric building that features upscale food with a Southern flair, wine and pastries. The decor is mostly blue and modern with wood and brick accents (it’s more IKEA and less DWR). Its where you’d go for a glass of wine for a LAMILL coffee and a quiet moment with your laptop or a book.

Wikipedia sites Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet as the oldest and “continuously operated from the same location” bar and restaurant in Los Angeles, and the self-proclaimed origin of the French Dip sandwich (this is disputed with Phillipe’s Original, also in downtown). It was recently restored and reopened after being in service for 100 years. Their specialty is the dip sandwich with a pickle and old-fashioned drinks. The place is filled with red banquettes and schoolhouse lamps. It’s still very 1908, but with new-ness of a cool bar.

Both places are next door to each other. And I’m not here to compare service, menu or preparation between the two. They are apples and oranges. But what I did want to comment on is their communications.

Two weeks ago I received promotions from both, expectedly since both restaurants were letting the neighborhood know they were opened for business. Both were “coupons” to encourage the community to come in and try it out. I was well aware of both restaurants already, but what struck me as interesting was their approach of messaging.

Blu Cafe LA discount postcard

Blu LA Café had sent a postcard with a 15% discount off of breakfast. One side had a photograph, and the other side described the restaurant concept: “In the midst of chaotic Downtown L.A. start your morning in Blu LA Café’s cool and calm dining room and patio.” The overall design was pleasant, but aside from the Blu LA logo and colors, it could’ve been mistakened for a postcard from any other restaurant, or from any other business, for that matter.

Cole’s poker chip “coupon”

Cole’s had sent a custom poker chip and three cards. The cards were designed in typical 1900’s fashion, with the copy saying they were worth “100 cents” (instead of $1). I bet you could’ve gotten at least 5 sandwiches with 100 cents in 1908. This was a fun idea. Besides the fact that Cole’s wanted to introduce you to their experience, they also put in the concept of the restaurant right into their first impression (without doing it with a paragraph of text). The messaging was mysterious and yet it conveyed their history and intent. The chip was so unique I took some time to study it. It was gold stamped with an illustration of a french dip sandwich (the chip itself was good for a free sandwich). The cards were written to convey a little humor and history (really, who says “cents” these days?). The pieces were novel. The design piqued my interest. The messaging was memorable.

The moral of the story? Like any other aspect of good business, it’s going to be design thinking that captures attention. Better products and services will sell. Innovative systems will create growth. And unique ideas and creative ways of communicating will bring success in this economy.

I was dying to bring my poker chip and cards back to Cole’s to continue the communicated experience, and I did the very next day. I still have my postcard for Blu LA Café.

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