Lockdown Economy Nederland in a Food Marketing Agency with Roger Bloem

The interview was transcribed and adapted into an article by Agapi Yang

Lockdown Economy: Interviews by think tank AlterContacts.org with real entrepreneurs sharing insights, challenges and successes during the COVID19 global pandemic to inspire, motivate and encourage other entrepreneurs around the world.

In this interview, we meet Roger Bloem, the founder of Cityguys and one of the MenuMe Guide Foodie Angels in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. As a food blogger and a restaurant marketeer, Roger shared two perspectives on dealing with the lockdown restrictions: one from the viewpoint of his marketing agency, Cityguys, and another one from viewpoint of a restaurant using his experience with Daalder, one of the top fine dining places in Amsterdam. There are two lessons that came out of the discussion. Firstly, Roger highlighted the importance of staying connected with customers at all times using available instruments such as social media, mailing lists, reservation history logs, and others. Understanding customer needs, letting them know of the new products and getting them excited about what is yet to come. Secondly, standing by the essence of the product and making sure that it is of the highest quality to fit the circumstances. Within the restaurant industry, moving to online delivery is only a fraction of the solution. The real challenge is to deliver a real restaurant dining experience at home. Therefore thinking outside the box and thinking of the ways to recreate this experience at home is what is required to remain relevant, topical and popular.

Watch the video version of the interview.

Let’s start with the basic questions, what is it that you do and what is your business about?

Roger: I work as a marketeer for different restaurants and bars in Amsterdams. I am also a food blogger, I run a platform called Cityguys with two other friends. We use it as our marketing playground. There’s no business model in running the platform but for us, it’s a way to do market research and to do our job better. And this year I’ve been working for restaurants that are doing better in lockdown to be honest, which is very funny to say. Because most of the time when you talk about the results of bars at this time we all think about how hard it is to survive. But I think we managed to do some good things this year, especially for one of our main clients who are Thuis met Daalder based in Amsterdam.

What was your lockdown response and with your partners in terms of managing your marketing business?

Roger: I worked as a consultant for a big fast-food company and they didn’t need my services anymore. We were planning to have the busiest year ever with all the events that were planned but that business was dropped. Therefore I focused one hundred per cent on traditional restaurants that had to change in a lot of ways because alternatively, they had to close. That means that you have to set up processes and communicate a lot. There was so much work involved in setting up and actually doing it in a way that you are experiencing a restaurant at home. So I was busier than I could ever expect in the first place.

So it was more than an opportunity that you and your partners had?

Roger: Yes, I always try to think of opportunities and what is the next step and how that is going to evolve our business. When your mindset is like that you can get really interesting talks and positive vibes. I just try and keep the positivity on high and make sure that the entrepreneurs and restaurateurs that work with me are getting the same vibe.

Did you learn new things? Were you ready to take on this new challenge with your partners?

Roger: Well there was more online advertising involved than we normally have to do, so that was interesting. I think we worked on that skill to get most of the things like email lists that we had from restaurants, the audience we reach through social media. I think that was the thing I had to learn the most.

What was most required by the restaurants?

Roger: So I’m positioned as a marketeer but I’ve worked in the fast-food industry all my life and I’ve had every single job you can think of. I’ve worked in the kitchen, in the counter, as a restaurant manager, as a marketeer. I worked at Burger King and I’d started as a whopper maker and ended up being the marketing manager. So to have that experience and implement it over a normal restaurant was interesting, for instance when you want to sell home delivery boxes a hundred times, or more than that per day. From that point of view, I helped a lot in the processes and making sure that what we sell we can also deliver and there’s not too much pressure on the operation. There was a lot of forecasting for example making sure that there’s enough cheese etc. As a marketeer when you market something, the product you sell needs to be great otherwise you’re only selling it once. So I always feel very responsible, when you are talking about a new product you need to do it right.

Did you have to educate the restaurants as to how to market products or were they ready to accept your advice unquestionably?

Roger: I think it was learning on the job, to be honest. We started in the first lockdown with Thuis met Daalder as a restaurant experience at home. It wasn’t delivery portions but it was actually fine dining at home that people had to prepare it in their kitchen themselves. Eighty percent of the cooking is done in the restaurant and twenty percent is done by customers. In order to make sure that they had the same results as in the restaurant, we shot instruction videos so that they were cooking along with the chef on the video. The package included a menu card, candle, Spotify playlist where songs were mixed with restaurant sounds, like the chef coming to the table asking if you needed more wine so that you’re reminded that you have to do that yourself — this kind of funny things. When we started in March-April of course we tried to do it best as possible. But if I look at the product in December, we’ve evolved so much production-wise with the videos, the playlist, with the number of menus that we offered. I think it’s good to have a partner to have feedback from and discuss things. Our product has evolved ridiculously and we saw it during Christmas when everybody was aiming to experience this at home. I think we did really well.

What would you say were the key things that you’ve learned as a business in managing this restaurant transformation?

Roger: For me, as a business towards the restaurant, I think I’m always trying to add value so that every month people know why they hired me. It has to make sense that you’ve hired someone to evolve your product and make sure that at the end of the day you sell for example more packages or get more visitors or whatever it is that you are selling. So you have KPIs and you have to deliver them. I think that’s the most important part and I always aim to have it as clear as possible as to why a restaurant is working with me. For the restaurant owner, it’s to know that we are on top of things, that we evolve continuously, set up new collaborations, change the menu every two or three weeks, read all the feedback and act on it. Like we developed a vegetarian menu quickly — those kinds of things, listen to the customer. And the last thing, if you have a restaurant that is running pretty well there is so much information that you can use in order to sell the product. For instance, I used the reservation system to see who made reservations last year and used those email addresses to make sure that everybody knew that this restaurant was doing this (fine dining at home). There are a lot of ways of getting into contact with your customers.

What was their lockdown strategy and how did they, as a restaurant, respond to the fact that they were closed?

Roger: During the first lockdown all the restaurants started with delivery. In Amsterdam, everybody called it the same. It was Rijks first, Rijks @home and then all restaurants followed by saying their restaurant name and @home. Every restaurant was cooking dishes, and you’d get it warm or cold, but the cooking was already finished. For Daalder we took another route. So we called it Thuis met Daalder to make sure it’s different from everybody else and we really wanted to bring fine dining at home. Personally, as a food blogger, I’ve tried different menus by delivery and sometimes I’d have the most delicious dish but it was served in a cardboard box. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a three-star Michelin chef, if the food is in a cardboard box it doesn’t give the experience or the feeling like I’m having it at the restaurant with my girlfriend on a night out or with my friends. So in order to fix that we packaged everything in little containers and the customer had to assemble all the dishes at home. That’s when we started with the Youtube and the Spotify playlist as I mentioned earlier. From there we evolved that whole Thuis met Daalder experience. Not too much after we added the course menu for the rest of days of the week as there were people that wanted to try this menu at 59 euros on any given day and not only on a Monday. During the second lockdown, we added delivery in the whole of the Netherlands and we used a delivery company which delivered the packages with refrigerated transportation. So we had all the potential foodies of the Netherlands as our potential customers instead of aiming just Amsterdam. The last couple of months we also did a lot of partnerships. We did one with Rijks, together we made a box called Rijks Daalder which is a play on words of a dutch coin we had in the past. And during New year we did a collaboration with Taiko which is a restaurant in the Conservatorium hotel. Doing these kinds of collaborations pushes you to create new menus, to think outside of the box and present something new that everybody is interested in.

What are they looking forward to achieving in the future?

Roger: As a marketeer, you always try to look into the future of course and predict best as possible which is very hard at the moment with the lockdown situation. But then again we all know that Valentine’s day is coming up, and after that, it’s Easter and so on. So for me, these are very interesting days to come up with new products to give people a reason to try our product again, like do a five or eight-course dining at home. That’s what I am working on at this point. We did pop-ups with Daalder when people were not able to eat in a restaurant but were able to eat in a hotel (staycation). In that way, you can have the staff working and have a loyal customer come to your restaurant in a way. I hope they can open in March when the terraces are open again. And then again it’s not business as usual but we have to have a strategy for when we open again with the restaurants. And we need to make sure we have the best possible month we can ever have in March.

From Daalder’s point of view, where is the help most wanted at this point in time?

Roger: So we already had a loyal customer base with Daalder, but we made sure to grow that base because now as a customer you were able to try five courses from Daalder for only 59 euros instead of the amount you pay in the restaurant, it’s a cheaper step in. So we are building that customer base and creating a bigger audience of fans. I think there is so much room for growth still. What we’ll do is to use the email lists and audience that already tried Thuis met Daalder so that they try a new menu to keep the revenue stream going. We’ll make sure that they have a great experience, so they can share it on social media and to their friends. From there we can reach a new group of customers. And of course, word to mouth communication is one of the best things you can have. But we are also planning on pushing it online by advertising so that we reach the right audience through Facebook and Instagram, which are still the main platforms to tell that story.

About the Guest

Normally, if you’re looking for Roger you probably have to check a restaurant or bar, since Roger visits over 100 restaurants and bars per month. Is this for fun? Of Course! But he also takes it very seriously. Together with his friends Jean-Paul Schaddé van Dooren & Steven Strijbosch he runs the restaurant & bar platform Cityguys.nl to inspire people to visit more awesome restaurants, bars and other amazing spots. When not in a bar or restaurants, Roger works as a freelance marketer for different restaurants and brands. In his work, he combines creativity and insights with a deep understanding of the market to create success after success.

Cityguys — https://cityguys.nl/

Roger Bloem — http://rogerbloem.nl/

Thuis met Daalder — http://thuismetdaalder.nl/

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.