There are a lot of things that get under the skin of Legal Sea Foods president and CEO Roger Berkowitz, but one thing that bothers him almost daily is when his restaurant is called a chain.
“When you think of a chain, you don’t think of the best adjectives. You think of ‘cookie-cutter’ or ‘dumbed-down food,’ and that’s a far cry from what we do,” Berkowitz says. “Chain is an easy descriptor, but it doesn’t capture the full essence of who we are.”
In his mind, despite having 35 restaurants in his fleet, labeling the company a chain is bad for business. That’s why he commissioned an advertising campaign that debuted in August and highlighted why the moniker strikes him as an insult.
Chain restaurants have come under attack as Millennials make known their preferences for local, one-of-a-kind restaurants. Experts say the generational difference is vast, noting that Baby Boomers are content with chains, but the term has achieved such negative ubiquity among younger demographics that it limits how much chain restaurants appeal to consumers.
“When anything was written about us, it would always be qualified with the word chain,” Berkowitz says. “People would write phrases like, ‘They do some interesting things … for a chain.’ It seemed to be an anchor in defining who and what we were.”
The Chain Abnormality
Aaron Allen, a restaurant consultant out of Orlando, sees a movement of consumers who are migrating away from the casual-dining chains that reigned two or three decades ago.
“A chain carries a stigma now that it didn’t before,” he says. “It used to be that chains created predictability, and that was a good thing. Consider Starbucks: We want consistency and to know our drink will be the same no matter where we order. But restaurants like a TGI Fridays are predictable; it’s still state-of-the-art 1993, and nothing has really changed about it. That’s the part chains are trying to migrate away from.”