McCormick & Schmick’s Flounders


The national seafood brand is struggling as it’s put up for sale. How did it get to this point, and will it survive?

For sale: McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc.

Is it a surprise? Not really. But the situation isn’t unique to McCormick & Schmick’s—many restaurants have had a hard time keeping their businesses running in the last few years. But according to industry experts, there’s more than the bad economy to blame for the downfall of the famous seafood chain.

The chain has lost its mojo, says Cliff Courtney, executive vice president, chief strategy officer of Zimmerman Advertising, Fort Lauderdale, Florida—an agency that works with a number of big restaurant brands.

“They’re really a cautionary tale for all dinosaurs,” he says. “Brands are fluid, and they have to change to stay relevant. But these guys are lumbering in a way that’s been killing them.”

The upscale seafood chain is lumbering in several ways, Courtney says. It has barely changed in the 32 years since it opened its first restaurant; it offers huge menus with seemingly everything on them; the brand feels stale; and the meals are intended to take a long time.

And time is one of the things that are most precious for consumers. It’s the ultimate commodity, he says—so a huge menu isn’t doing the customer a favor because it just overwhelms with choices.

But McCormick & Schmick’s is proud of the choices it offers. According to its website, it has a daily menu “highlighting an impressive number of fresh seafood varieties.”

“We are overwhelmed by choice,” Courtney says. “We are overwhelmed by our schedules. And we are underwhelmed by restaurants who can’t honor those priorities.”

Brand Reinvention

It seems McCormick & Schmick’s has simply not kept up with what the consumer wants and has certainly not managed to reinvent itself—something Courtney says every major restaurant brand should explore regularly.

Even the seafood brand’s literature says: “We do things the ‘old-fashioned’ way, from taking orders from memory and hand shaken drinks, to the physical appearance of our restaurants.”


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