Innovation and Commitment to Quality Keys to Top Tex-Mex Brand’s Longevity in the Casual Dining Industry
Since 1982, On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina has been making itself an international household name when it comes to authentic Mexican cuisine, margaritas, and fun times with a fiesta spirit. And while any brand that reaches 35 years in business has something to celebrate, On The Border’s achievement is a testament to the power of quality and tenacity in the face of a rapidly changing marketplace.
“A lot has changed since 1982,” said Ashley Zickefoose, Chief Marketing Officer for the brand. “Not just for our restaurants, but for the entire industry. We’ve seen dozens of concepts come and go – from taquerias to corner stores to food trucks and even Mexican fine dining – but it’s the warm genuine hospitality and wide variety of freshly prepared classic Mexican dishes that keeps guests coming back to OTB. We’re familiar. We’re comfortable. We’re a place where people enjoy coming together.”
Zickefoose then went on to explain how that familiarity is both an asset and a challenge. She warned that getting too comfortable causes brands to stagnate, while constant reinvention doesn’t allow brands to build a solid, loyal customer base. For On The Border this has meant carefully examining the core menu items that guests love, while continuing to introduce new options – or similarly – new value propositions. “We found that it’s not always about adding a new recipe, but sometimes it’s about a new combo or a new approach to service that guests appreciate most.” OTB’s new program which includes endless rice and beans with most entrée orders has been rolled out in more than half the brand’s locations, and is one example of how OTB is giving guests more flexibility and more bang for their buck. The brand has also experimented with seasonal margaritas and an expanded seafood offering with considerable positive response. “Our vision has been to expand our existing offerings in core categories where we can leverage our existing strengths to create value, ” she explains. “Shrimp tacos were a great addition to our menu, but not one that required new operational tasks or complexity on our already-established classic ground beef and Southwest Chicken Taco preparations.”
The insight is particularly meaningful in light of the consumer backlash towards On The Border’s competitor, Chili’s, who abruptly announced the removal of tacos and other Tex-Mex items from the menu. OTB took to social media to welcome Tex-Mex fans with their offerings, but Zickefoose shared how the events reinforced their own dedication to the operating principles that have guided them thus far. “Believe me, from a business side, I think we can all appreciate the desire to bring more simplicity to back-of-house operations. Cutting menu items is certainly one way to do that. We’ve done it ourselves with items that have lost guest interest over time. However, we believe strongly in being strategic about menu development from the outset. Adding incrementally – or even seasonally – is a way to respond to trends without overcommitting resources that may become difficult to manage long term. For instance, guests love when Watermelon Margarita comes back every summer, but if we extend it to be available year-round, we then have to either sacrifice quality when the fruit goes out of season or we have to weigh an increased food cost associated with sourcing watermelon from someplace else. Knowing that, we’re able to tactically pivot marketing efforts to support operational decisions in ways that are meaningful to guest experience.”
While the energetic CMO of On The Border makes it sound simple, she’s also clear to point out that it takes considerable discipline to not wander from fact-based reasoning and results-oriented marketing. “If 35 years has taught us anything, it’s that we have to be continually willing to learn new things about ourselves, our brand, and the guests we serve. The key to the next 35 years at On The Border is rooted in leveraging our experience into ever-smarter ways to grow market share and bottom-line profits – and that means being ‘real’ about where we succeed and what we can improve to attract new OTB fans.”
On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina is the world’s largest Mexican casual dining brand, offering an extensive menu of great-tasting, classic and contemporary Mexican food, like sizzling mesquite-grilled fajitas, and Margaritas as big and bold as the border itself. On The Border is owned by Border Holdings, LLC, with 157 restaurants in 32 states, Puerto Rico and Asia. Follow and ‘like’ On The Border on Facebook at www.facebook.com/OnTheBorderMexicanGrillandCantina, and @OnTheBorder on Twitter. For more information, visit www.ontheborder.com.