When food arrives on the kitchen table, it tends to be a sustenance, not an experience. That’s why Bartaco is radically expanding its merchandising program to bring a bit of the beach lifestyle the brand is known for to an off-site experience.
CEO Scott Lawton says it’s all about turning hospitality in a restaurant into something real at home. He humbly says the company has been “playing” with him, but the company has sold lunch boxes and swimwear, and can barely compete with the cocktail shaker for its bottled margarita or salsa kit. Lawton says they may one day turn the customer’s porch into a Bartaco facsimile.
“It really resonates with our customers. I think people have a connection with Bartaco,” said Lawton. “I think we could even have outdoor furniture, there are so many things people love.”
Prior to the pandemic, he said the company was playing with merchandise, selling T-shirts and other branded tchotchkes on location. When dining areas closed and people were reluctant to go out, it became a higher priority to have a point of contact with consumers who stayed at home and that continues to this day. But it has to get past the brand’s vision of a relaxed beach cabana vibe without some of the cheesy plastic stuff.
“The swimsuit partnered with North Harbor is great, durable, looks great. That’s all the stuff we’re interested in, it’s the perfect match,” said Lawton. “When they put it up for sale, they immediately sold out.”
Metal lunch boxes are another example. It touches on the restaurant’s children’s menu which is fun, but separates children’s meals from the rest of travel or delivery orders.
“One of the things we are very famous for is the kids menu. We have a very healthy and fun kids menu that parents proudly pass on to their children and crave for children. With all this takeout, I’m trying to find a way to connect with the kids, what’s fun?” thought Lawton.
Recalling the glories of Happy Meal in the ’80s, he said the lunchbox was true to the brand and focused on the kids menu. He ordered 5,000 and they all quickly sold out.
“We don’t believe the request,” Lawton said. “So, we will continue to play with him.”
Next up, something for parents ordering on their phones: Bartaco-branded reading glasses. There are also sauce packets to order out of place to make some semblance of the many table sauces on the kitchen table.
He said, above all, whatever the merchandise was, it should be a logical extension of the brand and make the restaurant memorable for the next visit, whether it be at the restaurant or at home.
“It makes sense that as long as it fits the overall definition of who you are, you should have a really good feeling about who you are. Customers will be interested if it makes sense. That’s the key,” Lawton said. “We think about that with everything we do. Does it fit into that Bartaco gestalt? If you do that, it will resonate. ”