Brand Review: Wagamama
Known for Japanese inspired food and the unique dining experience, the Wagamama company has witnessed rapid global growth since the first restaurant opened in London in 1992. But is it possible to appeal to the majority of the public with a niche menu and controversial atmosphere? We asked our panel to review the brand to find out. The responses we received were mixed -some people championed the brand, whilst others had reservations.
‘I love them. Love Wagamama – Ramen!’ (Natalia, 35, Dougaupils)
Advocates of the brand praised Wagamama for the quality and freshness of the food they served. They felt the menu had a wide variety of options, which allowed customers to sample a range of Japanese dishes. The parents on our panel noted that they were impressed with the way Wagamama catered for children. Customers also felt that Wagamama was a healthier alternative to many of their competitors. Thus, they preferred Wagamama to other chain restaurants, such as Nandos and Strada, and fast-food alternatives, such as McDonald’s and Subway.
‘It tastes so good and there’s so much variety. You can have rice or noodles. All the dishes are quite different’ (Hayley, 32, Lymm)
‘I had a vegetarian option – it was lovely, it tasted really good and it was presented well’ (Faridah, 47, Swansea)
‘It’s not like other chain restaurants’ (Jennifer, 31, London)
The Dining Experience:
One aspect of the Wagamama experience which sparked debate among the panel was the unique dining experience.
Unlike the majority of restaurants in the UK, Wagamama seats customers together on long benches. Some of the panel were sceptical about the layout. They claimed that they thought it was intrusive and would prefer to sit only with the people they came with.
‘It’s like a school canteen feel’ (Mark, 23, Birmingham)
On the other hand, many people thought that the layout created a friendly, sociable and fun atmosphere for customers. They thought that this was one of the features that made Wagamama distinct from other restaurants.
‘I love the atmosphere. They way you sit on benches makes it sociable’ (Clare, 30, Manchester)
‘Good atmosphere – it was loud, it was fun’ (Stephan, 40, Wigan)
In the interest of keeping the food fresh, Wagamama serve food as soon as it is cooked, meaning that people eating together often receive their food at different times. Some people liked that the freshness of the food was the main concern of the restaurant and did not mind eating before or after their peers. However, there were people who felt that this was uncomfortable and undermined the notion of eating together.
‘My food came out at a totally different time to my friends, so it didn’t feel like you were eating socially together’ (Julia, 278, Watford)
Customers also liked the speed of the service in Wagamama, which they felt made it the perfect venue for a quick meal or lunch break.
‘It’s really good if you want to go for a quick lunch as there’s no waiting around’ (Elizabeth, 34, Kettering)
‘A good quick place to eat’ (Paul, 39, Hayes)
Regarding the prices of the food at Wagamama, the panel were again divided. Many felt that the quality of the food justified the prices. Others thought that Wagamama offered more reasonable prices than other chain restaurants.
‘It’s quite a lot cheaper than other restaurants’ (Christopher, 28, Sherborne)
‘Good quality food for a reasonable price’ (Louise, 21, Brighton)
On the other hand, some people argued that the food was overpriced (even customers who regularly ate at Wagamama). These respondents felt that Wagamama could improve their position in the market by reducing their prices.
‘I don’t think that Wagamama has a competitive advantage because its prices are higher than its competitors’ (Jihao, 20, London)
‘I think they should lower their prices so more people are willing to go there on a regular basis’ (Apple, 20, Aylesbury)
Brand Identity and Visibility:
Interestingly, a considerable number of the panel claimed they had never heard or been to Wagamama, which suggests there are some flaws in Wagamama’s marketing strategy. This was a particular trend amongst members of the panel who live in the north of the UK.
‘I hadn’t actually heard of Wagamama’ (Les, 43, Carcroft)
Our research suggested a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, a number of the panel said that they liked Wagamama but rarely went because there was not a branch that was local to them. Wagamama’s absence from the high street means that many people had never seen one of their restaurants, which explains why some members of the panel’s lack of knowledge about the brand.
‘We don’t have one nearby’ (Nikki, 44, Sutton)
‘I really like Wagamama, however I don’t think there are enough in my local area’ (Lee, 27, London)
Secondly, some people said they had heard of Wagamama, but had never eaten there because they were under the impression that they only served stir-fries and noodle dishes.
‘We tend to go somewhere with more variety’ (Phillip, 26, Wallsend)
Our research suggests that although the food and experience at Wagamama restaurants is generally enjoyed by customers, there are several ways they could improve their position in the restaurant market. Opening more branches around the UK and creating advertising campaigns that showcase the variety of food available would help attract more customers. In addition, reviewing their pricing could give Wagamama a competitive edge in the market. Particularly given that many customers see Wagamama as an appropriate lunch venue, they could improve their offering by offering lunchtime prices.