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All You Can Internet

Leading buffet restaurant Vikings uses connectivity as its pièce-de-la-résistance

Filipinos just love buffets; they’re consistent with the family-fiesta theme that is so ingrained in our culture. Thus, it’s no surprise to find large groups of families and friends having a grand time, at any Vikings branch, all gathered in a massive hall. There is always a sprawling center spread that represents a culinary world tour spanning Japanese, Chinese, Mediterranean, American, Filipino, and other flavors.

An evening at Vikings is a decidedly festive affair shared by all. “I would have to say that we are different from hotel buffets,” says Charles Lee, Marketing Director of the Vikings Group. “We bring high quality-five-star experiences but at a more affordable price.” It’s hard to argue with the Vikings formula of scale, service, and quality; their branches are almost always bursting at the seams with customers, even on weekdays.

Mr. Lee describes the Vikings brand persona as one imbued with a signature “celebratory” energy, and certainly there’s no mistaking this, judging by its always-happy diners. The restaurant has also been quite successful with innovative promotions such as its birthday promos offering a percentage discount corresponding to the celebrant’s age.

Success can only breed further success, which is why the Vikings Group has expanded to other brands. “Niu” is a higher-end version of Vikings – with a more polished ambience; the Group also recently launched Four Seasons, which offers “a mix of hotpot and buffet.”

The Vikings Group owes much of its success to careful market research. “We’ve used consumer research quite extensively,” Mr. Lee says, pointing to how Vikings asks customers to key in their feedback on special tablets after their dining experience. “We get a lot of qualitative data to study. So if enough respondents say ‘I want Thai’ or ‘I want Indian’, there’s a compelling reason to feature more of these cuisines.”

An Extra Serving of Connectivity, Please

Since Vikings has always relied on Social Media, Internet connectivity becomes an even more important factor for sustained growth, according to Mr. Lee. Presumably, this is because many Vikings customers are only too eager to share food pics or celebratory messages while inside the restaurant.

“There was a point when the Internet was really too slow,” Mr. Lee says. “Customers had a hard time posting stuff. On the operations side, we really couldn’t accept many online reservations (a key sales strategy for Vikings).”

For Mr. Lee, there was only one provider that was up to the job. “We called PLDT and told them our problem.” The answer came in the form of two solutions that work seamlessly together: Dedicated Internet Access Service (iGate) and IPVPN. “iGate dramatically boosted our Internet speed. IPVPN distributes operational information reliably across our 14 branches.” All in all, Vikings operations and customer experiences were greatly enhanced.

To cope with an almost overwhelming amount of customer phone calls and inquiries, Vikings also uses ePLDT’s Cosmocall, which Mr. Lee describes as having a “very fast” setup time of three to four months. “It’s a tailored call-center type service that allows us to answer every call and serve every customer,” further stressing that every unanswered call represented lost sales for Vikings. “What Cosmocall does is queue up calls to prevent dropped calls.”

A Growing Array of Choices

With its wide selection of cuisines made available to every diner, the buffet has become a way for more people to sample and indulge in the world’s many flavors.

The modern concept of the buffet has its roots in the 14th century Swedish smorgasbord, which initially consisted of bread, cheese, and butter before the selection expanded to include dishes from salted fish to sweets. After enjoying some popularity in Europe – particularly in France– the format was later brought to the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.

The all-you-can-eat buffet has an unrelated yet similar origin. In 1946, Las Vegas publicist Herb McDonald fed hungry patrons of the El Rancho Vegas hotel with leftover cheeses and cold cuts from the kitchen. This evolved into a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat buffet that was copied by other hotels along the Strip and elsewhere in the United States.

Be it a hotel’s high-end selection or a more affordable spread, the buffet has become a popular choice among Filipino diners. It satisfies the taste for variety that draws from the country’s melting pot of flavors– a fact that the Vikings Group knows all too well. This is why it constantly updates the type of cuisine it offers, while adding new concepts to its roster of dining experiences.

Top Rated Service

He also has a fair amount of praise for the PLDT team behind the Vikings package of solutions. “Our PLDT Relationship Manager set up the necessary meetings with technical experts to explain how everything would work out. It really helped us in understanding our old problems and what was needed to solve them.”

Mr. Lee views the Vikings Group as sitting at a technological crossroads, carefully integrating into a more “seamless” digital future and customer experience that begin at reservations and continues into loyalty programs and apps. It sounds like a new formula for Vikings’ success that hopefully will spread to its other brands.

FVP and Head of PLDT and Smart Enterprise Groups Jovy Hernandez has reiterated the telco’s standing commitment to the enterprise community. “We’ve stepped beyond our role of ‘carrier of carriers’ and even as a backbone for business. We are partnering with business leaders like Vikings to become essential for providing consistent high-quality standards of service and customer experiences,” he remarked. “Interconnected customers today expect and demand more. Businesses could use solutions like these and others that deliver on these non-negotiable customer expectations.”

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