Not many people would resist a nice meal of a 200g burger sandwich, whole and rich with supplements, ketchup on top, and a side dish of French fries or fried onion flakes. But the venue of dining also counts in shaping the diner’s experience — it is likely for a diner to expect a more tasty and enjoyable burger meal at a full-service grill restaurant compared with a fast food restaurant. A number of factors affect the attraction of a restaurant to diners in addition to food quality, like atmospherics of the venue, service and attitude towards customers. “Moses”, a small-medium chain (8 branches) of grill bar-diners in Israel, has created a brand theme aimed at making patrons-diners feel more welcome and wanted at their restaurants. At the core of the theme are anthropomorphization of Moses as a cat wearing a wide smile and his style of language that is meant to let customers feel more at ease, like they belong in the restaurant as personal guests of Moses.
- See epilogue with update at the bottom (June 2018 / October 2019 / May 2022)
The language Moses uses to tell patrons-diners about special offers, activities and events is personal, direct and very informal, often a non “going around the bush” kind of talk. It appears on table covers, postcards, signage, its website and other materials. This style also characterises its advertising. It may sound a little blunt sometimes but careful not to be offensive. The approach Moses takes to bring up any matter is intended in a humourous way. It seems that Moses is just trying to be frank, clever yet witty.
There is not much company-official text in English to give as an example since Moses addresses substantially Hebrew-speaking Israelis as in a casual discourse. And indeed Moses’s rhetoric employs expressions in Hebrew that have significance to Israelis but whose semantics may be partially lost in translation to English or other languages. Still, the tone and intention of the rhetorical style of Moses is preserved and can be sensed in the following examples. Moses typically takes a rather plain information or message and twists its presentation by inserting: (a) some doubt or skepticism, (b) adventurism or suspense, (c) irony.
The limited content in English on the Israel-native website of Moses appears (reasonably) to be translated from content originally composed in Hebrew. Consider the following phrases, extracted from the English version of the About page (note: information here is not updated as in Hebrew), to get a feel of how Moses talks to clients. Thus, when telling readers of the chain’s background Moses says:
“Here’s something you’ll find on every website, and here too. Do you really care if Moses Tel Aviv was established on November 2003, and it is part of a group of restaurants…” (Note: the group referred to includes other restaurants of different types of cuisine and brand names; since then Moses expanded as a distinct chain within the group).
Cutting short on the chain’s evolution, Moses comments:
“What’s really important is that they are open now. If you wanted to learn some history you’d probably log into Wikipedia or somewhere like that.”
Some consumers may not like to be sent-off like that to find more information, but another, and the correct way to read this is “Moses doesn’t want to waste your time; just come and eat”. In an age when people are shorter in time and can easily search and find information on the Web, Moses shows as understanding. (Moses also seems to understand the tendency of Israelis to be not very patient.)
In another example, a print ad from a few years ago for a new burger of Moses, Artburger, posed in large-bulk letters (‘loudly’) at the center of the copy: “How Many Times Do I Have to Explain to You That This Is Not a Hamburger?!” Artburger is made of a mix of lamb, beef and veal meat. Text in small font at the bottom of the ad explained:
“In a competition conducted by TimeOut magazine, which is like what you are holding now but another, readers chose the Artburger of Moses, which is exactly what you will be holding soon, as the best hamburger. So this is the time to admit failure. If after all we had done, we couldn’t make you understand that Artburger isn’t really a hamburger, then we probably deserve this.” (Translated, RV)
This is a clear attempt by Moses, if a little sarcastic, at differentiating its 250g Artburger with a superior-quality meticulous blend of meat from standard beef hamburger. Importantly, this is not a gimmick of one-off ad but an integral part of the language Moses consistently uses in its communication to consumers, part of his character. (An image of the original ad in Hebrew can be found in the Gallery; also see photos from restaurants in the chain and the Artburger Olympic Contest).
As a final example, Moses made an intriguing invitation or call for customers to participate in a satisfaction survey distributed on postcards at his restaurants. This is how the invitation went:
“Psss… Psss… Act normally. Continue reading as if this is just any other text on a postcard. Don’t let the waiters feel that something suspicious is going on here. Smile like what is written here is something funny. Now, in your most nonchalant way, throw a look at the bottom left corner of the postcard…did you get the (QR) code? It can turn you from regular Moses customers to … “mystery customers”, Hush… Yes, exactly as you’ve heard. Scan the code now and not at home, answer our discreet satisfaction questionnaire, show when finished to the waiter and get a scratching card, and maybe you will win a bonus to spoil yourself. Nice work, Agent. See you on the next mission.” (Translated, RV)
It is an attention-grabbing and engaging way of asking customers to participate in such a survey. In a ‘gamified’ kind of invitation, the task is put into a story of a secret mission — properly applied and difficult to ignore. The invitation has additional important elements like encouragement to reply immediately and a reward, both aimed at increasing the response rate (a link is further provided in addition to the code), yet embedded in a whole story that signals suspense and thrill (and also humour). Then finally comes this footnote:
” (!) This postcard will destroy itself instantly when finished reading if you spill a little ketchup on it, a bit of mayonnaise, wrinkle it into a little ball, and then throw to the garbage can…” — A nice touch of irony in mockery of espionage work…
Moses the cat is a cartoon character — he is known to consumers only by face, with his wide smile, his tongue hanging out as a signal of his mischievous nature, round eyes, red nose, and sharpened ears on top. The icon that identifies Moses visually fits well with his verbal language, and together they help build the brand personality: Moses is sociable, extrovert or approaching to others, light, direct but sometimes more subtle and sophisticated, looking for adventures, and he likes to make jokes but with the sting of irony. Over time some versions of the looks of Moses have appeared (e.g., in different colour, ears pointed to the sides or raised upwards) but they all have the same distinctive elements that are indicative of his character. Other visual elements like the design of the website (e.g., colours and shapes of “windows”) or the menu (recently re-designed in a graphic style similar to infographs) are consistent with the less-orderly conduct of Moses .
The face icon of Moses is reminiscent of Felix the Cat, a hero comic and cartoon character from the 1920s-1940s. The personality characteristics (e.g., adventurous, playing tricks on others) also match quite well. The chain has reportedly acquired the creative rights to use the icon-logo of the cat Moses from an American company that owns rights since the 1960s for an original animated figure (1), although the article does not mention the name of the original figure.
However, language can more than tell of the brand personality of Moses; it also speaks of the culture of Moses chain of restaurants as an organisation. When the language used in written and electronic communications is considered together with oral communication, conduct and other actions of the chain’s staff members in the restaurants, they indicate a culture that approaches customers, wants to get close to them and cares for them. Staff members on-site do not really talk as described above but they are courteous and waiters would usually ask diners how they were doing before taking order and return to ask how is the meal after serving. They also tend to fix problems and give away bonuses as compensation to conciliate with customers and keep them happy. Members of the customer club are called Moses Friends; the language used by Moses the cat seems to be directed especially to them and to encourage new ones to join as his friends. Moses Friends regularly get a bonus starter or dessert and accumulate stars for price discount. They also get priority seating.
Yuval Sela, founding partner (with the Yarsin Group) and CEO, defines Moses as “a restaurant that talks to everyone, at noon to business people, in the evening to families, and at night to the young ones after entertainment” (2). In fact, Moses restaurants have turned out most popular among families on weekends. The chain that considers itself a place for “Modern American Kitchen” runs a well-controlled number of restaurants, self-managed without franchising. Sela sees children as the anchors that bring families to their restaurants and therefore most important to satisfy — they give them game and drawing booklets with coloured pencils, and at least one restaurant added in the past year a play room for little children (“Gymboree”). For the young ones who come late at night they offer a night burger meal for a special price treat (42 NIS=€8.75). Beyond that they offer as expected a business lunch deal of a salad, 200g burger, side dish and soft drink/juice at a very fair price (competitive even against McDonald’s meals — 58 NIS to 50 NIS) and other attractions like “international burgers” in culinary styles of different countries. All together, it is evident of a culture of a business that cares for its varied customers.
The language of Moses in the chain’s communications will not appeal to everyone. Some may consider it impolite and intruding (e.g., senior citizens). Others may find this genre of language simply strange to them. It is essential to study and confirm to what segments that kind of language is appealling or at least can feel comfortable with it. Notably, five of the restaurants are located in the Tel-Aviv area in or near business districts that host professionals and managers in banking and finance, Hi-Tech and other business services and socio-economically privileged neighbourhoods. The recently added branch in the vacation resort city of Eilat is rather the exception and probably targets primarily consumers as families.
More frequently, the restaurants are in vicinity to patrons-diners that are likely to appreciate and welcome the spiked humorous and sometimes more sophisticated approach of Moses’s language. It is furthermore likely that consumers from those same circles are those that come outside working hours with friends and family to dine at Moses. It can be hoped that diners who come along with “devotees”, even if they do not truly welcome that style of language, will at least find it amusing.
Epilogue (June 2018 / October 2019 / May 2022): In early 2017 Moses restaurant chain was acquired by BBB Group which already owned at that time two hamburger restaurant chains. Following this acquisition, BBB Group operates three chains with different positions of quality and value proposition: Burgerim — basic, fast-food; BBB (Burgus Burger Bar) — medium, good value; and Moses as its premium brand. However, within a year BBB dropped or abolished much of the symbols and elements of the brand personality of Moses, including the culture and language attached to it. Five of its current 11 branches are already operated by franchisers. The previous founding owners lamented that differentiation of the brand has eroded and revenues did not justify keeping up the chain. Yet the personality and culture of Moses did make the restaurant chain stand out from its competitors, including BBB itself.
In the months passing until mid-2018 Moses sadly lost much of its special character and dropped also favourite menu items. For a while, during 2019, it seemed that the chain was successful in its effort to recover the brand of Moses with its stingy-humorous style. New items were also added to the menu to improve and enrich it. Unfortunately that new course did not last long. The COVID-19 pandemic might have killed the spirit: by 2022 the chain has only one restaurant left in Tel-Aviv (with two more restaurants in satellite towns with business districts), and is struggling to keep up Moses attitude, be out-going towards patrons-diners, and honouring ‘credits’ of more veteran Moses club members. Moses seems to return back to its position in 2018, unclear if it can recuperate and reinvigorate the Moses brand again.
Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)
(1) “How Did We Turn Into an Overeat People: 20 Hamburgers a Day and a Line to Restaurant at 3AM”, TheMarker Online (Hebrew), 23 Sept. 2010 http://www.themarker.com/misc/1.581423
(2) Ibid. 1 (Citation translated from Hebrew, RV)