Online Success Story: Régine Café

Regine Cafe - Montreal brunch

9h30 on March 4, 2017 – It’s -10°F on this cold Saturday morning (-17°F with the windchill factor, but who’s counting!), and there are about 80 people in line – OUTSIDE – in front of Régine Café, a popular place for brunch in Montreal.

What in the world is the secret of its success?

A few years ago, I had the chance to design the website of this Montreal neighborhood’s small restaurant. Over the years, I have followed its success (thanks to Facebook), and have been fascinated by its marketing approach.

But I wanted to hear from Pierre-Luc, Régine Café’s owner himself, how he described the concept behind Régine Cafe, as well as the approach and the tactics he used to get to where he is today – particularly when it comes to social media. So yesterday, I got out on that frigid Montreal morning and interviewed Pierre-Luc!

Régine Café is not Pierre-Luc’s first restaurant. Pierre-Luc previously owned La Cantine, a well-respected Montreal restaurant that was open seven days a week, three meals a day. But, as he describes it, “the message was “all over the place,” we were trying to promote everything from our great dinners to our brunches.” And it was exhausting. Pierre-Luc was burning out. He sold the restaurant for some profit and decided that he will never open another restaurant again.

One year passed. But Pierre-Luc was starting to miss the restaurant scene, and that’s how Régine Café was born.

Nothing was random in the concept of Régine Café.

At his previous restaurant, brunches were the thing people remembered: so Régine Café was going to offer brunches seven days a week – exclusively.

Other brunch places in Montreal were all very similar: all serving eggs benedict, all with decors of bright colors and drawings of hens on their walls (Chez Cora brunch restaurants),” he explains. So there will be none of that at Régine Café. Régine Café will have the comfy feeling of a tearoom, with vintage sofas and armchairs, mainly in black and white. And eggs benedict were not going to be on the menu!

But more importantly and so incredibly unique, Régine Café was going to have its own voice!

As you can read on the website’s homepage, Régine is “Tante Régine” (Aunt Régine), “an imaginary persona inspired by the idea of a loving, doting aunt who always embraces you with open arms, and above all, never lets you leave with an empty stomach. To spoil and pamper you, everything is homemade – the cinnamon buns, scones, ham on the bone, baked beans – you name it. And we never compromise on quality.”

Régine Café was going to be like the home of that grand-mother or old aunt who spoils you. The guest will get more than expected: small attentions beyond the ordinary, a special caring touch, oversized portions, and more. On the counter, large (decadent) cakes are on display. When the weather is cold, waitresses bring warm tea and blankets to customers waiting in line outside! When you come in, there is a chalkboard with a handwritten note that reads “on vous aime” (we love you). There are toys and crayons for kids. Waiters and waitresses are selected not on their previous experience as waiters but for their caring personalities. If a waitress sees that a customer has overcooked eggs, she spontaneously replaces them.

And on Facebook (14K page likes), every post includes the warm words “my darlings,”my loves,” “p’tits guidous d’amour” (sorry, too hard to translate!). “This is how my grandma called her grandchildren,” explains Pierre-Luc. “That way, her memory lives on.” Régine Café shares photos taken by guests.
And it spends a minimal amount of money to boost posts (with a different targeting audience in age and gender, depending on the photo). Recently it even got 41K views for a short video of a cook pouring chocolate on food! Crazy!

In Conclusion

The secret of Régine Café’s success is excellent food – of course – but it is also a carefully crafted branding, meticulously and consistently implemented day after day that has created a large “tribe” (to use marketing jargon) of extremely loyal and engaged customers.
Congratulations, Pierre-Luc! A well-deserved success!

2020 Update:

With the success of Régine Café, Pierre-Luc was able to open a 2nd restaurant Janine Café, in a different area of Montréal, with a slightly different menu, and attempting to have a different personality.

See: Régine Café 2020 website project.

With COVID-19, he also set up for a pickup and delivery service. You can read here how we set it up as part of his e-commerce shop.

Do you have a food business’s online success story that you would like to share? If you do, leave a comment below or contact us.

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