MK Restaurant: Branding of Thai-Style Hotpot
The restaurant industry is one of the most competitive in
Thailand. With a large number of players ranging from restaurants
in five-star hotels, global fast-food chains to small stalls along
the streets and everything in between, the Thais are spoiled for
choice. In addition, as the world becomes globalized, consumers are
familiar with international dishes and would not hesitate to try
new offerings from the other side of the globe. As a result, all
players in the industry have to constantly find ways to attract and
retain consumers amid the intense competition and high threat of
In the midst of extreme competition, a Thai brand—MK
Restaurant—is able to stand out among the players with the highest
market share in the restaurant industry. From its humble beginnings
in 1986, MK Restaurant Co. Ltd. has made itself a household name
Thai suki (Thai-style Hotpot) through innovation and
In 2013, the consumer foodservice industry in Thailand
generated total sales valued at 703.7 billion baht (US$21.4
billion), and is expected to grow to 788.5 billion baht (US$24
billion) by 2015. The industry comprises several types of service
providers including full-service restaurants, fast food outlets,
100 percent home delivery, and street stalls/kiosks.
Sales at full-service restaurants contributed 22.1 percent of
total value of the foodservice industry in Thailand in 2013. Due to
the fragmented nature of the full-service restaurant business, all
players have single digit market share. MK Restaurants Company
Limited was the market leader in 2013 with 9.9 percent market
share, followed by Thai Beverage PCL with 3.6 percent.
If one were to ask about the best place to eat hotpot (suki)
in Thailand, the name that will come to many people's minds is MK
Restaurant. Its high level of brand equity is reflected through
several recognitions it has received over the years. For example,
it was listed as one of the top 20 Top-of-Mind Thai brands in a
research conducted by Young & Rubicam as well as named
Thailand's Most Admired Restaurant in BrandAge magazine's survey of
Thailand's Most Admired Brands in 2008.
The first MK restaurant was initially opened as a full-service
Thai restaurant in 1962 in Siam Square, Bangkok. Its founder was a
Hong Kong Chinese, Makong King Yee, the inspiration for the
restaurant's name. Soon afterwards, King Yee sold the business to
her chef, Tongkam Mekto, in order to relocate to the United States
with her family. Under the leadership of Mekto—or “Aunty Tongkam”
as she was known to her customers—the restaurant grew in popularity
due to her cooking ability as well as “Thai-style
In 1984, frequent diner Samrit Chirathivat—late founder of the
Central Group, a Thai family- owned conglomerate—proposed opening
an MK restaurant in his newly opened department store to Mekto.
With this opportunity, MK restaurant branched out under the name
“Green MK” in Central Plaza Ladprao.
A major turning point for the restaurant came in 1986 when
Chirathivat offered Mekto another space for lease under two
conditions. First, the space must be used to operate
a suki restaurant. Second, gas stoves must not be used
(cooking with gas was the norm in most restaurants). After much
deliberation with her daughter and son-in-law, Yupin and Rit
Thirakomen, respectively, the family joined forces and was
determined to make
the suki restaurant a success.
Rit Thirakomen, current managing director of MK Restaurant Co.
Ltd. and a trained electrical engineer, spearheaded the search for
a substitute for gas as the main cooking fuel. He experimented with
several types of electric pot and found that the one with the
highest output power was an imported 1,200-watt pot from Japan.
Nonetheless, it took 10 minutes to boil water, much slower than the
gas stove that was capable of bringing water to a boil in four to
five minutes. Thirakomen came up with a simple yet effective
solution: boiling soup at 70°C prior to serving. Then the electric
pot would take only five minutes to bring the soup to a boil.
Armed with this newfound technique, the family established its
first suki restaurant under the name MK Suki, which was later
changed to MK Restaurant to reflect its wide range of offerings.
Being the first suki restaurant to use the electric pot, MK
Restaurant was known as a
“safe” suki restaurant and was able to attract a high volume
of diners within a short period of time. Despite the existence of
several renowned suki restaurants such as Coca Suki and Canton
Suki, MK Restaurant quickly surpassed its competitors.
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
MK Restaurant's initial success was due to the use of the
electric pot and its delicious dipping sauce. To sustain its
position as a leader, however, is a much more difficult task. The
recipe for success of the restaurant, according to Thirakomen, is
the constant desire to exceed customer expectation. The foundation
of MK's sustainable edge can be divided into three phases, which
are discussed next.
Search for Solutions: QCQS
During the first seven years of its establishment, the focus
of the business was on solving typical teething problems. The main
problematic areas Thirakomen aimed to solve were reflected in its
QCQS principle: Quickness, Cleanliness, Quality, and Service.
Quickness refers to the aim to improve speed of service.
Although MK Restaurant is not a fast- food business, it is
necessary to provide quick service as customers will get upset and
leave the restaurant if the service is slow. Slow service was a
problem that plagued the restaurant outlets in the early stage.
Thirakomen found that the cause of this problem stemmed from the
long process servers took to write down orders and relay them to
the kitchen. Under this system, customer orders were greatly
delayed during peak hours. As such, an order form was designed with
food items listed in the same order as they were arranged in the
kitchen. This sped up the overall process as servers could check
off listed items ordered right away while the kitchen staff was
able to spend less time in picking out orders. Furthermore,
condo-inspired serving plates were designed to minimize time spent
on plate arrangement and to free up dining table-top space.
Operating to the highest possible standard with emphasis on
cleanliness, Thirakomen went beyond the norms practiced by other
restaurants at the time. For instance, a color-coded wiping cloth
system was put in place whereby guidelines were given with regard
to how the cloth should be used and cleaned. Furthermore, he
increased the number of cutting boards in each restaurant and
ensured that each of them was cleaned and rinsed with boiling water
after every use.
Quality of food, especially in terms of freshness, was another
area he improved on. In its early stage, the restaurant faced
inconsistency in the level of food freshness. Thirakomen identified
two factors—refrigerator and “food chain”—as the main drive behind
the level of food freshness. First, he turned his attention to the
restaurant's refrigerators. At the time, most restaurants used
refrigerators with a cooling coil system whereby cooling could be
affected, resulting in inconsistent temperatures. Thirakomen
replaced these with no-frost refrigerators and implemented the FIFO
(first in, first out) method, meaning that foods were used in the
order they were delivered to the restaurant.
Next, traveling time of food products between suppliers and
customers was carefully analyzed. As suppliers delivered their
products at midnight, the restaurant wasted a total of 14 hours,
eight hours waiting for employees whose shift began at 8.00 a.m.
and six hours in preparation, before the products could be stored
in refrigerators. To solve this problem, Thirakomen moved the
workers from the morning shift to the midnight shift so that the
preparation process could start as soon as the supplies arrived. By
morning, all products were delivered to each outlet ready to be
Service was another area in need of improvement. The initial
problem faced by the restaurant was misdelivery of orders. In
response to the problem, a training program was initiated along
with efforts to tackle other mistakes made by servers.
The QCQS principle is still in use today and forms the basis
for further improvement. With the groundwork laid, MK grew slowly
but steadily with the opening of 14 additional outlets.
Search for Structure: Global Standard
From 1994 to 2000, global standards were used as benchmarks
for the restaurant's management leading to changes in the company's
accounting system, logistics activities, and human resource
Outsourcing was used in areas that MK Restaurant did not have
expertise in, such as marketing research. Marketing research
companies were employed to evaluate its service level.
A structured training program and training institution were
put in place. Additionally, Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and
balanced scorecard system were used to evaluate the performance of
all outlets. Through this standardization, all employees could be
moved freely from outlet to outlet while customers were assured of
a consistent experience no matter which MK Restaurant outlet they
By the end of this stage in 2000, a total of 75 outlets of MK
Restaurant had been established across the country. The large
number of outlets allowed the company to achieve economies of scale
resulting in cost reductions. The savings were passed on to
Search for Top-of-Mind Position
The solid foundation laid earlier enabled MK Restaurant to
grow rapidly without compromising its quality. With a
well-structured system already in place, Thirakomen asked himself
how MK Restaurant could further exceed customer expectations. He
found his answer from customers' comments that MK Restaurant's
hotpots offer a wide variety of vegetables, which reflected a
rising health consciousness among the Thais. He aimed to position
the restaurant as a place for healthy food under the concept “Our
dream is to make the Thais healthy.”
Thirakomen started to look into ways to improve the
nutritional content and safety of food MK Restaurant served. A
major overhaul was required. To ensure food safety, MK Restaurant
made changes to the food preparation technique and cooking system.
It set up a laboratory to systematically test its food products for
chemical residues and installed automatic vegetable washers. Its
foods were all free from monosodium glutamate and other
preservatives. Meanwhile, contract farming arrangements were
created along with negotiations to minimize usage of chemical
MK Restaurant was able to achieve its goal of making the Thais
healthier by communicating the importance of eating healthy food.
Through cooperation with Mahidol University, the nutritional values
of all its food items were calculated. To effectively convey the
information, the nutritional values of the food items and calories
consumed by each customer were instantly calculated and stated on
every receipt. Furthermore, MK Restaurant worked with the Nutrition
Division of the Ministry of Public Health to introduce menus with
high nutritional value such as the Healthy Vegetable Set and
Healthy Mushroom Set.
By the end of 2010, the company had 320 MK suki outlets.
MK Restaurant's marketing mix has been one of the key drivers
for its success over the last 25 years.
Product and Service
Food at MK Restaurants outlets is primarily a mixture of Thai
and Chinese cuisine. Up to 50 menus featuring a wide variety of
fresh meats, noodles, and vegetables are available for customers to
choose from. These items are then cooked in a clear stock boiled in
an electric pot and eaten with a dipping sauce. Apart from the main
menu of Thai-style suki, the restaurant is also renowned for other
menus including roasted duck, roasted pork, rice, and dim sum that
are available throughout the day.
Its great customer service is also the restaurant's strong
selling point. The staff welcomes diners with the legendary Thai
hospitality and provides speedy and efficient services.
Attention to food safety was the basis for its initial growth
and food safety continues to be the main priority in all the
outlets. The electric pots are constantly up-dated to make them
easy and safe for people of all ages to use. Also, an earth leakage
circuit breaker is installed under every table to prevent electric
leakage. In addition, to make the place safe for children, tempered
glass is used while rough edges are removed from tables and
The restaurant offers value-for-money food and services to its
customers. Its ability to offer high-quality products at affordable
prices stems mainly from bulk purchases. To serve more than three
million customers a day, it orders several tons of food supplies
MK Restaurant outlets are scattered throughout Thailand. Most
of them are located in departmental stores, major discount stores,
and community malls as this enable the outlets to leverage their
abilities to draw in traffic and the facilities such as parking
The main promotional tool of MK restaurant are television
commercials, as its target market covers a wide range of people. A
new commercial is released every year that reflects each
differentiating factor that makes MK Restaurant stands out from the
crowd. The commercials included one that compared its staff's
training process to military training, and another that featured a
child reporter telling a story of how MK Restaurant wanted Thai
kids to eat more vegetables. Then there was its award-winning
commercial, portraying different groups of people—both young and
old—singing a catchy jingle “What should we eat? Let's go to
Several expressions have been associated with MK Restaurant
which further strengthen its brand image. Some of them are family,
healthy food, and innovation.
MK Restaurant brands itself as a family restaurant. Being a
place where family members or groups of friends can enjoy the
process of making and eating suki together is the inspiration
behind its tagline “The moment of warmth.” Thirakomen believes that
MK Restaurant is more than just a restaurant; it is also a place
that brings people closer together over a shared meal.
MK Restaurant as a place for healthy food has been constantly
emphasized through its television commercials as well as its menus.
This further enhances its image as a family restaurant where
everyone can enjoy good food.
MK Restaurant is well known for continuously innovating to
stay ahead of competition. From its beginnings as the first suki
restaurant to use electric pots, the restaurant has come a long
way. The restaurant has been a leader in bringing the latest
technology and refreshing ideas to the industry. On the technology
front, it was one of the first restaurants in Thailand to use PDAs
(personal digital assistants) in order taking. Also, it recently
announced that Thai-made robots will be used in its outlets to
handle repetitive tasks as well as entertain customers.
With regard to new ideas, the restaurant introduced “dancing
sessions” developed from the morning exercise sessions for its
staff. The staff dances to upbeat tunes in the restaurant every
hour, and in so doing lights up the atmosphere and entertains
customers of all ages. Aside from providing entertainment, the
activity further enhances its image as a healthy restaurant.
Thirakomen is constantly looking for ways to sustain the
growth of MK Restaurant Co. Ltd. The strategies employed are market
penetration, market development, and product development.
Due to its casual ambience and image as a family restaurant,
MK Restaurant was not able to attract (1) customers looking for
luxury dining experiences and (2) teenagers. MK Gold Restaurant and
MK Trendi were established in response to these unmet demands. MK
Gold Restaurant's luxurious decorations and kitchenware,
first-class service, and use of premium ingredients have enabled it
to attract customers with high spending power and it is now a
popular venue for business dining. On average, its customers spend
300 baht per person as compared to 200 baht per person at the
original MK Restaurant. Noting the high profitability of the
restaurant, the company plans to open at least one new outlet every
To cater to teenagers, MK Trendi was opened in Siam Square.
Unlike the original MK Restaurant, MK Trendi is decorated with
graphic prints and bold colors. Furthermore, the music,
kitchenware, and uniform of its staff differ from the original MK
Restaurant. However, the menus are kept in the same price range as
MK Restaurant. Unlike MK Gold Restaurant, MK Trendi has no
long-term expansion plan. Rather, it aims to attract new customers
in hope of changing their perception and turning them into regular
customers of the original MK Restaurant.
Once MK Restaurant was firmly established, Thirakomen started
to explore opportunities to expand the business abroad. All the
local outlets were wholly owned by MK Restaurant Co. Ltd., but
Thirakomen had a different plan for overseas expansion. He felt
that collaboration with a strong partner abroad and licensing it as
the master franchisee would enable MK Restaurant to leverage the
partner's market expertise as well as minimize risk. Through this
strategy, MK Restaurant joined forces with Plenus Co. Ltd.—a
Japanese restaurant chain operator—and opened 16 MK Restaurant
outlets in Japan. In addition, MK Restaurant opened its first
outlet in Vietnam in 2010 through its master franchise partner,
Two full-service chain restaurants were also developed under
the umbrella of MK Restaurant Co. Ltd. The company purchased local
franchise rights to a Japanese restaurant chain—Yayoi (known for
serving “hot and quick” Japanese food)—from its partner, Plenus Co.
Ltd., for 10 years. The chain grew rapidly and as of 2010, 47
outlets had been opened across Thailand. Thirakomen also saw
opportunities in a premium full-service Thai restaurant called Le
S'iam. Thus, two Le S'iam outlets were introduced with an aim to
attract international customers. It was reported that the two
brands contributed to 10 percent of the group's overall revenue in
From MK Restaurant's humble beginnings in 1962 as a small Thai
restaurant, the company has grown from strength to strength. The
relentless search for new ways to exceed customer expectations and
a commitment to innovation have enabled the company to excel in its
homeland as well as abroad. In 2013, MK Restaurants had 381 outlets
all over Thailand, 35 branches in Japan, 4 branches in Vietnam, 2
branches in Singapore, and one branch in Indonesia. In 2013 it
achieved total revenue of 14.24 billion baht (US$433.5 million) and
net profits of 2.04 billion baht (US$62 million).
1. What are the characteristics of the food service market in
Thailand? What are the key trends and major challenges?
4. What are the marketing mixes of MK Restaurant? Are the
marketing mixes appropriate in supporting the marketing strategies?
What changes to the marketing mixes would you propose?
5. What marketing metrics would you suggest for MK Restaurant
to track its performance? How would you design a marketing
dashboard for the restaurant? What marketing research should MK
Restaurant carry out to develop appropriate strategies and to
improve its performance?