Dec 28, 2010 - 07:35 PM

Tips on restaurant marketing

Lead, don’t compete

The easy answer to restaurant marketing is... let’s advertise everywhere our competitors are advertising, and maybe throw in a few extra dollars for good measure.

The hard answer is... let’s figure out why we’re unique and then build customer relationships around tactics that support our Value Proposition.

At the heart of this second approach is recognizing that customers relate to technology in significantly new ways, e.g., via mobile apps, quick response codes, and social media.  And that people want their eating-out choices to be validated by your understanding of who they are as consumers as well as individuals.

Let’s break it down with a few guidelines.

1. Put your customer first
This requires exceptional staff training so that no detail is left un- or under-addressed.  How good is your staff at taking reservations, greeting customers, seating guests, getting customer feedback, and handling complaints?  Are phone messages delivered accurately and on time?  How often do you hold staff training sessions?  Do you have an employee handbook?  

2. Work at getting good press
Since something written about you is more compelling than an ad you pay for, develop good relations with your local media.  Don’t wait for them to come to you.  Go to them with stories about an in-store event such as a cooking class for kids, an in-store community art show, a joint promotion with another area merchant, a fundraiser for a local school or charity, a recycling program, a discount day... you get the idea.  Make sure you capture your events on video.  A YouTube posting that goes viral can be golden.

3. Add value to your website 
Offer downloadable coupons, make new menu announcements here first, offer sign-ups for weekly newsletters and special offers, and make your take-out/delivery menu a prominent feature.  Collect demographic information along with e-mail addresses for targeted outreaches.  Include job postings, too, so customers see you as a community-minded employer.  Post recipes and chef suggestions.  If you sell merchandise and private-label products, sell them online, too.

4. Enhance your menu
Add nutritional and caloric information, and tag menu items that are appropriate for special customers, e.g., children; or for special diets, e.g., gluten-free, peanut-free, low-fat, low-sugar, etc.

5. Feature a frequency program
Customers who return regularly—and are word-of-mouth ambassadors—should be rewarded.  Launch a frequency program that builds repeat business.  But rather than discount, offer something of value, e.g., a glass of wine or a dessert.

6. Host events
Become known as the venue for fun, entertainment, and information.  Events can include food or wine tastings, community business meetings, live music or comedy, and open-mike and movie nights.  Co-sponsor the event with another area business, if that makes sense.  Then make sure you get listed in print, broadcast, and online community calendars.

7. Introduce suggestive selling
Beverages, desserts, and menu upgrades have the largest profit margins.  Make sure your waitstaff is skilled at suggesting those items which will also improve the customer’s dining experience.

8. Promote take-out and delivery
If these services are part of your menu, promote them aggressively in your menu, on your website, and in all marketing materials.  Be sure to capture all customer data via phone, web, or text messaging for future e-mail, SmartPhone. and snail-mail marketing. 

9. Use e-mail
E-mail is fast, cost-efficient, and likely to result in higher conversions.  First step is to build a database of customer information.  Not just name, address, phone number, and e-mail.  But how someone heard about you, number of visits, purchasing habits, average check size, average party size, employment, and date of birth.  Gather this information through your point-of-sale systems, and when customers make reservations or order take-out.  If you hold a contest or give-away, include the information you want on the entry form.  Another way to acquire information is through customer surveys and comment cards.  You can also offer a regular newsletter with a sign-up form on your home page.

10. Go green
Is your restaurant or restaurant company eco-friendly?  Show customers that you care about the environment by conserving energy and resources.  Incentivize them to go green, too, with a value-added promotion for customers who bike or walk to your restaurant instead of drive.  You can also be a recycling center and collect recyclable materials.  If any menu items are made with locally grown items, flag them.  To turn the publicity wheel in your favor, host a green event or develop partnerships with other like-minded businesses or with institutions that support recycling or composting.  If your kitchen is certified green, be sure to display your decal on table tents, menu inserts, and window displays.  

11. Consider contests and giveaways
These also help you build your database and more personal customer relationships.  You can give something of value away, e.g., a plasma-screen TV, or dinner for a party of six.  Other tactics include games, raffles (which require a customer buy-in of some kind), and competitions.  When planning these events, check with local law which governs rules and regulations, and then run it by your attorney.

12. Traditional advertising
Not to be undervalued, but perhaps the final element of your restaurant’s integrated marketing plan.  Prepare your foundation first with Tactics 1-11.  Then see where paid advertising fits in.