by Linda Duke, chief executive officer, Duke Marketing, LLC.
#1: People Still Have to Eat!
In times of a tough economic climate, it’s no secret that consumers have become increasingly cautious and fearful. Today, as fears of losing one’s job and looking at their dwindling 401(k) statement, consumers are scared. So what can a restaurant really do to attract cautious guests? Remember: People still have to eat!
If choice becomes the highest currency of the day, restaurateurs should take heed. People love spending time going out to eat, but with less money, choice is imperative and how do you become the restaurant of choice?
Consumers choose brands that engage them and make them feel they are spending their time well. They’re gravitating more toward experience than assets and goods. Finding ways to make your restaurant brand “add life to the experience” should be a priority on any restaurant marketer’s to-do list. Become the consumer’s choice since they still have to eat!
#2: Get Social Marketing!
Today restaurant operators are being bombarded with companies that have sprung up overnight that claim to provide social media for restaurants, however, operators should be careful to understand how social media fits in with their overall marketing plan first, not how they can just do social media to do what everyone else is doing. Social media needs to be PART of the overall marketing plan and incorporated with other forms of traditional media and outreach methods. We call it integrated marketing communications and it is the most effective marketing method to create a successful brand.
Don’t be quick to rush into social media, you wouldn’t rush into buying television advertising or writing a press release (we hope not), so take your time to understand the time commitment involved before engaging in social media for your restaurant brand.
The Internet and online is beginning to show itself as a very cost effective way to engage guests and generate awareness and a fan base. Text ordering and online ordering are showing real worth to restaurant operators and in my opinion, will proliferate to all restaurants as the norm in the near future.
The social media philosophy: is an ongoing commitment to engage customers in meaningful and authentic ways – transparency. It is about listening to your customers concerns and interests.
Social Media marketing tactics work best with anything that has a beginning and an end; a promotion, an event, a specific call to action or campaign, which is perfectly suited for restaurant operators and limited time offers and builds frequency and loyalty with fans of your brand.
E-mail newsletters, blogs and other social media should be a part of the overall marketing mix. The best way restaurant operators or entrepreneurs can incorporate Social Media into their marketing mix is to focus on these objectives:
#3: Be a Chef-Rateur™ and Include your Crew
Every restaurant operator who also manages the back of the house and food, is what I call a “Chef-Rateur™” and every Chef-Rateur should be prepared for in today’s competitive landscape to run a successful restaurant. Most Chef’s have the food, menus, and back of the house understanding, but what about the impact the chef can make with guests? With the local community? Are you ready for TV, interviews, the Food Network? What kind of menu items sell and how to promote them?
Chef-Rateurs should include employees in marketing decisions. Employees have the most contact with your guests, and have insight to guests’ needs and wants. Always engage and get ideas from your team. This will keep them involved, informed and excited about the promotions or other marketing activities within your organization and restaurant.
Keeping your employees informed about promotions is very important to your success. Have a bulletin board or white board that is used exclusively to inform your employees about what is going on, when and what their responsibilities are during the event or promotion.
If you decide to offer a new product, make sure that you let your employees try it first. This way they can tell customers about how much they like the product or answer important questions for inquisitive customers.
Hold a meeting to teach your staff about the important points they need to know about the promotion and how to work the register differently if need be. Also if you have introduced a new product make sure that your staff knows how to make it perfectly so that you can insure accuracy and precision.
Employees should be awarded for their help during promotions because while you may have implemented the idea, employees carry out the promotion for the duration that it is planned to go on. Give them rewards for clean up, increase in sales or general improvements on the restaurant cost or personal achievements.
A great way give incentives is to track employee’s previous sales or achievements and have them make new goals based on their old ones. Award those with a gift if they complete any of their goals.
Believe in your promotion. Make sure that you let your employees know every day that they are doing a great job and that you’re excited about the promotion.
Other helpful hints to keep in mind:
#4: Other People’s Money – O.P.M.
Developing strategic partnerships and vendor alliances are important to the success of your restaurant. Strategic partnerships can include community organizations, the national cheese or beef councils, or other food manufacturers. Vendor partners such as your soda, beer and wine, liquor, food distributor, and any other product suppliers can all provide your restaurant with opportunities to promote your brand and theirs at the same time. Typically vendors have a budget to provide promotional materials, cooperative dollars from the manufacturer and cool give-away items. It is important to create good relationships with strategic partners and vendors to develop joint promotions to increase customer loyalty and frequency.
Some of the best partners are restaurant operator’s vendors such as their beverage supplier and food distributor. They typically have ideas for promotions and can provide in some cases, product to give-away, promotional dollars to use for a menu item photo shoot or develop collateral (table tents) and using their brand can also boost customer satisfaction.
Other strategic partnerships that can boost sales include working with food manufacturers. California Cheese sometimes provides monetary support to operators who use their logo on printed menus in California, and the Beef Council provided a radio media buy with “Beef—its what’s for dinner” tagged at the end at no cost for one of my multi-unit operator client’s.
There are hundreds of food manufacturers out there and they all provide menu development ideas. Beverage brands, Pepsi and Coke, food manufacturers like Blueberry Council, beef council, milk council, rice council, avocados, grapes, etc. National food manufacturers –sample list of websites.
#5. Get Moving!
Local Store Marketing, or generating awareness and sales within the restaurant’s 3-5 mile radius, is the most underutilized marketing strategy by restaurant operators.
The reason for this is most local store marketing tactics require time and effort which for some operators is tough. They would rather run an advertisement or a coupon to drive traffic so they don’t have to spend time or effort. However, with the right tactics, easy directions or training, any restaurant employee could assist with these local efforts, which garner big results without much investment.
Get moving and get out of the four walls and take menu samples and offer to cater or invite people in with a free appetizer coupon.
#6. Think of your restaurant as a VENUE
Fundraisers: Everyone is hurting so offer to host a fundraiser and a percentage of proceeds will go to the organization—they eat and pay, you give 20% to them.
Host Groups: There are social groups like the Red Hat Ladies and Mahjong or Bridge groups to invite to use your restaurant for their monthly or weekly meetings. Also, car clubs, motorcycle or vintage cars all have get-togethers and your restaurant can be their meeting spot.
Host a Focus Group: Get feedback from your customers by hosting an in-restaurant focus group. Select a certain day and time to interview guests at your restaurant. Conduct this type of interview on Saturday afternoons when people are not rushed or busy. It is best to offer an incentive for participating. This can be a free entrée card or complimentary menu item.
Conduct research in a group setting called a focus group with a table of 10-15 customers. This setting allows open dialog with your interviewees. Ask questions about the service, products and atmosphere of the restaurant.
Obtain clear responses from the customers on their preferences, their perceptions and what creates an emotional connection to your brand. These answers will help you convey what makes your brand different or what could make your brand better.
#7: Use your food instead of cash!
It’s really a huge opportunity to use your food instead of cash. They could use menu samples (i.e. chips and salsa, pot stickers, pizza, cookies, etc.) or signature menu items to entice new business and drive catering sales. By using food cost (30 cents on the dollar) instead of advertising cost – you can make a bigger impact if you are willing to get out and take samples to targeted businesses or groups by getting your food right in their mouths! If times are tough…get out and sample! This makes people want to try a restaurant or reminds them to come back. It is the easiest and most overlooked marketing tactic restaurant operators can use.
Public relations-take food to the radio DJ’s and provide free meal coupons to let them give-away on the air, call your local TV station and offer to bring food onto their morning show or demonstrate your menu item, or do a publicity stunt – such as, Denny’s free grand slam breakfast.
#8: Practice Socially Responsible Marketing
Socially Responsible Marketing is doing social good! Touting health benefits were a big focus for many years and now green and socially responsible marketing are the big focus for businesses and consumers alike. With so much powerful scientific data and more frequent communications, it is making it hard for consumers to ignore.
Consumer demand for green and environmentally friendly products is growing but still in the early stages. Green claims are on the rise and every company is claiming to be green and socially responsible. What does this mean for your restaurant? Socially Responsible Marketing will soon become standard operating procedure for all restaurant operators.
A business vision may be necessary for business success, but it is no longer sufficient – having a “social vision” is imperative today and restaurant operators must get with the program.
Work with your distributor by asking what products you can order which are made or grown locally. It is surprising how many already have sources for “organic” and “sustainable” lines now available. This helps by distributing you money locally, statewide or nationally, which will help employ and support local, state and national producers and companies. This will increase the velocity of the dollar, offering you a return in investment by helping to create a healthy economy.
How does this benefit you? It is good PR. By using menus, signage, check presenters and just having you and your people tell others of your efforts, you create goodwill, loyal customers, and ambassadors willing to share your story bringing more business to your table. Restaurants have the ability to become part of the solution by taking an active part, thinking where their money is being spent.
#9: Get on the LSM Diet™!
The best recommendation for restaurant operators is to focus on their 3-5 mile radius as their own niche. Local community involvement is the glue that holds all marketing and advertising efforts together and makes them effective. The local community is a great niche to focus. If you are not visibly active within the 3-5 mile radius surrounding your restaurant, you don’t stand a chance against the larger chains who can afford mass media and advertising.
Local Store Marketing success doesn’t happen unless you make a commitment to change behaviors and habits just like a diet. The LSM Diet™, (a specific workshop within Local Store Marketing University™ certification course), is a philosophy for operators to understand the importance of local store marketing and how it can provide “ROI-Return on Involvement. Operators need to get out and get involved with the community. Business success is earned, not given, in today’s economy.
Just like a diet, the LSM Diet requires and investment of time and effort. In order to lose weight, exercise is recommended along with resistance training, aerobic activity and just getting moving. The LSM Diet recommends restaurant operators create a plan and schedule time to get out of their four walls and meet the community, get involved with schools and area non profits. Getting out of the four walls and getting involved takes time and effort, and is a necessary part of the LSM Diet. For all the time and effort spent, the operator will see the “return” on involvement in the form of guest loyalty, frequency and sales success.
The LSM Diet can be used by any restaurant or retail operator. For every operator the LSM Diet is going to be different. A store may be near schools and hospitals or maybe a location in a business park, how each of these operators gets involved with their local area are two different diets or LSM programs. The LSM Diet can be implemented anytime. Whether you start in January or July, just start! Just like a diet, by following the LSM Diet and working towards a goal of consistency, momentum as well as sales will be the reward.
#10: Find the secret ingredient…inspiration!
Today if you are a restaurant operator waiting for guests to walk through the door and you think nothing has changed – you are wrong! Everything has changed and unless you find your own inspiration to motivate yourself and your crew to focus on sale driving tactics, you will be left behind. The true success will be by those operators that actually implement marketing tactics and in return will reap ROI = Return on INVOLVEMENT from their inspiration! The tenth commandment is up to you! You can do it!
About the Author
Ms. Duke is CEO of Duke Marketing©, LLC, she founded in 1989, a California-based full service marketing firm providing strategic communications and creative brand building expertise for multi-location and franchise organizations. For more than 25 years, Duke Marketing has specialized with multi-location organizations (chains), offering a full range of marketing services and serving as Agency of Record for numerous top brands. Services include: thought-leadership, creative development and design across all mediums, public relations, consumer promotions, local store marketing, franchise communications, advertising and media buying with on-target strategies, fresh ideas and creative concepts to offer complete solutions.
Ms. Duke has consulted Fortune 100, top restaurant, retail and hospitality chains in the United States and abroad, and is a nationally recognized franchise and multi-location expert, speaker, educator and published author of “Four Star Restaurant Marketing Cookbook-Recipes for Restaurateurs™”, nominated for a James Beard Award and International Association of Culinary Professionals for Best Resource in 2008, www.marketing-cookbook.com. She speaks frequently at restaurant industry and franchisee conferences around the world motivating and inspiring operators.
Ms. Duke is one of the founding members of the National Restaurant Association’s Fast Casual Industry Council (FCIC) and served on the board of directors of the California Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation (CRAEF) for 7 years. Ms. Duke is a sought after marketing and public relations resource, a crisis communications expert, and contributing writer for Modern Restaurant Management and Southern California Food & Beverage Professional. In August 2011, Duke Marketing launched an educational training program, LSM-U, Local Store Marketing University™, www.lsm-u.com to educate the next generation of hospitality marketers. LSM-U is offered as a certified training workshop along with its companion workshop, The LSM Diet™, for multi-unit and franchise chain operators to “increase sales not waistlines.” Duke holds bachelor degrees in both advertising and marketing and an executive MBA from Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.