Use Your Restaurant Marketing to Stand Out Amongst Competition

Competition.jpgSet your brand apart from your competition by creating commercials that include more than just shots of food.

It’s not hard to miss the recycled ingredients of the usual CDR commercials: sizzling close-ups of slow-mo food porn, diverse groups of hysterical folks having the most fun they’ve had in 25 years and a touch of a super-caffeinated voice actor. But let’s dissect this recipe and look at exactly why it’s hurting CDR. Let’s also examine the standout fast casual star and why CDR should take notes.

To understand the formula, let’s play a quick game called Whose Commercial is This?


It’s a pretty tough game, right? For those keeping score that’s Applebee’s, Chili’s, Outback, TGI Fridays and Olive Garden.

And seasoned CDR advertisers could likely spot the subtle differences from these frames. Some might even stress the importance of this type of marketing. We know, for example, that showing images of food increases intent to visit scores. We understand that CDRs need to retain key customer segments, while attracting younger audiences. Ultimately, the challenge is that messaging has to have the widest appeal possible.

But these types of commercials raise a few problems…

For traditional TV marketing, it makes sense for spots to have the widest appeal possible, especially when the primary key performance indicator is reach. But in the world of digital and streaming devices, where surgical targeting is available, these ads make less sense. But over and over, we see TV spots recycled for digital and this is tanking more accountable KPIs like engagement, completion rates and online orders.

Some CDR leaders are beginning to understand the dilemma.

“Over time the category advertising, casual dining advertising in particular, started to blend and look very similar,” said Chili’s SVP/Chief Marketing Officer Krista Gibson in a recent AdAge interview. “Lots of shots of fresh ingredients and lots of shots of food. We just felt like our creative and our campaign wasn’t breaking through.”

As a result, Chili’s recently differentiated their hero campaign “Fresh is Happening Now” for “Chilin’ Since ’75,” a campaign that rides the feel-good wave of the ‘70s and moves away from food glamour shots.

Chipotle takes it a step further – their commercials don’t feature food at all. For the most part, they lean heavily on animation rather than film, and their digital content is built for digital only – not an overweight Frankenstein TV spot trying to fit into a well-targeted digital campaign.

Set your brand apart from competition by creating commercials that include more than just shots of food.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Three “Easy” Restaurant Marketing Steps for Casual Dining Spots

Dinner Group at Nice Restaurant Eating TogetherThe big restaurant holding companies are pulling out all the stops to drive “butts in seats” for their casual dining restaurant brands.

The big restaurant holding companies are pulling out all the stops to drive “butts in seats” for their CDR brands.  One well known concept took a big risk by using a “throw-back” theme recently.  Another enlisted some bold music to be relevant.  The other big CDR brands are all doing something similar.  They are all seeking some path backward in time to their dominance of the American dining popular culture of the 80’s and 90’s.

The problem?  In short, despite their respective attempts at “innovation” they are essentially still producing the same food they did in those decades past yet expecting a different future.  The problem is that the food is just not that great by today’s standards given all of the options available to the American dining consumer.

The worst thing these brands can do right now is to put amazing advertising into market that will attract a whole set of consumers to sample their current fares.  Their marketing departments will be heroes, for a short period of time.  Over the long-run, they will simply disappoint those diners who come in off of an advertising promise because the product will not live up.

So, what is the solution?  In my humble opinion, there are three steps CDR must take to have a chance at winning the hearts and minds of existing and future guests:

  1. Deliver quality instead of boring.  Throw out the hand-book for how to run a casual dining restaurant at scale out the window and allow innovation to happen at the individual restaurant level.  Allow restaurants or regions to source product as locally as possible.  I know, the accounting and restaurant operations people are freaking out right now.
  2. Be great at one thing (that guests care about.  Stand for something specific and be great at it.  Whether it’s tacos, burgers, lasagna or something else, just please own one thing.
  3. Make meaningful promises in your advertising.  Use your advertising to promote what you’re actually doing to make your food great instead of showing fake people enjoying food wrangled shots of something a guest will never actually experience.

Now, I know that these three things are easy for me to write.  I’m not facing a board of directors and shareholders demanding profits.  I’m also not the one who has to figure out the complexity of cost of goods sold in a model that I’m suggesting.

However, I am a consumer just as much as a marketing expert and the ending for the CDR story has been written.  It’s not a happy one.  It’s up to the industry to rewrite the ending.  If it was easy to fix, I’d have standing reservations at one of those top restaurant chains every Friday night.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Build Customer Loyalty Through Restaurant Marketing

customer loyalty.jpg Personalize the dining experience for your customers through food.

Today’s perception of food has changed. We promote the food we see and eat as a reflection of our own personalities, always in search of the next new, innovative and exciting dining experience.

It’s transformed the perception of restaurant marketing into its own culture, with every picture, post, and video creating a rich array of data. Whether it’s via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, or Instagram, the data we consume and the technology used play an integral part in constructing and evolving the restaurant industry. It’s the art and science of how consumer data takes a front seat in restaurant marketing.

The restaurants that are actively tapping into their data – incorporating it into operational and marketing planning – are the ones with the real competitive edge. They are building profiles around their customers’ eating habits, dining traits and preferences, and then using this data to personalize consumer messaging.

By pairing website data (signups and offers) with social media and purchase and sales data, they are able to identify high-traffic dining periods, increase in-store visitations, customer satisfaction and loyalty, while building personalized marketing campaigns.

These data-driven insights not only help create a brand identity and build customer loyalty, but also enable the experiences that can maximize your marketing ROI and overall impact to the bottom line.

Tailoring their ads to different consumers allows restaurants to serve the right ad to the right audience. We have the ability to infuse creatives with first-party data, allowing each impression to be targeted to current and prospective customers.

Restaurant marketers can also identify and segment key target audiences. They can create a customer journey of all driving and converting factors to each audience, using advanced CRM (Customer Relationship Management) data gathered via loyalty and reward programs (names, emails and physical addresses) and insights to tailor creative and messaging that resonates with each key audience, specials/promotions, time of day and day of week.

With the abundance of data, restaurant brands and marketers can optimize on every impression through customer loyalty and suggestive marketing. An example of this is tying reservation system data (OpenTable, Eveve, Yelp) with your customers’ dining preferences.

Using loyalty programs, email clubs, and customer profiles, restaurant marketers can make menu recommendations and offer promotions and specials to drive more business and incremental sales. It’s a huge transformation, and a good one for restaurants who want to better address their target audience in a more personalized way.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Does Your Restaurant Marketing Use Too Many Artificial Colors and Flavors?

 flavors and colors.jpg

All natural foods may change the way restaurants promote the ingredients in their foods.

Consumers globally are eating out more than ever. Yet rising chronic disease rates, an aging population and an increase in the number of connected consumers are causing people to focus more on healthy eating options than ever before. And with good reason.

The Nielsen Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey found that globally, food allergies in children rose 50% between 1997 and 2011, and 36% of respondents reported that they or someone in their household have an allergy or intolerance to one or more foods. In the U.S., Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) found that as many as 15 million Americans have food allergies.

Given these statistics, it won’t surprise you that the Nielsen survey found that 7 out of 10 North American consumers are concerned about the long-term impact of artificial ingredients and want to know everything that is put in their foods. At the same time, 6 out of 10 say they want a shorter ingredient list because they believe fewer ingredients means healthier foods and beverages.  And 70% say they feel better about companies that tell them where the products they buy were raised or grown.

Food consumption habits reflect this change of attitudes.  In the Nielsen survey, North American respondents said they are most likely to avoid foods with MSG (55%), antibiotics or hormones in animal products (54%), artificial sweeteners (54%), artificial preservatives (53%) and foods packaged with BPA (53%).

It also may explain why the sales of carbonated soft drinks, chocolates and cookies have been flat in recent years; why 6 out of 10 respondents say they follow a diet that limits or prohibits consumption of some foods or ingredients; and why the U.S. has experienced double digit growth of foods and drinks labeled as organic.

If you are in charge of marketing your restaurant concept, there are at least five ways you can update your menu and marketing to account for these changing attitudes:

  1. Work with your suppliers to eliminate food additives like MSG, artificial preservatives and sweeteners and hormones in animal products you use in your recipes.
  2. Clearly indicate on your menu any foods that use organic or all natural ingredients.
  3. Promote the changes in your advertising, and on your menu.
  4. Train your servers to tell guests about the changes as they are ordering.
  5. Have your servers ask guests as they take their orders if they have any food allergies, and make menu recommendations based on those needs

That’s how we’re advising our restaurant clients to adapt to a changing mindset of guests. What are you doing to update your menu?

The Nielsen Global Health and Ingredient Sentiment Survey polled 30,000 people online in over 60 countries and has a margin of error +/- 6% globally.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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How Can Small and Regional Restaurant Marketers Compete With Big Chains

Teenage friends having fun at the coffee shopHow a smaller restaurant can market in ways that are smarter, nimbler and break through the clutter of national chains.

In the cutthroat world of food service, there are so many factors in which you must compete: food quality, service, atmosphere, price, location and more. In many of these, the small restaurant group owner can compete with the big guys. They can control the quality of their dishes, the training of their staff, the look and feel of their restaurant and the value they provide.

However, there are two key areas where the small chain doesn’t stand a chance against the big guys – the sheer volume of menu innovations and sales promotions – both keys to getting butts in seats.

The bottom line is that the big chains are simply better funded and better structured to get the word out and implement both.

But how can a small group compete product by product and promo by promo? They can’t, so don’t.

Keep your menu innovations and promotions fewer and more considered. Being small may have its drawbacks, but it also has tremendous advantages. For one, it allows you to take full advantage of local culture and local agriculture.

Local Menu Innovations

For food innovations, it’s fairly obvious – take advantage of local crops and the times in which they’re freshest. For instance, a small chain of a half dozen full service restaurants in Colorado focuses its menu innovation around harvest time – in the late summer. They add items that include Rocky Ford melons from the eastern plains, Palisade peaches from the western slope and Olathe corn from the southwest.

These are opportunities that a Chili’s, TGI Fridays or Applebee’s could never compete with. It gives a small chain not only an opportunity to offer something completely different, it also reinforces the local nature in customers’ hearts. It reminds them that you are part of the community.

Meaningful Promotions

Your promotions can work in very much the same way. Recognize and celebrate the local flavor and culture in ways a chain cannot.

Run these promotions only a few times a year to make sure you can fully support them through both paid and unpaid media. And with both promotions and innovations, keep them consistent from year to year – it’s not about volume, it’s about building a relationship with your customers based on traditions and memories – like the Harvest Days promotion mentioned above, or an MLB Opening Day promotion that happens every Spring.

So perhaps forego Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mother’s Day, National Sewing Machine Day, Old Rock Day and Static Electricity Day (you get the picture). Instead focus on holidays and times of year that are meaningful, memorable and, most of all, ownable.

So, it’s true that small restaurants can, indeed, compete with national chains. But they must do it on their terms and only with a sustained, consistent effort that leverages their natural and cultural advantages.

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Restaurant Marketing Means Going Beyond the Menu

menu.jpgFood is not the only thing that restaurants should be focusing on to make their establishment successful.

Typically, a restaurant concept revolves around a type of food that the creator thinks is innovative and missing from the plethora of dining options we have available today.  While food is, clearly, a key ingredient in the success of a restaurant, it is not the only thing that restauranteurs should be focused on.

Enticing guests to get their butts in your seats requires more than a stellar menu, you have to understand what drives that visit and what your strategy and focus will be in terms of differentiating yourself in the market.  And while you can’t be all things to all taste buds, you should consider each of these categories and then prioritize the top three that you want to focus on and really strive to stand out in those key areas.

Food & Beverage

Does your food taste good? (hopefully you think so)  Assuming yes, do you have a signature food and/or cocktail item?  If not, you should consider creating one.  I can’t tell you how many times I ‘crave’ a food item and will actually go out of my way to visit a restaurant just to scratch that itch.  That item should have some ‘secret sauce’ ingredient or process that is not easily replicated so that guests know that they can only come to you if they want it.

Not only does this approach differentiate you in the market, but it also drives that repeat purchase which is so critical to lasting success in this industry.


This refers to both the guests that you attract as well as the staff you have on site.

Part of your guests experience is who they are sharing tables with.  If you are going for the ever-popular millennial crowd then you need to seed your restaurant with things that attract that audience – outside of the food.

Part of this is the staff that you hire in, their friends will visit them while they are working, and they will then bring their friends with.  The staff are who set the tone for your valuable repeat visitors as well, so creating the employee culture that spills in to customer service is an invaluable strategy.


Related to the above category, the type of ambience that you create at your location will drive the types of guests that you attract.  If you are interested in the sports crowd, then ensure that you have the channels and screens that you know sports fans like.  Conversely, if you know that you want to go after the families with children, then perhaps restricting or removing screens from your restaurant is the better option.

Also, consider commissioning local artists for your wall art – this gives a local flair to your location as well as ties you closer to the community, encouraging trial from guests that you might not normally be able to reach depending on your location or food style.


If you’re new to the block, that’s a pretty easy sell for folks to want to check you out.  But remember, first impressions are critical – this is the point where you could be gaining a lifetime guest, so don’t mess it up.  Because this is a vital time period in a restaurant’s life, be strategic with your approach.  Do soft openings, give out VIP passes – make a splash in your new hood so that the novelty effect lasts as long as possible.


Location, location, location – not much to say here that you don’t already know.  But when you are picking where to put your restaurant roots down, consider traffic patterns and what types of guests are likely to find your location convenient.  Additionally, if you’re in an urban area with limited space – parking is a true consideration for those that want to eat out.  I have definitely moved away from a location because our party was too big and we did not want to ‘deal’ with parking – that’s money lost.


Finally, put your economist hat on and review the price and value of your food offerings.  If there are fun and different ways to surprise and delight by adding value for your guests (free bread, bottomless soda, free chips and queso), then do it!  But buyers beware, if you don’t want to only be a price/promotion-driven restaurant, then this should probably not be your primary focus as there is always someone out there with a cheaper and faster way to do, what you do.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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How Limited Time Offers Can Increase Your Restaurant Marketing Efforts

lto-636x424When seasons change, restaurants look for ways to attract new customers and to encourage current guests to move past their one, favorite dish.

Enter the limited time offer (LTO.)  With the help of LTOs, restaurants can freshen up their identity without overhauling the menu.  That said, LTOs add operational challenges and additional food costs.  To ensure that the campaign sees a positive ROI, follow these simple rules for operations and restaurant marketing.

Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS): If you’re a better-burger chain, don’t make a 180-degree turn with a pizza LTO.  Instead, stay true to who you are.  Small, yet unexpected departures from your regular menu add elements of surprise without causing confusion.  Red Robin, for example, is introducing a new gourmet burger for the holiday season.  They’ve stayed true to their brand while offering something special to mark a particular time of year.

Use LTOs as Tests: Just because you remain true to your menu doesn’t mean you shouldn’t flex your culinary muscle.  LTOs are a great way to express a new side of your brand personality without alienating your core.  LTOs are also fertile testing ground to learn just how far your guests are willing to go.

Be Creative: A few summers ago, every fast-casual and quick-service chain had some version of a LTO salad with strawberries and nuts.  You couldn’t swing a cat without seeing a commercial about the sweet, tangy combination.  The clutter of similar options meant no one owned it and therefore was deemed unsuccessful.

Drive Anticipation: Think of the McRibb and Pumpkin Spiced Latte.  They were both incredibly popular.  When time ran out, adoring fans wrote love letters to McDonalds and Starbucks (respectively) pleading for the menu item’s return.  Now, when each brand announces they’re bringing them back, it creates a frenzy.  Smart!

Prepare the Team: LTOs require a great deal of work before the launch.  Prior to introducing an LTO, make sure you are operationally tight.  Have your staff taste the dish to become familiar with how to describe it to guests.  Create staff Q&As about ingredients, flavor profiles and how long the dish is available.

Engage Marketing: LTOs are some of the best fodder for marketing and public relations.  It’s a timely reason to talk about the brand and to encourage that media to visit the restaurant.  Develop in-store and online creative to bring the LTO to life.  Create engaging social content to drive specific interest in the dish.  Consider creating videos of the chef or GM preparing the dish.  Share flavor profiles and interesting ingredients.  Post to all your social channels and encourage sharing.

LTOs are a restaurant gift – treat them that way!  Get the most of the time the dish is available to inform future menu items and culinary innovation.  When it comes to restaurants, food is your currency.  Make sure you are over-delivering on your LTO promise.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 17+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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