Four Ways to Use Your Restaurant Marketing to Create Grand Opening “Buzz”

news word written by ketchup on a plateHere are four cost-effective tips to drive interest in your restaurant’s most important day. 

As a restaurateur, you know all too well just how much time and effort you have put into hiring the right staff, creating an interesting menu, developing on-premise collateral, and selecting a location that is sure to drive butts in seats. Your team has countless hours invested.  Don’t allow your hard work to fall flat by missing the last crucial step: telling guests you exist! 

 1. “Build” excitement

Just like your operations, your restaurant marketing must start long before your grand opening.  Whether breaking ground on a new location or retro-fitting a building that already exists, make certain to post signage that your restaurant is coming soon.  This can be in windows or on chain-link fences surrounding the construction site.  Anytime a business closes or construction equipment makes an appearance, the community is curious.  Use that curiosity to your advantage by sharing information. 

 2. Be a good neighbor

Your real estate team spent a lot of time and effort putting your restaurants in thriving neighborhoods and schools or on a street with easy access to a busy office park.  Now take advantage of all their hard work. Attend events in your community, and go armed with information on your restaurant, opening dates and coupons that encourage trial. 

 3. Get social

Start creating a following on social media long before the opening.  Set aside a modest spend for paid social to geo-target the area.  Hint: 10.2 miles is the ideal proximity for restaurant marketing. Encourage people to LIKE/FOLLOW your pages and handles.  Then, provide regular updates on the progress.  And, depending on budgets, consider hosting a pre-opening event for social fans.   This is a great way to engage fans, as well as a soft opening for your staff to identify any necessary operational adjustments. 

 4. Alert the influencers       

Historically, the food and restaurant sections are among the most read in print and online versions of local papers.  Given this, it’s smart to make friends with those reporters. 

Invite these reporters and editors into your restaurant before you open,  for a “VIP” experience. Treat them to a free meal or and the opportunity to check out your new space and take photos. Invite everyone personally, send an invitation and follow up with phone calls.  If your restaurant has access to a local chef, offer a cooking segment on a local TV morning show to highlight the cuisine offered at your restaurant.  

These small but effective tips will ensure that you’ve created the proper buzz necessary to drive interest before, during and after your opening. 

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 Technology is Changing Restaurant Marketing

Hand holding mobile with Order food online with blur restaurant

Technology is changing the way consumers order in restaurants.

The world is becoming more and more automated and, as a result, so is the restaurant industry.  Gone are the days of servers taking orders with notepads. Now, servers have digital pads to take orders and send them directly to the kitchen. Some establishments even allow consumers to order directly from their table without needing to wait to place their order with a server.

So, as technology continues to advance, how will the restaurant dining experience continue to evolve as well? Will a robot take your order?

There are several different pieces of technology available now – including everything from reservation apps to table top ordering and more.

Reservations can now be made at the tap of a button with a multitude of apps before they even get to the restaurant. Some restaurants even incentivize guests to book with them by rewarding reservations with loyalty points. This technology allows the restaurants to fit more seamlessly into the consumer’s multitasking, fast-paced lifestyle, while providing value for them.

Continuing to put the consumer in charge of their dining experience is key. Some establishments are now offering the ability to order directly from the table. Forget about sitting there waiting for the server to take your drink or app order. Simply enter your order into the table top tablet whenever you’re ready and “poof!” it’s sent to the kitchen or the bar.

But does it make sense for your establishment?

First, take a look at your guest traffic.

Do you have the volume of traffic to support the technology infrastructure? Are your guests looking for control and quick-turn service or is it more of a leisurely environment? Does it seem authentic with your establishment and the type of service you deliver? Are your guests technologically savvy? These are all good questions to ask yourself before jumping off the deep-end into the pool of technology.

It doesn’t make sense to do them all right away – you have to dip your toe in first. Start with one that you think can most immediately solve a business need.

Is your bartender also taking reservations or hostesses also bussing tables? Maybe start with a reservation or no-wait app and see if that helps improve the customer experience and service time.

Is your hostess also taking drink orders while a line of people wait at the door to put in reservations? Try starting with a table top device to send drink orders to the bar so guests get drink orders faster.

This can also help with table turn times, allowing you to increase yield. Also, because guests can put in drink orders faster, this could potentially increase check size and simultaneously shorten the length of time at the table – which may allow for faster table turnover.

Simply start off with testing the waters of what works best for your establishment and building from there. That way you can stay on top of the technology game and give your customers more control of their experience at the same time.

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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Charities are a Win/Win for Restaurant Marketing

volunteer.jpgMake Charitable Contributions Work Hard for Your Brand

I love that the restaurant industry has adopted giving back as a standard practice. Just today, I read that SONIC, the number one drive-thru brand in the country, donated $1MM to fund 2,315 public schools through DonorsChoose.org.

As you develop your cause-related marketing program, here are a few things to learn from restaurants that have done a nice job promoting their community involvement.

Be Authentic: When choosing an organization to partner with, make certain to select a cause that not only makes sense to your target audience but to your employees as well.

If you’re a family restaurant, like SONIC, consider something around children or education. If the majority of your restaurants are in urban settings, addressing access to food is a nice option. Whether you choose a specific charity or a theme, make a decision and stick to it. And then, pull it through all of your internal and external marketing materials.

Go Narrow and Deep: A common mistake made by companies across all industries, not just the restaurant industry, is the desire to solve all the world’s problems.

But realistically, that’s just not possible. So, rather than donate small amounts to a handful of charities, choose ONE organization and create a meaningful partnership that will have a lasting impact. This is not only helpful for the charity but it allows your restaurant to own a solution.

Make it Easy: Develop an overall strategy with supporting tactics that are easy to understand for employees and customers.

Matching contributions, dedicating a day of sales or simply a social call to action are all easy to understand and, perhaps more importantly, simple to execute. When your internal team and external customers know how to plug in, they become more interested and thus are more likely to participate.

Choose Your Words Carefully: A local restaurant here in Boulder ran a promotion where an entire day’s profits went to a local food bank. My immediate thought was, “Wow, that’s generous.” But when digging a little deeper, it turns out that it’s only 20% of sales as the other 80% cover operating costs. Smarter messaging means full credit for your donation.

Be Realistic about PR Expectations: The general consensus for newsworthy contributions is $1MM for national press and $25K for local press. That’s not to say that if you have a very unique promotion or a sympathetic reporter, you can’t place a few stories. But, just be mindful to approach your outreach with reasonable goals.

With these best practices in mind, adopt a cause, conduct an internal launch, create in-restaurant collateral and promote it via social media and newsletters to encourage participation. Once the campaign ends, close the loop by sharing the success.

At the end of the day, charitable giving is not meant to serve your restaurant’s bottom line. But, there’s no reason you shouldn’t get credit for your contribution.

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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Use Food Innovation to Drive Your Restaurant Marketing

Chef finishing her salad in culinary class

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation.

According to Nation’s Restaurant News, restaurant executives are always blame events like elections for soft sales performance. However, Wells Fargo data tells us that consumer spending typically goes up during election years.

I travel quite a bit for work and as part of that travel, I dine out a lot. I can tell you that reservations are still a must, a wait should be expected and full restaurants are the norm. My focus group of one tells me that consumers are still dining out frequently.

So, what is the real problem? The real problem is the approach that drives executives to look for external forces to blame in the first place. They are so focused on making it through another board meeting or another analyst call that their real strategy is survival.

Survival as a strategy is the same as raising prices or cutting costs to drive short-term profits. The irony is that survival as a strategy will inevitably result in the exact opposite of the desired outcome. That’s because when survival is the focus, starting at the top, everyone else in the organization behaves the same way.

The menu innovation department stops innovating and instead delivers incrementally. So we see things like toppings or spice differences on old entrees. Service is no longer memorable. At best it’s forgettable bordering on regrettable. Even procurement does the same thing by beating up long-term vendors for savings instead of demanding higher quality or unique food components.

Finally, marketing has the impossible job of presenting the same old story in some new way. But wait, isn’t it marketing’s job to find or create something differentiated when it’s not that obvious? That answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

That is sometimes where really interesting advertising comes from. However, in a company where survival is the strategy how interesting do you think the advertising will actually be? You guessed it. It will be “safe,” “middle of the fairway” and “unobjectionable”. That’s because surviving is definitely not thriving.

In order to thrive, restaurant leadership should be demanding food innovation. The independents are doing it every day. A no-compromise approach to service and food quality should be table-stakes. Again, independents are doing it because they know their best, and sometimes only, marketing is the last meal experienced.

Marketing needs to be taking risks. If it doesn’t make the organization a little bit uncomfortable, it’s unlikely anyone will pay much attention to it. I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing advertising dollars repurposed to driving true menu innovation in the near term.

If you are delivering a superior experience, consumers will find a way to spend money with you.

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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Five Ways to Attract the Under-Tapped Teen Consumer with Restaurant Marketing

Nice afternoon

Teens represent a bright spot for fast casual and quick service restaurants.

Piper Jaffrey recently published its annual Taking Stock with Teens survey.  Turns out that teens are becoming foodies faster than they can tie the laces on their designer sneakers.  Restaurants now represent 22% of overall spending for upper-income teens. And when making their selections, fast-casual and quick service are resonating; teens are choosing limited-service concepts at a 50% greater rate than full-service concepts. And, not necessarily surprising, food is only one of two categories outpacing athletic wear with all male teens.

When thinking about when teens are spending, it’s certainly the off-campus lunch hour but it’s also late afternoon – after school and before practice – historically a slow day-part. As you solidify your restaurant marketing plans, consider the following five opportunities to reach the heads and hearts of the typically finicky teenaged consumer:

  1. Don’t try to beat them, join them: A dining room full of teenagers can be a bit overwhelming for other diners. But don’t deter teens from visiting, especially during day-parts that are otherwise slow. Smart restaurant marketing includes developing relationships with schools, giving out schwag, or running a teen-focused promotion to encourage brand affinity between the hours of 2pm – 4pm.
  1. Be relevant but don’t try too hard: No one can spot an inauthentic attempt capitalize on a current event like a teenager. If it makes sense for your brand, create a tie around a popular trend or event.  But, if it feels like a stretch, it probably is.  It will likely do more harm than good.
  1. Be friendly: Everyone likes to feel welcome – teens are no exception. Be gracious and treat teens with respect. Because they are accustomed to being belittled, a little courtesy will go a long way.
  1. Put them to the test: Teens love to try new things. If you’re interested in trying a new menu item or line extension, conduct events or run promotions when teens are most available and allow them to provide feedback – it’ll be candid.
  1. Don’t be afraid to embrace the teen consumer – This is the most important point.  After all, their money is just as good as anyone’s.

The teen market represents a bright spot in future spending for the restaurant industry. For the restaurant that does it right, there’s a goldmine waiting to be discovered. Don’t be afraid to lead the new marketing strategy. If anything, it will just show how connected you are to trends!

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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