Driving Traffic Through a New Daypart – The Afternoon Snack

Burgers with different foodAs lunch traffic suffers, some restaurants are finding relief by updating menus to offer snack items.

Revenue growth – it’s what every restaurant is chasing in the face of the negative same-store sales trends plaguing the industry. At a high level, there are three primary ways that restaurants can generate revenue growth – through expansion, increasing average check value, or simply getting more people through the doors. Clearly, each of these is easier said than done.

Right now, let’s focus on that third revenue growth tactic: ways to increase traffic. One of the best ways to get more customers into your restaurant is finding a consumer need that you’re not yet addressing. Some restaurants are finding success by taking advantage of a rising trend in consumer dining needs – the shift from three square meals to focusing more on snacking.

NPD reports that in the year ending September 2016, restaurant lunch traffic declined 2% while restaurant snack visits increased by 3%. In fact, the afternoon snack outperformed all other dayparts in 2016.

What’s going on, exactly? This trend in snacking is driven primarily by younger generations, or, more accurately, consumers under the age of 35. As they’re not the types to be put in a box, Millennials want to eat when they’re hungry, not when the clock dictates that it’s lunch or dinnertime. Coca-Cola recently conducted a study on the dining habits of millennials and found that 30% eat snacks instead of a meal at least once a day.

So, what does this mean for you and your restaurant? First, this is definitely going to matter the most for limited service restaurants, since snacks typically aren’t a full-on sit-down-and-stay-awhile affair. If that’s you, then it’s time to consider tweaking your menu to provide options for those who are just looking for a snack.

The most common food items purchased as an afternoon snack are burgers, chicken sandwiches, fries, chips, ice cream, candy and cookies. These are typically purchased alongside coffee, bottled water, juice or soft drinks. Consider adding smaller versions of your existing menu items, starting with burgers, sandwiches and fries. Pita Pit has seen success doing exactly that with their pita sandwiches. Snack-sized value offers, like a meal deal that includes a cookie or a drink, would also perform well during this time.

Of course, simply updating your menu isn’t enough. Once that’s done, you have to get the word out! Strong offers, like freebies or BOGO deals, are great ways to drive trial of new menu items. Regardless of budget, every restaurant can (and should) make sure their existing customers are aware of the change. Social, email and in-store POP are smart and effective ways to do this without breaking the bank.

Since you’re talking to a younger audience, have some fun with the snacking daypart and build a campaign around your new menu reveal.

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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Is Pizza the New Better Burger?

Pizza ovenIn the past few years, while the burger is still a solid choice, pizza is the new, popular kid on the scene.

There was a time not that long ago when burritos were the most synonymous food with fast casual restaurants. Then the “better burger” hit the scene. Whether consumers wanted a burger smashed and served with a side of peanut-oil-fried French Fries or a healthier take on the classic American dish, there was always something to suit even the most particular of taste buds.

When thinking about why Raffaele Esposito’s 130-year-old invention is the ultimate chameleon for restaurant operators, consider the following…

  1. Better than delivery OR making it at home: Pizza is one of most accessible dishes around, and yet we all crave a better solution. Delivery options can be sub-par (at best), and making it at home defeats the purpose of convenience. Pizza in the fast casual space is the perfect antidote. Customers have a bevy of toppings at their disposal with the appeal of eating out and the price benefit of fast casual.
  2. Allows for creativity: Pizza is the ultimate landscape to flex that culinary muscle. Operators and customers alike can provide options that push the envelope (think choices like prosciutto and fig). As tastes become more sophisticated, so can the toppings. Remember when the Hawaiian was considered avant-garde?
  3. Low food costs: The basics of pizza are always the same: crust, sauce, cheese and toppings. This makes it easy for purchasing and sourcing ingredients. And, given that many of these ingredients are relatively inexpensive, food costs remain low. But when offering premium ingredients like fresh mozzarella, shrimp, gluten-free crust, truffles, kale and salami, it’s totally acceptable to charge a premium. You get what you pay for – literally.
  4. Something for everyone: Unlike many single-cuisine restaurants, the versatility of pizza rules out the veto. Everyone in the family can find something to love at a pizza joint. And for anyone who has tried to get children and spouses on the same culinary page, this is a major win!
  5. The familiar goes fast casual: Chipotle and Subway pioneered the idea of adding ingredients to your meal in real time. Pizza concepts have followed their lead by allowing customers to take that familiar process and applying it to pizza. The ability to micro-customize a pizza as it’s made puts control in the customers’ hands and ensures a good experience.

Just when you think the world’s most perfect food – pizza – couldn’t get any better, fast casual takes it to the next level. Now, you can get a gourmet, delicious pie in short order. With no more sub-par delivery or making a mess at home, it’s no surprise that pizza is the new (old) darling.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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Restaurant Marketing’s Perfect Storm

Double Date DiningGet ready. If you are responsible for delivering butts in seats for a large national chain, things are about to get a lot harder.

There is a perfect storm on the horizon, and it’s already starting to sprinkle just a little bit.

There are five factors that are going to affect you in 2017:

  1. Increased minimum wage in 16 states
  2. Increased food costs due to free trade revisions
  3. Increased consumer healthcare costs
  4. Increased consumer energy costs
  5. Rising interest rates

In a nutshell, that means it is going to cost more to serve fewer customers.

That sounds scary, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it certainly does. But, there is a silver lining here. And if your brand is willing to take the risk, now is the time to hit the gas. Here’s why:

In the very near future, these realities are going to hit the big brands hard. They have been trained to cut budgets or raise prices (or both) to make up for lost sales and maintain revenues and profits. However, that is the exact opposite of what should be done.

You must take the long view in these types of scenarios. Cutting advertising means you are absent from consideration in those fewer occasions that your customer is thinking of dining out. Then, if you raise prices for the same quality of food and your customer has less money to spend, guess what? You’ve guaranteed you won’t see that consumer again for a while, as you’ve firmly established your brand as missing the mark on value for the long term.

As advertisers and brands, we must remember that we (should) exist for decades, not for the next quarterly earnings statement. If you are reading this and you have a little bit of grey in your hair, you’ve lived through at least one recession in your lifetime. Are the brands you frequent now different? Probably, but maybe not. Likely you stuck with the brands who continued to give you value, even when you didn’t have as much discretionary spending options as before.

So, if your brand can look beyond the next quarter, you will have many potential customers who have been abandoned by your competitors. Media will open up because demand will go down. And just like stock and real estate speculators, brands with fortitude can realize a market prominence they may not have achieved otherwise.

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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Reaching Non-Millennials through Restaurant Marketing

Senior Couples out for LunchHow taking a different approach to each generation can help your overall restaurant marketing strategy.

For the last few years, the growing trend among all advertisers has been to resonate with the coveted audience of Millennials. Whether it means focusing on advertising channels where Millennials are active, creating messaging focused on the Millennial lifestyle or highlighting attributes that Millennials find appealing, we’ve all seen examples of brands trying to reach this audience as effectively as possible.

That begs the question though, “What about the rest of the population?” While Millennials make up over a quarter of the U.S. population, that leaves 75% of Americans being somewhat neglected by many advertisers. Luckily restaurant marketers don’t have to completely change their current strategy to reach the rest of the population.

Why you shouldn’t neglect non-Millennials

Recently, Millennials have finally taken over Baby Boomers as the largest adult generation in the United States. There are still large differences in spending power between the two generations and even more differences when you also compare them to members of Generation X (those born between 1965 and 1980). Both Gen Xers and Boomers spend more overall each year than Millennials (who actually spend more on dining out). Now, while Millennials spend a larger portion on eating out than any other generation, there are more dollars to vie for among Gen Xers and Boomers.

Generation Z and why they matter

Another generation to take into consideration is Generation Z (the post-Millennial generation), many of whom are still in school and don’t have much spending power at all yet. However, it’s important to remember that they are the children of Gen Xers (or older Millennials) and are still very impressionable given their young age. Since they aren’t spending their own money, making connections with their parents will have a major impact on their future spending habits. It is expected that Gen Z will be even larger than Millennials in years to come and there is no doubt that marketers will shift their focus to them next.

What to do now

Once you have accepted the fact that ignoring non-Millennials isn’t a great marketing strategy, there are a few options for what to do next. For one, you can use these insights to inform your overall media plan. Gen Xers and Boomers watch more TV and listen to more terrestrial radio, and if your focus has been on Millennials, you’ve likely been focusing on reaching them via mobile devices. This just so happens to be a great way to reach Gen Xers too, as monthly smartphone usage is comparable between the two generations, although Millennials watch more video on their smartphones.

Messaging is another great way to differentiate between different generations. Millennials will want to hear about your unique flavorings (think ingredients like Sriracha) and want to know where their food is coming from. On the other hand, your Gen X customers may be more interested in your classic offerings like burgers but are still willing to try something new. Taking a good look at your CRM data can help you determine what is working for each generation and then you can take next steps from there on how to resonate best with each one.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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A Brief Keyword and Content Guide for Restaurant Marketing

seo.jpgUsing these SEO tactics will help restaurant websites rank for a larger volume of keywords and develop more original content.

Restaurant marketers and brand managers obsess over variations of the question “Why isn’t my website ranking better?”. As a result, they are blind to the fact it misses the breadth of opportunity that SEO is built to capture.

For example, a brand manager might fixate on ranking for “Boulder Tacos.” They can certainly work to rank for that term, and over time they might actually rank and consider their SEO efforts successful. But think about all the keywords they missed.

It’s like commercial fishing with a spear and a snorkel.

In my experience, it’s best to develop a keyword and subsequent content net based on the following buckets:

1. Branded Terms – If your site was built with any technical prowess, and you’re not locking up branded terms in images and logos, these rankings should come easy. These terms are obviously the name of your restaurant, but should also include variations. Think IMM, IMM Bar, IMM Bar and Grill, IMM Restaurant, IMM Grill, IMM Food, etc. These days, Google is pretty good at contextual search, so don’t feel like you need to include all of these terms together. If your brand guidelines state that your restaurant should only be signaled a specific way in copy, that’s fine. Just be sure to include other keywords in close proximity (same paragraph, page, etc.).

Keyword example: Chili’s.

  1. Local Intent – A lot of restaurant searches have local intent. Have you ever looked for a good restaurant in a new city? Have you ever searched for a good sushi place? The behavior generally involves a combination of “city” + “keyword” or “keyword” + “near me”. A lot of restaurant websites miss the mark here. They focus on the food but less on the community. So, it’s important to have content both about your services, as well as the city and neighborhood you serve (maps, parking directions, address, things nearby, etc.). Obviously, it’s also helpful to have a local listings management platform, especially if you have multiple locations.

Keyword examples: Boulder BBQ, Boulder Steakhouse.

  1. Restaurant Category – It’s important to execute keyword research around what type of restaurant you’re marketing. For example, a BBQ restaurant has a group of closely related keywords: “BBQ,” “barbeque,” “smokehouse,” “pit bbq” or “smoke shack”. Figure out what keywords have the best opportunities and develop content around those keywords. Make sure you’re using related keywords naturally throughout that content.

Keyword examples: Smokehouse, pit bbq, smoke shack, barbeque.

  1. Menu Items – Most restaurants miss ranking opportunities around their menu items, simply because they don’t have enough content for each item. If you have regular menu items, it’s a good idea to give each item a unique page, with images, videos and quality content. If we expand upon our BBQ example, this tactic gives a restaurant a better shot at ranking for terms around ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, etc.

Keyword examples: ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, cornbread

  1. Happy hours/specials – While the competition is generally high around happy hour terms, most restaurant websites don’t have dedicated content. Instead, there might be outdated specials or happy hour times on an hours section of the homepage. If you have a great happy hour, write about it.

Keyword examples: best happy hour, “brand” + happy hour, “city” + happy hour.

  1. Delivery/To-go – It’s not enough to add a note to the top of your website that says you have delivery. Devote a page to it. Answer common questions users might have and do everything you can to keep engagement high.

Keyword examples: “city” + delivery, “brand” + to-go, “category (bbq)” + “delivery”

So, the moral of this story is don’t go keyword fishing with a spear and a snorkel. Cast a wide net and remain open to variety of flavors.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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The Benefits of Touting a Good Happy Hour

CelebrationHappy Hour is the key to drawing in consumers and their meticulously allocated dining budgets.

Economic stressors are ever-present, and the fact remains that we are in an age where pennies are counted and budgets are consistently balanced. When consumers finally do decide to venture out for a meal it is either in celebration, or because it is reasonably priced. For the former, it is easy to capitalize on the spend that inherently accompanies celebratory dining, but for the latter, Happy Hour is important because it brings in customers that might not be able to afford normal menu prices.

The Benefits of Happy Hour:

For a restaurant, happy hour is a necessity. Happy hour gives a brand the opportunity to showcase the best of their craft, in smaller portions, at a price that is immensely compelling to consumers. The opportunity to snag a repeat customer is tremendous during a happy hour – consumers feel they are getting a deal while the overall expense to the restaurant is nominal.

Consumers are more likely to experience a variety of offerings during happy hour. The cheap small plate option allows them to try more of the total array of offerings, creating a memorable and lasting impact. By showcasing a wide variety of options during happy hour, consumers are likely to keep the restaurant in their consideration set when they are looking to spend more of their budget on celebration type situations.

Marketing Your Happy Hour:

When it comes to advertising your happy hour, focusing on social media outlets is the most effective method. Happy hour is truly a social occasion and generally occurs during the last couple of hours of the work day through the beginning of the dinner rush – 4-7 or so.

By utilizing social media to convey the message you are playing into the inherent fun of happy hour itself. And speaking from personal experience, the best happy hours in town are usually the ones that are the best-kept secrets of locals. One way to do that is to create a feeling of inclusion by using social media to create organic-looking posts. Ultimately, this adds to the mystique and overall lackadaisical feel apparent in happy hours.

At the end of the day, happy hour promotions may seem to be undesirable, but they truly present an opportunity for a restaurant to present a wide array of offerings for consumers to experience. When consumers experience multiple items on a restaurant’s menu, their likelihood to consider the restaurant again is exponentially increased.

A happy hour menu is a gateway to a larger spend from consumers that might not otherwise come into the restaurant. Happy hour is a time to focus on the spirit of the restaurant and to utilize a laidback atmosphere to draw people in. By utilizing social media to advertise it, the spirit of fun and inclusion helps to play to the approachability of the restaurant.

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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Casual Dining in the Streaming Age

Mobile photographyCDR does not have to be ‘dead’ – but they do need to lean in to their cultural currency

OK, let’s be honest, as a marketer, you watched Super Bowl LI for the commercials, right? Don’t get me wrong, Lady Gaga was pretty impressive. I definitely was not expecting that mic drop and jump off the platform at the end of her performance.

But back to the advertising – Buffalo Wild Wings was the only restaurant to show up, and that makes sense as sports is one of their key brand pillars, as well as the genesis for the restaurant concept. And while there were many ads that touched on the current political landscape, there were a few ads that really caught my attention, and Netflix’s Stranger Things was certainly one of them.

First, this Super Bowl saw a distinct increase in TV series commercials vs. Film advertisements – that’s a testament to the shifting consumer behavior and eyeballs moving more and more toward streaming content vs. broadcast. And that’s where the opportunity for restaurant marketers is – get in on the Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and YouTube content trains. It’s way easier and cheaper to go this route — just look at Eggo’s success story! Sure, this was a profitable happenstance and not necessarily a strategic move on either party, but what if you could lean into your cultural currency for one of the many upcoming shows that will be released next year?

I loved what Azher Ahmed said about this phenomenon because I think that this is the core issue that the casual dining category is facing today. They are trying to be something that they aren’t. By ignoring, or even shunning, what cultural currency they have left, CDRs are alienating their core and simultaneously sounding inauthentic to the new Millennial and post-Millennial audiences – that’s a lose-lose strategy.

Stranger Things reminds us that nostalgia is a powerful emotion that, when harnessed correctly, can be used to bring in your diehard loyalists while also creating a halo effect to start to pull in the Snapchatters of the world.

So, grab onto your restaurant’s cultural currency – don’t be afraid to own your restaurant’s heritage and use that as a basis to reinvigorate your core guests. Try to pitch your restaurant as the go-to spot for the main characters of an Amazon or Hulu show – even if there is some self-deprecation involved. Just because the characters of the show may not fit your target guest profile doesn’t necessarily mean that the viewers of the show won’t.

About Sean Baker

Sean Baker has 18+ years marketing the restaurant industry. He is the President/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency located in Boulder, CO.
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