Supporting Restaurant Expansion Through Smart, Local Marketing Efforts

Senior Friends Happy HourFour ways to build your customer base in new markets

When a restaurant brand starts expanding outside of its home territory, it’s tough to gain traction. Your business was initially built around your location, suppliers and consumer base. When you expand beyond those, everything changes.

Today I’m going to focus on consumer base. How do you convince a whole new set of consumers to visit your restaurant – ideally often, especially if there’s low awareness of your brand in that area? Whether you’re a regional chain entering a new market or just a single restaurant embarking on your second restaurant in a new location, I have four marketing tips to help make the transition as successful as possible.

  1. Reflect local tastes on your menu

Okay, so this one touches several aspects of your business, not just marketing. Do your research on local tastes. I’m not suggesting you overhaul your menu – rather, I’m recommending that you incorporate flavors that are reflective of the area while staying true to your core offerings.

Smashburger does a great job of this, usually offering at least one menu item that is unique to a particular region, such as the Carolina Chili burger in their South and North Carolina locations.

  1. Engage your existing fans to generate grand opening buzz

We’ve covered grand openings before, but I can’t overstate the importance of generating as much buzz as possible ahead of time around your restaurant’s big day.

You might be surprised to find that even in areas where your restaurant isn’t very well-known, there are often at least a few people who know and love your brand. Do your homework. Find these people and engage them via social media a few weeks before you open. Offer them coupons or invitations in exchange for helping you champion your brand on social channels. If you can find a fan who is a local influencer, such as a blogger or reporter, even better!

  1. Ingrain your restaurant in the local culture

If you are an established regional chain moving outside of your territory, this one can be difficult.

Let’s say you’re a well-known Pennsylvania classic – how do you make people in Indiana feel like your restaurant has a place in their daily lives? The answer is to get local. Find out what matters to the local community, and make your restaurant a part of that. Sponsor little league teams. Host fundraising events. Cheer on your new state’s premier sports teams. It won’t happen overnight, but in time your restaurant will feel like it was part of the community all along.

  1. Pump extra marketing funds into the new location 8-12 weeks post-opening

Even for restaurants who have a successful grand opening, it’s common to see the honeymoon period end 2-3 months later. At this point, many restaurants experience a dip in sales. This is a good time to pump a few extra dollars into that market. Radio sponsorships, social promotions or traffic-driving display advertising on Waze are all great ways to continue raising awareness levels in the new area.

Now, there are certainly no guarantees when a restaurant expands outside of its original territory, but these four tips will help put you on the path to success.

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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The Potential of Voice-enabled Devices for Restaurant Marketers

Communication with voice assistant in a smart home

How devices like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo are changing the game for marketers.

Burger King has been getting a lot of press recently for their newest ad attempting to hijack Google Home devices. Now, as with anything buzzworthy there are those that liked it and those that hated it.

What I want to highlight instead is that this showed a new level of understanding of the current technology and consumer behavior climate. While it didn’t please all consumers, it definitely triggered a discussion of how brands can better integrate themselves into the Internet of Things (AKA IoT), specifically, voice-controlled devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo.

According to an eMarketer report from February 2017, while the U.S. consumer ownership of voice-enabled devices is still only about 10% between Amazon and Google Home – there is a 63% awareness of both products.

Additionally, we know from Amazon Echo’s huge holiday sales surge that there is increasing demand for these devices – in fact, eMarketer forecasts that by 2020 there will be 7 million Echoes shipped alone. I think it’s safe to say that you could easily double that to account for Google Home devices to get to 14 million voice-enabled devices sold and activated within the next three years. While still a relatively small percentage of the population, the growth rate is not to be ignored.

But how does that tie back to restaurant marketing? Well, just like how the advent of the smartphone changed how marketers needed to engage with their consumers in a mobile-first environment; Google Home and Amazon Echo require marketers to adapt again and start to think about how to engage through listening and responding with contextually relevant information.

Specifically, restaurants should take a page from Burger King and start to think about how they can better leverage this shift in consumer behavior – albeit with less of a controversial splash.

For starters, getting your online ordering ecosystem integrated with simple voice commands seems like a no-brainer. When you think about it, it is a behavior that is not so far-fetched from how we used to order food over the phone. And it also leans nicely into the convenience factor that typically drives online ordering in the first place. Being a first-mover restaurant brand in this area will certainly help to attract that younger Millennial audience that all restauranteurs are looking to hook, as well as provide another reason for your loyalists to ‘call’ on your restaurant again.

You may also want to move toward ‘quick menus’ – something that is easy for an Alexa or Google to read and tell a consumer as to what the top items are, so they don’t have to feel like they need to open up their computer or mobile phone to check. Thinking forward a bit, these types of integrations will also become critical as systems like Alexa become integrated into the cars themselves, and consumers want to order some dinner on their way home from work.

Ultimately, the potential of voice-enabled devices for restaurant marketers really is boundless at this point, and the door is open for brands to get in there and start doing it right.

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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Team Member Acquisition and Retention Is Single Most Important Marketing Investment

Restaurant manager in a commercial kitchenTurn your employees into your marketing staff in the trenches every single day

Restaurant marketing is often measured by its ability to drive restaurant traffic via promotions, advertising, media coverage and limited-time offers. But it’s the guest experience that keeps a consumer returning – or not.

Think of employees more as marketing, not operations: Because many restaurants structure their workforce more as an output of operations, employees at the restaurant level have little, if any, access to marketing. Restaurants should flip the script making restaurant employees fill more of a marketing function. This not only draws an immediate line between marketing efforts and the important roles crew members play day to day, but it also requires everyone to learn and understand the desired outcome of each marketing investment.

Make employees your biggest marketing investment: Finding good employees is a common plight in the restaurant business. Given the time and energy necessary to find a solid employee, you should strive to treat them well – very well. Consider offering benefits, social gatherings outside of work hours and career growth opportunities. If you see management potential, make it known, then develop a career path to show interest in their professional future.

Encourage feedback from the trenches: Despite marketing’s best efforts, they can’t really understand how a promotion will play out at the restaurant level. Every additional detail or step of a marketing program multiplies the necessary level of effort for the restaurant. For this reason, empower your team members by providing explicit marketing materials, including Q&As and a destination for internal and customer questions. Following the promotion or campaign, poll restaurant staff and use that feedback to inform future programs.

Offer bonuses through marketing: If operations is where restaurant staff salaries must live, consider offering a bonus for the restaurant, or restaurants, with the highest adoption of your marketing programs – and route that bonus through marketing. In the end, the bonus will pay for itself several-fold, while making that staff a fan of the corporate marketing team. It’s a win-win.

Follow through: Whether fully integrating restaurant staff into the marketing department or simply incentivizing the staff to encourage customer engagement, marketing must be consistent to allow the process to resonate. Don’t just poll crewmembers once; do it after every promotion. Don’t just offer a bonus once; make it a constant offering. This is the best way to encourage staff to have a long-term impact on the efficacy of marketing.

When it’s all said and done, the server, crew member or manager who customers interact with must pay off the marketing tools and tactics. If it falls short at any point along the adoption journey, customers may feel burdened and thus will be discouraged from future visits. And worse, those customers may deter others from visiting as well.

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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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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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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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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The Importance of Search in Restaurant Marketing

search.jpg

How to make the best of your overall search strategy

Google processes over 3.5 billion search queries worldwide every day. These range anywhere from questions about health and history to searches for the latest viral cat video. In large part due to expanding technology, we now live in a world where we constantly “need to know,” “want to go to,” and “want to buy” – and have the ability to do so from our fingertips.

It’s important to have a strong grasp on both your organic and paid search strategy to ensure you are helping your customers find the information they need then ultimately getting them into your restaurant.

Keep Your Local Listings Up To Date

With the growing usage of mobile devices and the ease with which users can search on smartphones, local listings play a critical role for restaurants. Nearly 20% of all searches come from a mobile device and have location intent. It can be assumed that this figure is even higher for the restaurant industry. Users need to know your hours, address, phone number and other information before they can even make their way to your restaurant.

Another local listing factor that can often be overlooked is your restaurant’s reviews. A staggering 88% of consumers say that they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, and your online reviews have an impact on your restaurant’s organic search rankings.

Luckily, there are a number of tools out there to help you wrangle all of the information about your restaurant(s) across a variety of search engines and websites. If you’re strapped for time, Google My Business is a great resource that will allow you to get pertinent information correctly conveyed to consumers searching specifically in Google.

Be There for Hand Raisers

If someone is searching for your restaurant, they likely have intent to visit and should be at the top of the list of people you want to be speaking to. Search ads give you the opportunity to not only speak to that consumer but also drive them to the site content you’ve designated to be most important.

You can also reach consumers looking for generic terms like “restaurants near me” in an effort to gain market share from your competitors by appearing at the top of the search listings (and by spending some money to get there).

The “Need it Now” Phenomenon

As I mentioned before, we live in a world where we need to know everything right this minute. Half of local smartphone searchers will visit a store within a day of making that search. In the restaurant industry, Google sees nearly 50% of restaurant searches happening within an hour of the user going there.

The search process doesn’t stop once a decision has been made, as Millennials especially are known for looking up information about their food while they are in the restaurant.

All of these facts should be making you think more about your search presence in the restaurant vertical, and if you’re really providing the value that consumers are looking for and could be getting from your competitors.

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: 3 Technologies Restaurants Should Be Running Toward, Not From

augmented .jpgHow restaurant marketers can get in on the technology revolution.

Fresh from CES, our minds are future-focused with dreams of driverless cars and robot house-helpers. While consumer goods are setting the new watermark for modernization, the restaurant industry is lagging behind. There isn’t enough discussion around how the movement in artificial intelligence can impact the future of the dining industry. Restaurant marketing innovation has typically been focused on food and ingredient advances. That thinking is suddenly too narrow as consumer behaviors and expectations are shifting for everything, including dining experiences. It’s time for restaurant marketers to make some bets on technology.

Here are some thought-starters on how restaurant marketers can get in on the technology revolution:

Artificial intelligence
Robots are here. They’re smart, they are fast, and they are reliable. What about beta testing some robots for bussing tables Or how about lending an extra hand to the waiters with things like water refreshes or that extra ketchup request? The pure novelty of getting smart robots inside the restaurant is going to attract current and new diners alike. And, as is always the case with technology, the investment required for the robots is only going to get cheaper over time, ultimately leading to a competitive advantage.

Virtual reality
Until now, VR has been mostly reserved for the entertainment industry, but why should they get to have all the fun?  Do you source your ingredients from Italy? What if you could allow your guests to experience what it’s like to be in Italy and to get a small taste of how the country’s culture inspires what they are going to eat. Or, how about giving your guests the ability to experience the kitchen and see the chefs hard at work?

Augmented reality
Close cousin to VR, and the backbone of the Pokémon Go phenomenon of 2016 and Snapchat filters, AR is here to stay and restaurant marketers should embrace this new technology. Are you a health-focused restaurant brand? What about an app that allows diners to view their food and see all of the ingredients with an AR overlay? How about the ability to play games while in the restaurant and earn points for playing, therefore increasing frequency of visits?

Restaurant marketers must get in on the technology bandwagon to stay relevant in consumers’ minds. The approach you take to integrating new innovations depends on your business strategy, but if you are not considering AI as a focus, may already be behind!

About Gina Lee De Freitas

Gina Lee has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Target Millennials With Your Modern Day Restaurant Marketing

millennials .jpgIn a world where Millennials rule, efficient methods of restaurant marketing must cater to a more educated and stimulated audience.

Millennials are driven by creativity and the desire for a personalized experience; look at their Instagram feed and you’ll see the reflection of their ‘unique selves’.

Being the ‘special unicorns’ that they are – a term coined by the Huffington Post in 2013 – Millennial expectations often exceed reality: they feel entitled to quality experiences. Due to this, restaurants need to be constantly putting their best foot forward in terms of appearance and reputation. This all starts internally, within the very walls of the restaurant itself. ”Cleanliness is next to Godliness” has never been more true when looking at the following list of reasons that disparage repeat restaurant visits from these ‘special unicorns’.

Based on a survey conducted by Harris Poll of 2,034 U.S. Millennials, the top five factors that turned diners away from a restaurant were:

  • Dirty surfaces
  • Unpleasant/foul smelling orders
  • Unkempt/dirty restrooms
  • Slippery/dirty floors
  • Entryway/exterior cleanliness

It seems a bit rudimentary that a restaurant would host a clean dining environment, however this is made even more important considering that Millennials love to ‘gram’ their food. With expectations already set for a quality experience, clean dining is monumentally important. Additionally, the décor must also feed into the overall dining experience. By creating an environment that is out of the ordinary, a restaurant can turn dining into an event.

Further, the dimensionality of the dining experience by incentivizing guests to engage with the restaurant through photos. Create a hashtag, repost pictures taken by diners and encourage creativity through individualized recognition on the restaurant’s owned Instagram. Certainly, these ‘special unicorns’ will not be able to resist a restaurant marketing tactic such as this – a tactic that embraces, plays to, recognizes and encourages their creativity and uniqueness.

Creativity can be further played to by capturing the process of day-to-day activities done in the front of house/back of house arenas. Share the experience of the work and passion that goes into the restaurant – share the things guests never get to see and create a real human connection out of the work that is constantly done.

Through utilizing Instagram, restaurants can capture Millennials in real time with authentic content, while also playing to their creativity and sense of special uniqueness. Restaurants are able to further employ individualized attention to their guests through the platform of Instagram by encouraging guests to photograph their experience with the intention of reposting their photo.

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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The 3 Mistakes You Made With Your Healthy Kids Menu and How Your Restaurant Marketing Can Fix Them

Little girl in restaurantIf your healthy kids’ menu is a flop, here’s how you can fix it.

It’s time to admit that the National Restaurant Association’s Kids LiveWell Program isn’t working as well as we had all hoped.

Plenty of national concepts signed up for the program, and many made a sincere effort to address the problem. But a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine suggests that industry efforts in this area have been largely ineffective.

Researchers reported that years after the program’s inception, participating restaurants have made almost no progress reducing calories, saturated fat or sodium.

But why isn’t your restaurant’s healthy kids’ menu working? A few reasons, but we can help you fix it:

  1. Instead of creating new dishes, you tried to fix existing ones.

It’s a lot easier to drop a few ingredients and reduce the portion size in an existing dish than create a new one. The only problem is that when you reduce the fat and seasonings and the size of your dish, you also reduce the flavor and popularity. We recommend designing your new menu items from scratch. It’s better to introduce a new flavor profile than offer an old one with half the flavor.

  1. You surrounded your healthy menu items with unhealthy choices.

Most restaurants have only added a few healthy kids’ dishes to their menus. So when parents and their kids look over the menu, the healthy menu options are either hard to find or, even worse, hard to like. Rather than bury them in the middle of your kids’ menu, lead with the healthy items and call them out with appetizing food photography and descriptions.

  1. You forgot who your audience was.

Most healthy kids’ menu items look like they were designed for nutritionists, not kids. You can change that by getting input not only from your nutritionist but also the moms and dads and kids you need to please. Our experience is kids like colorful food with simple ingredients. They also want it to be fun to look at and eat.

These are just a few of the ways we are helping our clients get their kids’ menu back into shape. What are you doing to improve the popularity of yours? Please write and tell us about it.

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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