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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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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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

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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Restaurant Marketing: The Rise of Mobile Ordering


Technological advances are revolutionizing restaurant labor.

Let’s face it – advances in modern-day technology have changed our lives for the better. The world we live in is greatly obsessed with high-tech and modern connectivity, which makes it inevitable that the need for personalization will continue to be a driving and dominant force.

Whether it’s shopping, paying bills, posting pictures or chatting with friends, we’re fascinated by the need for personalization paired with our handheld devices. And the reason is simple – convenience.

With just the touch of a button, we have the ability to do many things without being physically present in a restaurant, grocery store or retailer. It’s also the reason why modern-day technology is revolutionizing consumer buying habits as a whole.

Technology advances alone have resulted in a massive shift for restaurant marketers, leading to innovations like mobile payment and automated ordering systems. While tech advancement brings excitement and opportunity, it also may soon eliminate particular roles within the restaurant.

However, more and more restaurant marketers are discovering the new advantages provided by technology are less about reducing staffing than they are about new opportunities to reallocate labor costs. As a result, they are instead evolving the needs and roles of their staff.

Now you can prioritize your attention on processing more orders. Reducing the amount of phone orders means employees will spend less time taking orders and more time preparing meals exactly how your customers want them.

There’s also been an explosion in the last few years with the development of third-party delivery and courier services (think services like GrubHub, Seamless and UberEats). Services like this allow restaurants to maximize efficiency while cutting costs by no longer needing to staff an in-house delivery team.

Rather than delivering orders to customers on one single route, delivery services allow restaurants to connect with third parties nearby who show up at your restaurant just as the meals are being finished. It’s a great thing when you think about how long a customer is typically waiting for their food to arrive.

Which all comes back to that one simple reason: convenience.

The main reason why dialing up a restaurant with your food order is on the way out is that online ordering has become so much more convenient for guests and restaurant operators alike.

Orders are more accurate, transactions happen quicker and payment is always upfront. And being able to save information like past orders, favorite items and credit card information means your customers will appreciate the ease and efficiency and continue to order from your mobile app. These things combine to increase revenue, and who doesn’t like that?

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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Use Restaurant Marketing to Keep Your Customers Up-To-Date on Menu Changes

menu of the day.jpg

Your guests need to know when you make edits to your drink menu and food menu.

Is your craft beer selection changing by the hour or even faster? Are you hosting special events on a regular basis?

Then it’s time to keep your customers and fans up-to-date with exactly what’s going on at any given time. Nothing kills sales quicker than a group of friends showing up expecting a hard-to-find beer on tap only to find out the keg was kicked days before. Or a couple coming in on a date for a unique and seasonal menu item…and finding out you sold out of it yesterday.

Luckily, you’ve got a wide variety of technology options at your fingertips to inform, boost sales and (hopefully) make everyone happy all at the same time.

Let’s start with your food menu. Are you running a daily special? Maybe your chef finds something incredibly fresh and seasonal at your farmers’ market and wants to use it tonight. No problem. Hit up your usual social channels (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) with a quick post and an enticing image. Then, once it sells out, send out another quick post.

When it comes to something like your craft beer menu, the options open up even more. With apps and websites like Untappd, BeerMenus and TapHunter, you can create an account then easily post and update your menu on the fly. As kegs kick or as bottles and cans sell out and you put new ones on, send out an update! That way, you don’t have upset customers walking in then walking right back out when that keg of Zombie Dust they were expecting to find is gone.

Another way to maximize your beer sales through technology. Social media, of course. Hosting a tap takeover? Getting in the only keg of a super rare beer in your area? Create a Facebook event, tweet about it regularly in the days and weeks leading up to the day/night, Instagram the keg collar, add some paid support on Facebook in the form of sponsored posts, etc.

As each beer sells out during your event, post updates both in the event itself, as well as on your normal social channels.

Plus, every time you host any other special event, make sure you create a Facebook event then encourage your followers on Facebook to RSVP to the event. Post the event on your page when you initially create it, then once a week post a reminder for those who may not have seen it originally. And when you have updates for the event, post them in the event itself so anyone who has indicated they are going or interested will see the posts pop up in their Facebook notifications.

Keeping up with things as they happen may take some time and a little effort, but you are sure to see positivity in your bottom line in no time.

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 Food Waste Can Impact Your Restaurant Marketing

food-waste-636x424What your restaurant does with its food waste can impact foot traffic.

It is no secret that millennials and other folks are paying attention to sustainable restaurant practices such as composting, recycling, and farm to table meals. What you don’t realize is how much food waste you are creating that could be used towards another recipe!

According to the USDA, food waste represents 30%-40% of American’s food supply. If you’re like me then you found this number to be extremely high and concerning.

Restaurants in major metropolitan cities can be the first to make an impact in this category. Reducing the amount of waste that is generated can really help clean up the city. Especially in cities like New York where the garbage is usually just tossed out on the curb at the end of the night.

What can your restaurant do to help reduce this food waste percentage? I’m glad you asked.

Rethink menu items that feature food that us usually thrown away. An easy way to test this theory out before committing to it is making this “kitchen sink” the special of the day.

Use your employees: Let them judge this new dish first. Your employees know your restaurant menu well, give them a taste test and score sheet to honestly review the potential item. You want to make sure that your potential new dish item fits in on your menu!

Spread awareness: After doing your research share your knowledge with your followers on social media.

Instagram and Facebook are great for posting photos and small bios about the process you have gone through to reduce and reuse food waste.

Twitter is an important social media tool when it comes to spreading the word because you can easily attract food leaders and restaurant industry leaders by tweeting directly at them or using relevant hashtags. Make sure to position your restaurant as one that observes sustainable practices by retweeting articles or commenting on relevant Facebook conversations. All of these efforts could lead to the press picking up your story!

Remember that food waste is not gross, it is just the food you normally think you can’t use to create another item. Reusing food waste items will prove to your community that you are conscious of the environment and up-to-date on sustainable practices.

Even if your customers came to your restaurant before you began repurposing food waste it will give them a reason to try something new or talk about it with a friend!

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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Storytelling, Restaurant Marketing & You


Engage with your customers by sharing your personal journey in the restaurant industry.

What’s the most compelling thing about your restaurant? Maybe it’s where you’re located. Or is it the name? It might even be the uniqueness of your menu.

What’s most compelling is the stories about all of those things that make your restaurant and the experience your customers will have there that is important.

Joel Cohen, speaking at the International Pizza Expo in 2015, put it best when he said, “give your guests something to talk about, and they’ll do your marketing for you!”

Use social media to tell your stories – from big to small – to create word of mouth, personal interest and intrigue. Kathy Klotz-Guest, of, says to keep it personal. Anchor your stories in a person (a customer or an employee and NEVER the company itself). Leave audiences feeling optimistic. Find the human need (reputation, community, belonging, creativity, etc.).

Were you or your chefs inspired by a family member to start cooking at an early age? Did you happen across a unique ingredient on a trip abroad for inspiration? Is your signature drink a special twist on a familiar classic?

Tell those stories across social media! It’s all supremely shareable content that will do wonders for your business. Have your staff pass those stories along to guests – those guests will then pass the word along to their friends, family and co-workers.

And of course, bring your employees and guests into that storytelling fold as well. Kirk Thompson, VP of Marketing at IHOP says “…there is an unlimited number of stories that are told by our guests, whether they are children or all the way up to seniors and everywhere in between. It’s just palpable the number of stories that we have that just organically come from those who have enjoyed coming to IHOP and everything that has happened over our history.”

Even if your restaurant isn’t as storied as an IHOP, your stories will still resonate with your audience. Just invite them in, show them what’s important to you and take them on a journey. Engage them early, engage them often and engage them in a credible way.

Your success will come down to more than the food that comes out of your kitchens and the drinks that slide across your bars.

As Scott Donaton said on, “Intrusive, interruptive, self-centered marketing no longer works the way it once did, and its effectiveness will only continue to diminish in the social age. The question is what will replace the legacy model. There’s a one-word answer: stories.”

Now it’s just up to you to find and tell those stories.

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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