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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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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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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How Convenience Stores are Winning at Restaurant Marketing

Yellow and Black Gasoline Station Convenience StoreQSRs, beware. C-stores are coming for your consumers.

More and more often, hungry consumers – particularly young Millennials and Gen Z’ers – are visiting convenience stores instead of fast food restaurants to satisfy their cravings. According to NPD, 10% of quick-service visits are claimed by convenience stores. This may not be surprising to anyone from New Jersey or Pennsylvania, where Wawa has been a beloved staple for years. But, everyone else may be feeling a bit bewildered. Let’s take a look at what c-stores are doing to attract and pull consumers away from your fast food restaurant.

They offer a wide variety of options

7-Eleven, Sheetz, Wawa and Circle K offer a surprising variety of prepared and fresh food. Hot dogs, subs, paninis, salads, pizza, breakfast items – it’s all there. Pair that with the typical convenience store lineup of chips, candy and beverages, and what more could a Gen Z’er ask for?

Their prices are lower

MSN reports that the average food purchase at a convenience store costs $2 less than at a QSR. At the same time, fast food restaurants, faced with supply pricing pressures, have started to reconsider their dollar menus.

They encourage loyalty

When people are willing to go out of their way to get a sandwich from a convenience store, you know the c-store must be doing something right. C-stores have a great start towards building long-term loyalty simply because they have done so well with attracting young consumers. Millennials and Gen Z’ers have long lives of spending still ahead of them!

C-stores have also found innovative ways to leverage loyalty programs, such as RaceTrac’s app-based rewards program. Customers scan purchases to earn, track and redeem points, which they can then trade in for rewards that they select themselves. Rewards span RaceTrac’s variety of food offerings – think frozen yogurt, hot dogs, breakfast sandwiches and more.

They’re innovating in ways that resonate with their consumers

Sheetz recently opened a “food-first” c-store on West Virginia University’s campus. Their goal is ultimately to develop and roll out a café-like concept, and the WVU Sheetz location is serving as a testing ground. Meanwhile, students and locals alike get to enjoy a restaurant-like atmosphere with seating and an open view into the food preparation area. There are outlets and USB ports so that customers can stay a while with their laptops or devices. It truly is an appealing place to spend time.

What does all this mean for you? Well, if you are a marketer at a QSR and you haven’t started to look at convenience stores as key competitors, now’s the time. Whether it’s making updates to your loyalty program or finding ways to innovate within your menu or physical space, it would be wise to find ways to bring that younger customer base back through your doors.

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 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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Learn Why This Food Is Dominating Restaurant Marketing

Homemade Spicy Shrimp TacosIt’s No Wonder Tacos are Popping Up on Every Menu

Admittedly, Mexican cuisine is not new to fast casual. Not even close. In fact, the burrito is arguably what started the whole thing. But, tacos, specifically, are a hot trend that restaurant brands of all types and sizes are capitalizing on.

And there are a few chief reasons why tacos are such a popular item as both the overarching theme of a menu and simply as a new item.

Versatility: Tacos come in all shapes and sizes. From flour or corn tortillas to naan bread and more, tacos are the ideal vehicle for any number of delicious flavors. And, because they are made to order, they can easily be customized, thus offering easy adds and substitutions for guests without creating an operational nightmare.

Anything Goes: As our palates evolve to include a multitude of international flavors, restaurants struggle to keep up with current trends whilst remaining true to their brand. Tacos are an authentic catch-all where everything is an acceptable interpretation. Brands can easily offer a taco with Mexican, Asian and/or Indian flavors without seeming trite or that they are trying too hard.

No Veto: Because tacos are so customizable and often follow the latest food trends, there’s always something for everyone. This eliminates the ever-powerful veto vote when dining with friends or family. From vegan to carnivorous, Mexican to barbeque, tacos allow everyone to enjoy their meal without infringing on the preferences of others.

A New Go-To: We’ve all been with a significant other or family member when the response to “What you do you feel like eating?” is “I don’t care.” Rather than allowing that statement to send you into a tailspin, allow tacos to be your life raft. The diner trying to make healthy choices and the diner in the mood for something indulgent are both satisfied. Finally, there’s a menu item that can keep the peace.

Innovation: Tacos allow restaurants to flex their culinary muscle without asking your guests to stray too far from their comfort zone. Tacos are a great option for limited time offers, as a mechanism to test new flavor profiles and as a way to attract new guests.

Whether you’re handling restaurant marketing for a Mexican restaurant, a comfort food establishment or an Asian bistro, tacos are a great way to appeal to the masses and try something new while staying within the acceptable range of innovation. After all, who hasn’t thrown a bunch of ingredients together at the end of a shift to create an impromptu taco? You’re already doing it; share it with your guests.

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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Unique Flavors Offer Interesting Content for Restaurant Marketing

Unique flavors.jpg

Adding unique flavors to your ordinary dishes are a great tactic for restaurant marketing.

The last few years have seen a substantial rise in menu items inspired bold heavy flavors like Sriracha and Thai Chili. Perhaps we blame The Food Network but foodies threw around the term ‘umami’ like it was going out of style.  Well, turns out, umami and those flavor-forward sauces are going out of style.

As diners become more educated about their food and are more adventurous about marrying creative flavors, Technomic has identified the following four ingredients as the new heroes of the menu. 

1 . Dark Cherries

Whether chopped in salads, pureed in vinaigrettes or muddled in cocktails, dark cherries offer a sweet, tart note that complements most any meal.  Reduced cherries served over a rosemary-marinated pork tenderloin is sure to please even the most discerning palette.

2. Prickly Pear

Once considered something that only appeared on Chopped, prickly pear is popping up on menus from ranging from casual dining to fine dining.  Prickly pear makes a fantastic mixer for margaritas and mojitos as well as sorbets and tarts.

3. Bitter Greens

Versatile, inexpensive and perceived as among the healthiest things you can put in your body, bitter greens are a huge trend in menu development.  Braised and served with malt vinegar or as an additional level of complexity to a sandwich or salad.

4. Hibiscus

If the previous three ingredients aren’t enough evidence that our taste buds have evolved, the rise in popularity of hibiscus flower is the ultimate proof.  As a flavoring agent in cocktails or for a light dessert, hibiscus allows for the ultimate creativity in menu development.

Flexing your culinary muscle is a great way to show your restaurant’s personality. Have your team create a few recipes using some of these ingredients. Test the recipes out on your staff before ever serving it to a customer. Once your staff gives a dish the “thumbs up” create a Pinterest board. Post photos of your new creation and a brief overview of how to make it. Pinterest is a great place to showcase that your restaurant is a “thought leader” in the culinary space and drive people into your restaurant to try the new dish. Don’t worry about giving out a recipe to your customers, it shows that you are confident in your product and trust me their creation will never be quite as good as yours!

Test these ingredients out in your restaurant with limited-time offers, signature cocktails and happy hour specials. Trend-setting dishes are great fodder for social media, public relations outreach and digital media.

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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Drive Lunch Visits via Restaurant Marketing

Lunch.jpg

Restaurants can change the current consumer mindset around lunch to get more guests in-restaurant during the day.

It’s no surprise that casual dining restaurant sales have been suffering for the last few quarters.  However, a number of restaurants are reporting that dinner sales have remained steady and in some cases have increased year over year.  The downfall for sales seems to be coming from the lunch day-part for many Casual Dining Restaurants (CDRs), but can restaurant marketing make a difference?

There are many factors contributing to lower restaurant sales during lunch: consumers have less time to go out and eat lunch, many consumers are trying to save money by packing a lunch regularly, there’s more of a focus on healthy eating.  While it may be a tough road ahead for CDRs, here are some steps for positively impacting your lunch day-part.

Offer Quick Options

Just because your restaurant is in the CDR category doesn’t mean you can’t offer quick options, especially at lunchtime.  Today, many people don’t get a full lunch hour during the workday and can’t go out to eat at a sit-down restaurant.  Give these consumers the option to order online and pick up their order when it’s convenient for them.

While many professionals may not have a lot of time to eat out, it’s nice for them to get out of the office for a few minutes and pick up something quick and easy to eat.  For those who don’t even have time for a quick drive to your restaurant, think about offering delivery or partnering with a delivery service company to meet the needs of even the busiest workers.

Reevaluate Your Menu

Most CDRs have already picked up on the fact that most people don’t want to eat a heavy lunch during the work week.  Make sure your lunch menu focuses on lighter options such as salads and sandwiches.  Also, consider offering smaller portions of some of your popular dinner items.

A double burger and large serving of fries may not be appetizing to someone who will need to go back to the office for 5 more hours, but a single burger with a side salad could suffice for most guests.  Also, forget about apps and drinks as there just isn’t always enough time to fit those in during a lunch hour break.

Offer Significant Lunch Deals

Aside from saving time by not eating out for lunch, many people are also saving money by packing a lunch during the week.  It is obviously going to be very cost efficient to pack leftovers for lunch rather than to go out to eat and restaurants need to keep this in mind when setting lunch prices.

Consider offering a salad and sandwich combo for half the price you would charge at dinner or a bowl of soup for just a few dollars.  While you may not make as much of a profit with these prices, you’ll be more likely to get butts in seats during lunch and help improve the lunchtime deficit.

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 to Target College Students Through Restaurant Marketing

Chicken and Waffles

A signature item can put your restaurant on the map.

The top 10 most recognized restaurants in college towns are not chains, shocker. In college towns all over America, students are flocking to mom and pop restaurants vs. going to a major chain. Why? Because they offer a more authentic and memorable experience.

If you are a chain restaurant it may be time to make a few tweaks to make your menu to help your brand stand out to the future of America.

Students want to go to a restaurant that they can identify with. You usually don’t see groups of college students walking into an upscale steakhouse on a Tuesday evening, and that is because the atmosphere is all wrong for them and not to mention their pockets probably aren’t very deep.

Aside from the “college student” atmosphere, that usually consists of foosball tables, dart boards, and pool tables these mom and pop restaurants offer something that sets them apart from all the others, a fair priced signature item.

A signature item could be an oversized burger, a specialty side, or a root beer that’s recipe can be traced back to 1895. These items help create a framework for the overall theme of the restaurant.

Having a signature item also gives a restaurant a talking point. It is a “call to action” in a way, because it drives people to a restaurant for a reason.

If you want to drive traffic to your restaurant, think of this first:

  1. Do you already have a popular item on your menu?
  2. Are you in a city where a signature item could set your menu apart from your competitors?
  3. Do you have the resources to create marketing materials or buzz around this item?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, you should begin discussing this option as a company and see if it aligns with your goals and values. If you answered “no” to all or any of these questions, do some experimenting. Bring in an expert chef to help provoke your chef’s thoughts on developing a signature item. Do some research in the area; what is driving people to your competitors?

College students won’t be the only customers you will tap into with this restaurant marketing method. You will see a variety of customers coming to your restaurant from singles, to families to see what all the “buzz” is about.

You never know where a signature item could take you. You could be lucky enough to end up on “Diners, Drive-In’s, and Dives”, or be featured on a restaurant blog!

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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