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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Add To-Go or Delivery to Boost your Restaurant Marketing

to go .jpg

Coupling to-go or delivery with online or mobile app ordering opens up an entirely new area of restaurant marketing.

The Goldman Sachs 2017 restaurant sector outlook paints a grim picture for the category. According to their statement, the category headwinds are driven primarily by a decrease in consumer discretionary cash flow from 4.4% to 3.9%. Rising and uncertain healthcare costs, as well as rising energy costs, mean that the typical American diner will have fewer occasions to dine out and will end up spending less because they simply have less to spend.

The full-service chains seem to be most at risk due to the combination of rising minimum wages, potentially higher food costs resulting from reductions in free trade and the decrease of consumer discretionary cash. This has the potential to create a perfect storm for the category.

But how can a full-service chain weather all of those challenges and succeed in 2017? Assuming your operations are running efficiently, you should focus on building a robust to-go or delivery business.

Why does a delivery or to-go business help? First, it helps because you can increase your trade area without investing heavily in additional locations and infrastructure. Second, you will be more convenient for customers who feel like they are saving money by dining at home. Third, to-go and delivery orders are measurably higher than comparable in-restaurant checks.

Finally, coupling to-go or delivery with online or mobile app ordering opens up an entirely new area of restaurant marketing. No longer is success measured in just in-restaurant benefits. Now, it’s about true customer convenience.

There are certainly considerations associated with these capabilities such as delivery driver insurance, ensuring food travel, customization of orders, etc. However, given the substantial headwinds outlined above, the upside is well worth the investment and could be what puts full-service chains in a position to win against fast food.

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 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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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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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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The Ideal Interrelationship of Restaurant Marketing and Operations

Business Team Meeting Strategy Marketing Cafe ConceptWhen it comes to restaurant management, there’s an inherent disconnect between operations and marketing.

Although their end goals are the same, the different paths they may travel to reach that destination can end up putting both factions on a rocky road. At a basic level, marketing and operations function in a circle.

For promotions, marketing creates a campaign to attract guests; operations executes the campaign and provides feedback/results to marketing. For Limited Time Offers (LTOs), the cycle is reversed with operations creating the LTO that marketing is then tasked with promoting. Considering the cyclical nature of this process, along with the natural overlap and dependence on each other for success, marketing and Operations must see each other as allies, not enemies.

To be completely aligned, operations and marketing should do their very best to understand the challenges faced by the other department. Operations teams are built to innovate and deliver good, scalable, consistent food and dining experiences, while marketing is always looking for something unique to offer new and existing guests.

Operations are tuned in to the here and now (i.e. guest feedback, current food costs, menu mix). Marketing, on the other hand, lives in the future; in a world of “what if?” When the two mindsets work in tandem, magic is possible.

Marketing has access to information that can shape operational decisions in meaningful ways, ultimately creating a better overall experience for consumers. The best marketers can detect trends in areas such as taste preferences, social chatter, and industry growth, and inform operations so that they can quickly adjust menus or server training based on that information.

Furthermore, monitoring should be a collaborative exercise between marketing and operations to ensure that the most important and meaningful metrics are gathered. Flavor partialities, protein penchants, healthy vs. indulgent proclivities, and even basic lunch or dinner preferences, can be measured over time to identify trend shifts and proactively solve potential problems before they occur.

If your restaurant already encourages an open dialogue between operations and marketing, your guests likely recognize that you offer a consistent experience with interesting menu options.

If your Operations and Marketing departments are not in regular communication, it’s time to start opening those lines and building bridges now. A marketing initiative should never leave the department without being vetted for operational feasibility.  Conversely, operations should strive to keep marketing informed of the most current information and feedback, whether negative or positive.

When marketing and operations work together, it not only makes for a more harmonious work environment, but a more satisfying experience for 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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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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How Restaurant Marketing Can Suppress Negative Google Results

feedback conceptSearch engine optimization tactics will help restaurant owners escape negative reviews.

PR nightmares can happen to any business, at any time, but their negative effects don’t have to last forever. If someone Googles your brand, there’s no reason why a negative story needs to become a permanent mantelpiece on the first page of Google. While consistently terrible PR might be a symptom of bad business practices, a few errant gaffes can certainly be mitigated with great search engine optimization (SEO).

  1. Utilize an always-on approach for any branded terms related to your restaurant. This is a surefire tactic to always showing up first in result pages. Additionally, owning the paid search section of Google’s results page ensures other brands can’t conquest potential customers.
  1. Wikipedia articles typically always rank on the first page for a brand. There are even firms that specialize solely in developing Wikipedia articles, getting them approved and keeping them approved. With a domain authority of 100, it’s not likely Wikipedia articles will fall out of Google’s good graces any time soon. Please note that for restaurants that opt out of a specialized Wikipedia firm and write and submit an article in-house, it’s important to become familiar with Wikipedia’s stringent article guidelines and acceptance policies.
  1. Interlink all social accounts (Facebook should have links to Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, etc. and vice versa). Companies that utilize this strategy have success showing actual tweets in search result pages, rather than a Twitter profile alone.
  1. Feature well-optimized menus on partner websites like Allmenus.com or Opentable.com, in order for Google to add individual menu items to the search engine result page within their knowledge graph.
  1. Key executives should have personal websites that mention and link to the brand website. Not only will this strategy rank executive websites for brand-related search terms, it’s also a good way to earn additional links and increase domain authority. This tactic is high-effort, but the payoff is worthwhile. Also, ensure these websites are developed on separate servers to avoid link-network penalties from Google.
  1. Set your restaurant up with Yext or another local listing management platform. For a company with just a few locations, the prices are pretty reasonable. This strategy will earn long-tail rankings on sites like Foursquare, Yelp, etc.
  1. Execute duplicate suppression across social and review accounts. For example, a company may have two Glassdoor accounts with negative reviews on both accounts. By combining these duplicate accounts, you limit the amount of times this result can show up in a search engine.

Of course, restaurants should do everything they can to limit the source of negative press. But for unintended blunders, the above tactics will act as defensive measures to suppress negative Google search results.

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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