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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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 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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Your Online Restaurant Marketing Can Help Build Lasting Customer Relationships

Cafeteria Good Food Critic Review Tablet Technology ConceptUse social media and online marketing to connect with your customers.

When people hear the word ‘restaurant marketing,’ words like BOGO, table tents and Happy Hour specials start to come to mind. While all of those things are great tools for encouraging your guests to dine with you, they are a one-to-many vehicle for communication.

Here are some really easy and quick ways to start building a personal relationship with your guests:

  1. Social Platforms – Are you present on the usual suspects such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Snapchat?

Social is so rich with information on your guests and what they like and don’t like about your restaurant and the general zeitgeist. Think about surprising and delighting some of your best influencers with their favorite menu item (which you would know because you are paying attention). That guest will be yours for years to come and encourage others to come with.

Try reposting and tagging photos that your customers are sharing of your food. This will show that you are paying attention and appreciate their business.

  1. Email Marketing – Sure, some have shunned their inboxes for short-form texts, but according to eMarketer there are still over 240MM email users with median ROIs of 122% – the inbox is not dead, folks. 

The great thing about email is that your guest has raised their hand and said they want to engage with you on a deeper level. The last thing you want to do is screw that up by offering generic newsletter updates and offers only.

Get personal here – this is an area where your guests are OK with you looking at the data and providing a custom experience. Does your guest prefer beer or hard liquor? Do they have kids, if yes, how old are they? What is their kid’s favorite menu item? Don’t know? Well, there is still time to start down that journey with your guests.

  1. Content Marketing – Today, advertising and marketing is all about exchanging value with your guests. Bring them in to your world by sharing stories and they will likely share some back.

Showcase your staff and their stories – the ‘why’ behind their passion for working at your restaurant. Talk about the chef and the cooks and what excites them about food. Make the experience with your restaurant more than transactional and your guests will view it as a relationship not easily replaced by the cheaper and more convenient competition down the street.

In the current age of digital and social media, one-to-one conversations are happening and if you aren’t already taking advantage of this change in consumer behavior then your competition has probably snuck in and started doing it for you.

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 DonorsChoose.org.

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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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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