Supporting Restaurant Expansion Through Smart, Local Marketing Efforts

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

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

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

  1. Reflect local tastes on your menu

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

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

  1. Engage your existing fans to generate grand opening buzz

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

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

  1. Ingrain your restaurant in the local culture

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

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

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

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

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

About Gina Lee De Freitas 

Gina Lee De Freitas has 15+ years marketing the restaurant industry. She is the Chief Operating Officer/ Partner at IMM, a digital ad agency.
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Tips to Utilize Facebook to Drive Your Restaurant Marketing

Social network web site surfing concept illustrationWhat are the different ways a restaurant can advertise through social media?

Social media has been one of the hottest topics in marketing for the last few years and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Having a strong social presence is going to be important for any brand but there are ways to utilize these platforms for your restaurant brand no matter how big or small you are (and no matter your budgets).  Luckily, anyone from McDonald’s to the little mom and pop diner down the street can take advantage of Facebook’s paid advertising offerings.  Facebook offers a multitude of different campaign objectives that are a great fit specifically for restaurant marketing.

Looking to drive restaurant visits?

There’s two great options for you if you’re trying to get consumers into your restaurant – the Store Visits objective and the Reach objective.  Both options give you the opportunity to promote your location, show your restaurant on a map, and have CTAs like “Get Directions” or “Call Now”.  Giving the consumer the information they need to get to your location is a great starting point for driving restaurant visits.

The Reach objective is more focused on driving awareness and reaching as many potential customers as possible while the Store Visits objective is focused on actually confirming that someone who has seen your ad visited your location.  This reporting aspect of this offering isn’t available for all advertisers but can be great validation for your advertising efforts if your brand can take advantage of it.

Looking to drive online orders?

Facebook’s Conversion objective is simple to implement and can increase your reach for online ordering if your restaurant offers that feature.  With the placement of Facebook’s pixel you can gain great insight to some of your on-site metrics and then optimize your Facebook campaign to those metrics.  For example, you can track online orders and pass back the revenue to determine which of your ads is driving the best ROAS.

Outside of tracking purchases, you can also set up the pixel to track any online actions that are important to you.  If you want consumers to visit your store locator once they are on your site, you can set up the pixel to fire when they land on that page.  All of these metrics will be available to you within the Facebook UI to help tell the overall social marketing story for your brand.

Looking for your customers to engage with your brand?

Some restaurants like to focus on getting new page likes, post likes, comments, and shares from their audience and can use the Post Engagement objective to optimize campaigns for these actions.  This starts with having great content to share that people are going to want to engage with.  A timely message around an upcoming holiday or a great image of your top-selling menu item can really resonate with social audiences.

Facebook has a long list of other campaign objectives and is always working to bring new ideas to advertisers so it’s important to stay up to date on new social trends.  In addition to Facebook, all of these objectives are also available on Instagram which is growing in popularity especially among millennials.

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 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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Four Reasons to Seek Out Food Hall Opportunities For Your Restaurant Concept

Buying some food at a restaurantConsumers, chefs, & operators alike are sold on America’s hottest dining destination.

The food hall is nothing new – it’s a concept that has long been a part of life in many cultures across the globe.

The American food hall boom started in 2010 when Eataly opened in New York City. Sure, there were markets before that, such as the Ferry Building in San Francisco or Pike Place in Seattle, but Eataly elevated the food hall concept. The grand, sprawling, exciting market sparked a love of something else entirely – something trendy, artisanal and community-driven. Years later, in cities across the U.S., food halls are trendier than ever, with new projects being proposed almost weekly.

If you’re in the restaurant business or looking to break into it, you stand to gain a lot by being part of this vibrant trend. Let’s explore the benefits.

  1. Consumers are all in.

A recent survey by Culinary Visions Panel found that when it comes to food halls, the experience is what draws consumers in.

By nature, a food hall encourages more exploring and socializing. Visitors can walk from vendor to vendor, taking in the sights and smells, all with a coffee or cocktail in hand. They love that there’s so much variety to sample from – and that the food is typically gourmet, local and unique. Food halls often have one or more central seating areas, allowing groups to come together to share their meals.

  1. Food halls are traffic drivers.

Typically, food halls are built in central, high-traffic areas, providing lots of exposure for the vendors inside. As a result, they often become major tourist attractions. The variety and atmosphere offered by food halls also means that even locals come back again and again.

  1. They’re great for testing out new ideas.

Those who already have successful restaurants can leverage a space in food halls as a means for expansion.

Some chefs love to use their food hall outlet as a testing ground for new menu ideas. You can be a bit more nimble and experimental in a food hall setting. Others may be looking for a new challenge, itching for the right opportunity to showcase gourmet, artisanal food in a quick-serve setting.

  1. The overhead is significantly lower than at a full-service restaurant.

This is probably the most obvious benefit for those just breaking into the restaurant game, but it’s relevant for any business that needs to keep costs low.

Your physical space is much smaller, leases tend to be short-term and menus are shorter, which simplifies your supply chain. Often, certain costs are spread across all tenants, such as janitorial costs or the marketing of the food hall itself. In many cases, the landlord is responsible for securing a liquor license that covers the entire space, and it’s not uncommon for them to maintain a bar that serves all guests.

All of these factors allow restaurant concepts to focus solely on their food and their brand, while building up a reputation that puts them in a position to expand in the future.

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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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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A Brief Keyword and Content Guide for Restaurant Marketing

seo.jpgUsing these SEO tactics will help restaurant websites rank for a larger volume of keywords and develop more original content.

Restaurant marketers and brand managers obsess over variations of the question “Why isn’t my website ranking better?”. As a result, they are blind to the fact it misses the breadth of opportunity that SEO is built to capture.

For example, a brand manager might fixate on ranking for “Boulder Tacos.” They can certainly work to rank for that term, and over time they might actually rank and consider their SEO efforts successful. But think about all the keywords they missed.

It’s like commercial fishing with a spear and a snorkel.

In my experience, it’s best to develop a keyword and subsequent content net based on the following buckets:

1. Branded Terms – If your site was built with any technical prowess, and you’re not locking up branded terms in images and logos, these rankings should come easy. These terms are obviously the name of your restaurant, but should also include variations. Think IMM, IMM Bar, IMM Bar and Grill, IMM Restaurant, IMM Grill, IMM Food, etc. These days, Google is pretty good at contextual search, so don’t feel like you need to include all of these terms together. If your brand guidelines state that your restaurant should only be signaled a specific way in copy, that’s fine. Just be sure to include other keywords in close proximity (same paragraph, page, etc.).

Keyword example: Chili’s.

  1. Local Intent – A lot of restaurant searches have local intent. Have you ever looked for a good restaurant in a new city? Have you ever searched for a good sushi place? The behavior generally involves a combination of “city” + “keyword” or “keyword” + “near me”. A lot of restaurant websites miss the mark here. They focus on the food but less on the community. So, it’s important to have content both about your services, as well as the city and neighborhood you serve (maps, parking directions, address, things nearby, etc.). Obviously, it’s also helpful to have a local listings management platform, especially if you have multiple locations.

Keyword examples: Boulder BBQ, Boulder Steakhouse.

  1. Restaurant Category – It’s important to execute keyword research around what type of restaurant you’re marketing. For example, a BBQ restaurant has a group of closely related keywords: “BBQ,” “barbeque,” “smokehouse,” “pit bbq” or “smoke shack”. Figure out what keywords have the best opportunities and develop content around those keywords. Make sure you’re using related keywords naturally throughout that content.

Keyword examples: Smokehouse, pit bbq, smoke shack, barbeque.

  1. Menu Items – Most restaurants miss ranking opportunities around their menu items, simply because they don’t have enough content for each item. If you have regular menu items, it’s a good idea to give each item a unique page, with images, videos and quality content. If we expand upon our BBQ example, this tactic gives a restaurant a better shot at ranking for terms around ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, etc.

Keyword examples: ribs, brisket, BBQ pork, cornbread

  1. Happy hours/specials – While the competition is generally high around happy hour terms, most restaurant websites don’t have dedicated content. Instead, there might be outdated specials or happy hour times on an hours section of the homepage. If you have a great happy hour, write about it.

Keyword examples: best happy hour, “brand” + happy hour, “city” + happy hour.

  1. Delivery/To-go – It’s not enough to add a note to the top of your website that says you have delivery. Devote a page to it. Answer common questions users might have and do everything you can to keep engagement high.

Keyword examples: “city” + delivery, “brand” + to-go, “category (bbq)” + “delivery”

So, the moral of this story is don’t go keyword fishing with a spear and a snorkel. Cast a wide net and remain open to variety of flavors.

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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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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