The following article is a guest post by Dave Eagle and our good friends at Kounta.
Promoting a restaurant can be tricky business. The go-to strategy is generally to offer discounts, free sides or drinks, that kind of thing. Offers like these may be good for a short term revenue boost, but no guarantee of a long term payoff. And discounting as a long term strategy is just dumb; if you make a habit of it, why would anyone show up when things are full price?
You might as well just lower your prices and make that your selling point. Sometimes giving discounts or freebies end up costing businesses, like the London bakery shop owner who lost $20,000 on a cupcake Groupon deal. Then there’s the fact that coupons don’t tend to bring in the best kinds of customers.
I googled “coupon horror stories,” a remarkably specific phrase that shouldn’t yield any results in a sane universe, and was overwhelmed by the amount of anger (from owners and customers) that exists. Plus, let’s be honest, first-timers who show up with coupons in hand aren’t there for anything but the savings and probably won’t be returning.
It’s best to leave the discounts to your loyal customers by way of a rewards program, and then use other methods to attract new business. If you’re creative and thoughtful about it, you’ll not only bring new folks through your doors, you’ll be more likely to attract the kind of folks you want to do business with—the kind that will sign up for your loyalty program and keep coming back. Here are some other ideas that are more about fostering the kind of community that ought to be the goal of any hospitality business.
On its surface, it seems odd for a restaurant to host cooking classes as a way to promote their wares. Here, they seem to be saying, let us show you how to make the things that you have previously paid us to make for you, so that you may cease to pay us for those things.
But a little critical thinking shows why this is a good idea. This post over at the OpenTable blog also shows why this a good idea, but critical thinking is more fun for me. Anyone who shows up to a chef-run cooking class is going to be someone who loves to cook. But they must also love the chef’s restaurant if they’re interested in learning from that chef.
Cooking and dining out are mutually exclusive concepts, so one of them doesn’t necessarily preclude the other. Oh, and the class doesn’t have to actually teach them everything on your menu—just one or two items that are suited for the home kitchen. The lessons learned in a cooking class are only a part of the experience for those who attend; the intimate setting helps to promote a restaurant’s brand in a more personal—and therefore effective—way.
Crowdsourced Menu Additions
In 2012, McDonald’s Germany launched a campaign that put its customers in charge of the menu. Well, not the whole menu, just the little part of it where they wanted to put a new promotional burger. Customers were given the opportunity to create and promote burgers of their own design, people would vote, and the winners would see their concoctions come to fruition on McDonald’s menus across Germany.
I know what you’re thinking: you’re not going to leave important decisions like dish creation up to the internet—the same audience that just named a ship with an important research mission “R.R.S. Boaty McBoatface.” McDonald’s marketers are much smarter than research scientists when it comes to understanding demographics, and they prevented something like the McCowflop Patty from happening with an app—the Burger Configurator—that gave people a set of ingredients to work with.
You don’t need to design an app to make this happen, and you don’t need a high dollar budget to reach your customers. Your free social media account and some well thought-out guidelines for the contest will suffice to reach your audience. Start with people who already follow or “Like” you.
They, in turn, will want to promote their creations within their circles for the votes, which will garner more participants, which gets you more likes, and so on. When people have a stake in your restaurant, they’re more likely to have a steak in your restaurant.
Surprise and Delight Just One Person
There’s targeted marketing, and then there’s hyper-targeted marketing. Morton’s Steakhouse experimented with this about 5 years ago when they surprised Peter Shankman with a meal at the airport. He was getting on an airplane in Florida, and jokingly tweeted at the steakhouse, saying he’d be landing in a couple of hours please meet him there with a Porterhouse.
And that’s just what Morton’s did, shocking all hell out of Shankman with a tuxedoed delivery guy waiting to hand off his steak (and potatoes and bread, too). No charge. Shankman immediately tweeted out to his 100,000+ followers what had happened, complete with a photo of himself and the guy who brought the meal.
That is serious pay-it-forward promotion, and it’s not out of your reach to do something like this. The next time one of your fans or followers posts something nice about your restaurant and throws an @ mention your way, don’t just respond with “Thanks!” Go big, and maybe go viral.
Even if it doesn’t turn into something big like the Morton’s stunt, you’ll get local exposure and generate tremendous goodwill. You may sell food to earn your keep, but it’s your hospitality that shapes your reputation.