Marketing Your Restaurant Series - Second Tip
Get Customers: Let Them Know Who You Are
As noted in Get Customers: Know your Customers, it is a challenge to get customers to come in to your restaurant and knowing who frequents your restaurant is an essential part of every day. Once you have an understanding of your Customer, the next step is to let them know who you are - you and your business.
In many ways, what you are - as a business - is identical to who you are as a person. Identity is about character in action, adherence to principles and commitment. Quick-service restaurants promise (and must expedite) delivery in X minutes. When lines form and feet start tapping, customers lose patience and faith. If your restaurant claims to be family friendly, let's hope it has big tables, lots of booster seats and a staff that can sing "Happy Birthday" without dropping a bread roll. To determine who you are, look at what you do and share that through a program that incorporates advertising with branding.
Your business' brand is its reputation, and there should be no disconnect between what your business is, what it stands for and how it delivers on that promise. One way to understand how to create a brand your restaurant can maintain is by developing its UPS, or Unique Selling Proposition, a term created to explain a pattern among successful advertising campaigns. In effect, each business makes a proposition to its customer: "Eat at this restaurant and you will get this benefit." The proposition must be one that the competition does not offer.
For example, the proposition behind Farm 255 in Athens, Georgia is clear: fresh, harvest-driven food from local farms served at 255 West Washington St. Whether the customer has visited the web site or read a review first or not, Farm 255's initial promise is clear. The restaurant's décor, evolving menu, and knowledgeable kitchen crew combine to deliver on it.
Good marketing, in which your business promotes itself through branding, should be augmented by a combination of paid advertising. Research suggests that many small businesses, including independent restaurant owners believe that advertising is simply too expensive and so depend on word of mouth or some other "build it and they will come" strategy. The fact is, all businesses need to let potential customers know who they are, and business owners need to find a medium that will maximize their return on investment. Determine a percentage, say three to six percent of sales and spend that. For a small, neighborhood bistro, this won't be television. But it might be direct mail in the form of door hangers, group coupon mailings or newspaper advertising in special sections dedicated to new businesses. It might be online advertising with an e-mail and social media component. Whatever the form, the program must be measurable so that at the end of a trial period sales can be correlated to advertising expenses and a return on investment determined.
Chances are, as an independent restaurant owner, your business investment in advertising and marketing is going to be more about time than money. But, as any good multitasker knows, it's possible to do more than one thing at a time. For example, train your restaurant staff to serve as ambassadors and salesmen of the brand. Other ideas that require relatively little money include:
Offer coupons - While many restaurant owners gripe about coupons (first timers come at the busiest times reducing profits), they will get newcomers in the door. Instead of percentage discounts, offer a free signature cocktail or a dessert. Coupons are also an excellent way to track advertising and promotional dollars, especially if they include an expiration date.
Offer frequency cards - Offset the cost of luring in new customers by keeping them! Give out punch cards with your restaurant's logo, website, address and telephone number. Reward return customers with a free dessert or appetizer.
Cultivate gatekeepers at area businesses - Secretaries and office administrators keep a file of menus within reach for planning catered lunches and last-minute recommendations. Introduce your restaurant with a menu and a sample tray they won't forget.
Create birthday clubs - At Babette's Café in Atlanta, members receive $10 off their bill during their birthday month, even if all they order is a celebratory glass of wine. The staff, most of whom have been with the restaurant since its 1992 opening, works on remembering faces and names so that when customers return, they can add a friendly "Welcome back."
Write a press release - Be sure the restaurant critics at local newspapers, radio and TV stations and neighborhood blogs know about your restaurant. Hire (or feed) a writer to create a basic press release template that you can customize for releasing information about new menu items, changes in key staff or special events.
Take surveys - More on this in Getting Customers: Make it Worth their While, but one way to find out why your restaurant is attracting its customers is to ask! Set up a bowl for business cards and then invite a select group for drinks and small plates.
Finally, put your website to work. In a survey released by AIS Media, some 89% of consumers say they research a restaurant online before dining there. Keep the website easy to navigate by placing contact information on every page.
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To Conclude: Decide what your business does and share it everywhere - in your restaurant, online, in the local media, on social networking sites, on couponing sites, host events, have something for your Customers every day, and make it worth their while.
Next Tip: Get Customers: Make it Worth their While.
THIS IS NOT INVESTMENT, TAX OR LEGAL ADVICE. Consult with a financial advisor, accountant or attorney before making important decisions in these areas..Back