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Restaurant Marketing: The Hunting Season Is Over

So, your sales are down and you decide to send out a direct mail piece into your zip code, expecting your usual response of 2 to 3%.

I’ll bet you’ve never ever thought about those other 98% in the zip code who never responded to your offer. You see, they just threw it in the trash. Yes, that’s your money they threw in the trash. Why? Because they don’t care about you. They’re not interested in being spammed with your direct-mail.

So, what did you eventually accomplish? A 2% response rate—coupon clippers taking advantage of your coupon offer that cuts into your bottom line—no true loyalty with coupon clippers—plus a whopping 98% in the zip code who blatantly don’t care about you or are peeved at getting an incessant amount of junk mail from you and other restaurants. Do you really feel good about this?

Here’s some breaking news—your guests have changed. It’s time to quit advertising and start connecting.

Joel Cohen regularly blogs about  Restaurant Marketing. Through consulting and speaking, he focuses on specific principles of restaurant marketing, such as planning, differentiation and how to WOW guests to increase sales.

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Restaurants Need To Catch Up On Technology

Restaurants Need To Catch Up On TechnologyAt the National Restaurant Association’s annual trade show last month, a lot of restaurateurs were talking about the technology gap in the food service industry.  Big chains like T.G.I.Friday’s and Hard Rock Café have already begun to introduce digital gadgetry into their restaurants as a way to connect with younger customers.  And much has been written over the last year about how the battle for customers has moved online.

But despite these modest gains, food service as a whole lags far behind when it comes to incorporating technological advances into their operations and marketing.  That’s because until recently it was hard for restaurateurs to see the gains in sales that could be tied directly to investments in technology like interactive digital signage or a comprehensive website.

Now the time has arrived where restaurants that don’t make these investments are simply going to be left behind as the Millenium Generation gains more and more buying power and therefore preferences for restaurants with a strong foundation in technology go up.

Technology has the added benefit of improving the efficiency and capacity of your operation, if it’s leveraged properly.  The main problem restaurants encounter is justifying the up-front expenses technology upgrades entail, and this problem explains why many restaurants have not yet made the leap.

Does your restaurant need to catch up?  Check out the seven hottest technology trends in food service.

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Restaurant Marketing: Your Focus Shouldn’t Be On Social Media

I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin last week to do a restaurant marketing workshop for Sysco and was looking for a place to eat. Obviously in a strange town and no one around to make recommendations, I pulled out my trusty iPhone and downloaded the Yelp app.

Immediately, I got hundreds of restaurants with thousands of reviews. I searched for some restaurants in my area where my hotel was located—because Yelp is GPS enabled—read the reviews and made my choice. It was that easy … and thanks to those who had already visited that restaurant and submitted a review, I made the right choice and had a great dining experience.

This is how many will decide which restaurant to choose—online referrals from other people who have dined at your restaurant.

This experience really drives home the point that your guests can control your destiny. They can make you really successful and fabulously rich. They can create a buzz about you that no one else can. But it’s all up to you.

Ironically, as our guests are moving to “hi-tech” sources for their information and referrals, restaurants need to focus on “low-tech” marketing to be successful. That means, mom and pop marketing, the principles of mayor marketing; making connections, wowing your guest and their dining experience. The list goes on and for those who have been with me over the past years, you know what I’m talking about.

So, while other restaurants are focusing their attention or bragging about building the “largest” list of facebook fans—by attracting customers with discounts galore (that sounds familiar) and truly believing that these “fans” are the end-all and be-all of loyalty to your restaurant, (c’mon, who are we kidding here) … I urge you to focus your attention on your guests and their dining experience … from the nano-second they drive into your parking lot.

And what does this have to do with Facebook? Here’s the million dollar tip to having a winning social media program that you won’t find at any workshop (other than mine) or in any book—If you’re successful at Wowing your guests, they’ll handle your social media marketing for you.

Joel Cohen regularly blogs about  Restaurant Marketing. Through consulting and speaking, he focuses on specific principles of restaurant marketing, such as planning, differentiation and how to WOW guests to increase sales.

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Green Initiatives: A Rise In Cost Or A Part Of Your Marketing Budget?

QSR magazine published an article recently about new take out packaging for restaurants made from recycled plastic water bottles.  Dubbed The Bottle Box, the restaurants that have used it say it performs just as well or better than normal plastic take out packaging, and that it can be customized with your establishment’s name and logo very easily.  The biggest pitfall of The Bottle Box is the 2% – 5% increase in cost over regular packaging.

Recycled packaging and compostable disposables like corn cups are one of those things that always sounds good in theory, but can translate into some real costs in practice that affect your bottom line.  The Bottle Box is a good example of this.  The standard reaction by any businessman would be: why spend more for something that does the same job as the thing I’m using now?

Well, that’s one way to look at it.

Another approach is to take the relatively nominal increase in cost and view it as an expense in your marketing budget.  How does that work?  Well, instead of just labeling The Bottle Box with your restaurant’s logo, why not advertise the fact that you’re using recycled packaging?

Studies have consistently shown that consumers place a high value on food service operations that take green initiatives, and are even willing to pay a little more for those restaurant’s products.  Just look at the success of Chipotle in the last five years if you need a good example of this.

However, you don’t need to pass all costs on to your customer, and really you shouldn’t unless you have to.  There are measurable benefits to adding something like recycled packaging to your operation.  The key is making sure your customer knows about the initiatives you are taking.

Some tips on how to make sure you’re communicating properly:

Train servers to work green initiative plugs into their spiels.
There’s no better way to communicate with your customer than through your servers.  Have them remind guests about the green things you’re doing in a gentle, non-pushy way that nonetheless firmly implants your initiative in their head.

Post reminders throughout your restaurant. Do you have a recycling program?  Put up a sign that says “We Recycle” above a blue garbage can, if no one ever uses it.  The same goes for composting programs.  Do you use Energy Star rated equipment?  Put up an Energy Star logo where customers can see it.  Do you use The Bottle Box instead of straight plastic packaging?  Tell your customers right on the bag!

Work your green initiatives into your marketing materials. Whether it’s an ad in the paper, a flyer, or a website, don’t be afraid to announce that you’re taking action to make your restaurant greener.  If you’re particularly proud of your greening accomplishments, you may even want to launch an advertising campaign that specifically touts your efforts.

Don’t be afraid to take baby steps!
You don’t have to implement a comprehensive green program for your restaurant all at once to gain some real appreciation from your customers.  Start with simple stuff like a recycling program and green take out packaging.  Tell your customers about it.  Then take on something more involved like composting or sourcing vegetables locally.  No matter how small or incremental your efforts, your customers will appreciate it, and they can’t appreciate it if you don’t tell them.

Taking steps to improve your restaurant’s green image don’t have to be all about raising your costs either.  Many changes can have the dual benefit of making your restaurant more green and more efficient, which really is a win-win.  No matter how you green your restaurant, just make sure to announce it loud and clear to customers.  They’ll appreciate it.  And they’ll eat in your restaurant more often.

Check out a trove of going green tips here.

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How To Give Your Customers Value

In yesterday’s post I talked about the new reality facing restaurants, namely, the consumer expectation of great value.  This doesn’t appear to be changing despite an uptick in consumer spending.  A number of voices in the food service industry have been advising restaurants to provide value to their customers in order to survive these turbulent times, and many have been listening.  The result has been prix fixe meals, deep discounting, and any other method to lure customers looking to save a buck.

But what does “value” really mean?  The obvious answer is great food and service for a great price.  Well,  duh.  Everybody has slashed their prices or discounted in some way.  Not everybody has survived.  So what’s the difference between the guy who makes it and the guy who’s left behind?

A look at the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) hot trends for 2010 provides some insight into what customers are looking for when they say “value.”  Granted, this trends report surveys chefs, not restaurant patrons, but one can safely assume chefs are following the trends that increase their sales and therefore these views are reflecting customer expectations.

The interesting thing about the NRA’s top 10 trends is that  5 out of 10 deal with local sourcing and sustainability.  “Green” values are becoming a permanent fixture in our culture, and successful restaurants are figuring out ways to make their operations source locally and sustainably.

The perception that a restaurant has a reputable, “green” operation adds a value that is a little more intangible, but definitely important, in the customer’s mind.  Just ask Chipotle how in the world they get away with selling an $8 burrito in a fast casual environment.  Customers recognize the value of their green practices and locally sourced ingredients.  There are hundreds of ways to make your restaurant more green, and advertising your practices to your customers add value.

Another top restaurant trend is portion sizes. Reduced portion sizes allow customers to spend less or pick and choose more than one dish.  This is also a hot trend because the perceived value for the customer is that they have options, and not all of them require a lot of money.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether restaurants can sustain the price reductions everyone has rolled out over the last year.  The truth is, the value customers find in the restaurants they choose to patronize has to do with much more than great prices.  Prices just happen to be the most obvious factor.

Putting together a complete value package that includes a great atmosphere, top notch service, good prices, a quality menu with good choices, and a green operation that sources locally whenever it can takes a lot of work and even more smart marketing.

Restaurants that have a complete package are the ones who win the value competition.  Those that focus on price are bound to fail.

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Should Your Restaurant Have A Website?

Should Your Restaurant Have A Website?The short answer is yes, definitely.  As long as you build a decent site, it can’t hurt your marketing efforts and has the potential to be a big help.  Some of the things you can do with an internet presence for your restaurant:

  1. Get to know your customers.  A website is a great way to learn more about your customers.  Take surveys of visitors to your site or ask them to sign up for an email list and then ask for some general information as they sign up.  You can also include email and phone contact numbers, making you much more accessible to your customers.
  2. Use the website as a promotion tool.  Collecting customer information means you have a database of prospects you can market to directly.  Tell your web visitors about promotions and deals and then measure response.  Focus on what generates the most response and recycle the most successful campaigns back through your website.
  3. Start a dialogue with your customers.  An internet presence allows your customers to communicate directly with you quickly and easily, and allows you to respond just as quickly to their concerns and questions.  Use this dialogue to make your customers feel engaged in your business and use it as a tool to improve your operation.

Build A Good Website

More and more restaurants are building websites to advertise their business online.  As customers use the internet to find the information they need, it has become an imperative for the food service industry to go where the customers are looking.  Building a website can vary in price and quality almost as much as restaurants vary in price and quality.

If you’re planning on building a website for your restaurant, or already have one up, make sure you follow a few basic best practices that will ensure those marketing dollars are being put to their best use.

Some tips:

  • Don’t try to do the whole thing by yourself.  Your restaurant’s website is the first and sometimes only impression potential customers have of your business.  People spend enough time online these days to know an amateur site when they see one.  While it might seem like you’re getting away with getting a site up without having to pay for it, in the end you will pay because customers will notice.
  • Writing the content for your business’ site will probably end up taking up much more time than you think, so you might as well let someone who knows what they’re doing handle the design and building of your site.
  • Follow best practices for design.  Even if you do hire a designer for your site, familiarize yourself with design best practices for a restaurant website:
  • Don’t get too flashy.  Design elements like Flash players look great, but from a practical perspective, they don’t help get customers to your restaurant at all.  When someone lands on your home page, they want information and they want it fast.  Flash takes a long time to download and while it is pretty to look at, is not very informational.
  • Start with information first.  Most customers who are looking up your restaurant on the internet want information, not to know how great you are.  They’re looking for driving directions, a reservation phone number, and a menu.  So give them what they want – in clear and concise format – at the top of the home page.
  • Make navigation easier than easy.  A common trap is to create a complicated web of navigation buttons linking to what seems like incredibly useful information.  The problem is, your customer usually just wants to know a few basic things about you before they head back to Facebook, so make navigating around your site so easy it seems almost stupid.
  • Update content regularly.  Not only does regularly updated content make your site more visible to search engines, but regular customers appreciate new content on your site.
  • Make information on your site as printable as possible.  Customers want to be able to print information about your restaurant like directions, phone numbers, and menus.  Design pages with this information on it easy to print.
  • Connect your website to other websites.  After all, the web is called the world wide web because it’s made up of a series of millions of sites like yours connected to each other.  Many metropolitan areas have restaurant directories online that are free to join.  Also start a reciprocal linking campaign with related websites and even other restaurants to help raise your site’s visibility.
  • Keep building your site.  The internet can be a powerful marketing tool for your site, and it doesn’t all need to be built in a day.  Different restaurants in different markets that cater to different customer demographics will have varying levels of success with a website.  Start small and add to your site as you start seeing results.  The possibilities are really endless with what you can to use your website as a marketing tool, and as time goes on that tool will only become more and more useful.

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10 Holiday Restaurant Marketing Tips

The folks at MustHaveMenus.com were kind enough to share some great marketing insights from John Foley, editor of The Restaurant Blog.  Must Have Menus is your source for food menu templates, event flyers, restaurant menu software, and restaurant marketing ideas.

1.    What are some easy, inexpensive ways to drive customer traffic to your restaurant during the holidays?

Without any question, Facebook, Twitter and email blasts to a targeted customer list are all ways to communicate with people, expand your footprint and entice people to come to your restaurant.

2.    People like to be indulged during the holidays. What are some indulgences you can serve that can increase sales or attract new customers?

Many restaurant owners keep their eye on the big party or catering event. One joyous thing to do during the holidays is to pick a theme and offer it one night each week. In my restaurant, we loved a “Dickens of a Christmas.” We served a variety of roasted meats – turkey, chicken, duck and Cornish game hen – buffet style, along with stuffing, vegetables and puddings. My staff would dress up in tattered, Dickens-styled clothing, act a little like the Dickens characters. In addition, we offered an array of old-styled cocktails. Many people, who didn’t have a large enough staff for a catered Christmas party, would reserve large tables. Eventually, I had to offer the event two nights a week between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a huge success.

3.    Are there any service considerations during the holiday season?

Nothing changes at Christmas when it comes to service. People demand and deserve the same service whenever they go out to eat. And, there is no excuse for frazzled servers, as there are thousands of very professional restaurant employees begging for work.

4.    If you notice sales are slumping, what should be the first steps you take?

Slumping sales are like a cold. If you don’t catch them quickly, they could lead to something much worse before you even realize it. I believe that if a sales slump lasts a week, it’s either the economy, the stock market or a new television series. If it lasts two weeks, kids are going back to school, income taxes are due or it’s vacation time. Anything longer than three weeks? It’s time to review your menu, your pricing and your competition.However, slumps during the Holiday may not be a reason to panic. The holiday season is very deceiving. Everyone fantasizes about being busy and festive, yet most people are either going to parties at other people’s houses or are attending events. In many cases restaurants see an uptick in volume, but most already know how busy they are going to be. The time to think about the slump is now, before the season really begins. Once the season is upon us, it may be too late to counter a “slump.” That being said, an email blast with a “special holiday coupon” is a great way to fill a dining room on a slow night.

5.    What are some tips to make your staff feel appreciated during this busy time?

Owners should always be aware of the staff’s feelings and mood. And, the stresses the staff goes through should always be taken into consideration. It’s a festive time and owners and managers need to convey that.Contests are a great way to boost staff spirits. Base the contest on your servers’ strong points. If one server always sells the most desserts, design a contest around that. Other ideas: the most wine sold and the most after dinner drinks, etc. Be sure to make the prizes worthwhile. It is the holiday season and a bit of extra cash helps everyone. A $25 bonus for each of the contest winners is a great prize. Also, go to a neighboring restaurant and trade some gift certificates for $25, so they can give your certificates to their staff and theirs to yours.

6.    What is the best holiday offer you’ve ever seen? Why did it work?

The best holiday offer I have ever seen was a kitchen whisk with a small Santa Claus inside the wire ball, completed with a a bow and a tree ornament hanger. We placed it in a gift-wrapped box and mailed it to 50 of our best customers. My wife came up with the idea, which may be why I think it’s the best holiday offer. The card inside simply read, ‘We are whipping up some delightfully delicious holiday specials to cater to your festive needs. Stop by for a libation, a glass of cheer or call us and we’ll help you plan that perfect holiday event. We hope to see you throughout the holiday season. But if by chance we don’t, have a Merry Christmas.”  We put the logo of our restaurant on the card and attached it with ribbon. Results: Out of the 50 people who received the gift in the mail, we catered, dined with or saw each of them throughout the holidays. Most booked parties and brought many guests. The following year and each year after that, people requested our different kitchen ornament gifts.

7.    How can restaurants leverage community events to increase sales (i.e. fundraisers, flea markets, etc?)

Giving back to the community is a tremendous way to promote business, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to develop relationships and to get them to work for you.

8.    How can restaurants get the word out and garner holiday party or catering business from local businesses?

Nothing beats the free lunch program. The first year I decided to do catering was on Lake Minnetonka in Deephaven, Minn., where I had a small 20- seat café. The catering season was getting off to a very bad start. However, one Thursday afternoon I had an impressive variety of ladies lunching and lounging in the cafe. So, I decided to do a bit of self-promotion.I prepared a skillet with butter, garlic, chives and white wine. I added a large portion of snails and topped those with toast points. The aroma from the skillet was heavenly. As I walked from the kitchen, through the café, to the front of the room, I was loudly asking my wife if this was the dish Mrs. Pillsbury (Yes, that Mrs. Pillsbury) – might like on  her dinner party menu. My wife looked at me as though I was crazy. On the way back to the kitchen I left a sample of the escargot and toast points at each table.Catering calls increased within three days. People couldn’t stop talking about how the new guy in town was catering the Pillsbury’s party. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a call from them that year. The next year, however, we catered the Pillsbury Christmas Eve family party and numerous other events for them. Senator George Pillsbury came to my wedding.

9.    We loved your idea about having a catering salesperson for each shift. How do you prep that person?

Having a shift leader or designated server know about catering is an effective way to increase sales. To do this, you first need to develop a compensation plan for the server in case they develop a lead for a catering event. It could be as small as 3 percent or as much as 10 percent. The catch is they only receive compensation if they get all of the contact information, fill out a catering information form, and the event gets booked. Don’t fall for “Yeah, Mrs. Johnson wants to have a dinner party.”Secondly, the server needs to know the basic catering menu and operation. They don’t need to quote prices, as those should vary with the season, the dish and the market. Plus, you never discuss price until they are sitting at the table with your catering director, chef or yourself. Finally, the server needs to mention one of your successful past events. They also need to trow in the name of the person who booked it. Make sure its someone in the community or neighborhood people might know.

10.    How can you use your menu and social media outlets to increase sales?

The world has become coupon crazy. Last month alone, more than 22 million people visited the two largest coupon sites in the country. If you are efficient in social media, use it consistently to make offers, give discounts or promote bounce backs. Emails should be more than just “thinking of you, love to see ya.”  Offer a discount. Announce a cost-saving special. And, you should always highlight menu items and recipes.

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Independent Restaurant Marketing – 3 Ways To Compete With The Big Boys

Independent Restaurant Marketing – 3 Ways To Compete With The Big BoysBig chain restaurants dominate the mass market when it comes to advertising – a fact of life that can sometimes make it difficult for smaller independent operations to be heard among all the songs about baby back ribs.  Launching a restaurant marketing campaign for an independent means less money to spend and more to lose if the campaign doesn’t drive more business.

That means a successful marketing campaign has to stand out to be effective.  Independents can’t rely on constant coverage through big media outlets, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a disadvantage.  Some tips on how to make your restaurant’s marketing campaign, no matter how small, a success:

Be controversial. An edgy advertising campaign is a great way to tell customers you’re different than those corporate chains, and many controversial ad campaigns have the added advantage of drawing local media coverage, which spreads your message for free.  Of course, the line between edgy and over the top is very thin, so proceed with caution.  You don’t want to find yourself having to defend something your advertising said that others found offensive.

Use several channels. Diversify the places you advertise.  Supplement traditional channels like newspapers, flyers, and billboards with newer channels like email, social media, and websites.

Create a culture around your message. So your customer reads an edgy, funny message that draws him or her to your restaurant.  They’re expecting something fun and maybe even a little hip.  Instead, they experience the same thing they get in every other mom and pop burger joint.  They go home disappointed and probably not very enthusiastic about coming back.

The most successful marketing campaign has complete harmony between the image that’s projected and the one your customer actually experiences in your restaurant.  Luckily for you, this is precisely why you have an advantage over the big chains in your area: you can make your restaurant’s culture unique and inviting in a way chains simply can’t.  They’re shooting for the lowest common denominator.  You can offer so much more.

Of course, creating a culture your customer will find enticing takes some real effort.  You have to hire staff that buy into the culture you want to create.  You have to train that staff.  You have to create and design a menu.  And you have to tie all that in to your marketing campaign.

The good news is that if you can build a successful image and get your customers to buy into that image through a smart marketing campaign, you’ll be able to beat the pants off your local chain restaurant.  In the end, people value unique brands that have a clear identity.  Your ability to create that identity is the key to your success.

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Eat Your Own Dog Food, Restaurant Style

Last month, Rohit Bhargava published a post with a compelling title, “Forget Eating Your Own Dog Food – Just Try Buying It …” His premise is built around the adage that the best way to understand your customer is to experience your product as they would and he means every step of the customer acquisition process, from the initial awareness of the brand up until purchase.

Have you eaten your own dog food?

You have no doubt sampled every offering on your menu, evaluating it for taste, appeal and presentation.  Likewise, you’ve supervised the staff and guided them in providing excellent service to your patrons.  But to Bhargava’s way of thinking, you’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding your clients’ engagement with your brand.  To take his advice, you must experience each stage of the diner’s interaction with your restaurant just as he or she would.  Here are some tips to consider in putting his theory in to practice:

1. Create a persona for your client base.   Really this is just marketing-speak for creating a portrait of a prospective diner.  Who are your guests?  Has she heard of or been to your restaurant?  Is he an out-of-town visitor or a local?  Is the meal likely to be centered around business or leisure?  Answering these questions and others like them will take you a bit down the road of creating personas for your target market.  Personas have many applications but for this exercise the primary use will be to uncover the various methods and portals a potential customer may use to find your business online.
 2. Seek out your restaurant online. This is where your personas will come into play, as a regular customer will have a wholly variant way of looking for your website than someone who has no familiarity with your establishment.  As we explained in our restaurant marketing whitepaper, the object of a successful internet marketing plan is to have visibility no matter how or where your potential clients are looking for you. Can your restaurant be found by those who may be searching? dog food in wine glass

* Search for “<your city> restaurants” in Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.  Is your restaurant listed in the top 20?  If not, the likelihood of someone unfamiliar with your restaurant finding it by way of search engines is minimal.  If it is listed in the top 20 results, are the title and description accurate, appealing and compelling? What other phrases might someone use to find your type of eatery? Compile a list of various search terms likely to be used by a potential diner and use that list to gauge your website’s search engine market reach.
* Do a vanity search in each of the engines as well.  Is your website listed first or are there competitors for your restaurant’s name?  What other web pages are displayed in the search results?  Is it easy for someone to find your website when searching for the business name?
* Look at your city’s CVB website and other tourism sites such as TripAdvisor to ascertain whether or not visitors can find you in those venues.  Do you have a direct link to your website from these resources?  If not, is your address and phone number clearly listed?  Do they provide a map so that out-of-towners can easily navigate to your establishment?
* Search for your brand on Twitter and Facebook to see if you have brand champions or detractors in the social media realm.
* Lastly, do some searches on CitySearch, Yelp, UrbanSpoon and the like.  Search generically (ex: Denver Italian restaurant) as well as for your restaurant’s name in order to determine what both new and returning customers will be presented at these sites.

3. Test Your Website’s Usability. Now that you have an idea of what it’s like to try and find your website, it’s time to evaluate your customers’ experience in using it.

* Are the address, telephone number and email contact visible above the fold on every page of your website?
* Can your website visitors easily find a map and/or directions to the restaurant?
* Is your current menu readily available and easily read in its online format?
* Are the hours of operation clearly displayed for the user?
* If you had never been to your restaurant, would you want to eat there based upon the appeal of your website?
* If you utilize an online reservation system, is the link to the reservation portal prominent on every page of the website? Make a test reservation and note any deficiencies in the procedure that may cause the user frustration.
* If you utilize online ordering, can a user place an order from any location on the website? Test the ordering process to its completion and note any areas in need of improvement.

Admittedly this is a pretty long to-do list, one that is perhaps best done in manageable doses as your daily schedule allows.  Once completed, however, you should be armed with a thorough understanding of what it’s like to be one of your customers.  Your job now is to ensure that regardless of the online road your potential guests may travel to get there, your brand is visible at every opportunity and you have removed any obstacles along their way to your front door.

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Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary?

Is Restaurant Marketing Technology Getting Scary?

Don’t scan my eyes!

Mobile marketing is beginning to sound like the movie Minority Report, where pedestrians had their retinas scanned by computers as they walked by stores and voices addressed them by name and encouraged them to buy products tailored to their personal preferences.

That would be scary, but it’s never gonna happen to me, right?

Surely you’ve seen TV ads asking you to text such and such to a number and receive deals or promos.  The companies doing that kind of advertising get your number when you text, and use that to target you for future promos.

Seems like we’re getting warmer, Steven Spielberg.

Until recently, nobody in the food service industry was thinking about applying some of these new technologies to an old game: improving sales and customer retention.

That’s changing, and one of the agents of change is Fishbowl Inc., a technology-based marketing company for the food service industry.

The firm has built email and internet marketing campaigns for over 30,000 restaurants and is recommended by the National Restaurant Association.  They recently expanded into mobile technology marketing, where new marketing techniques have revolutionized how restaurants reach their customers.

Scotty’s Brewhouse in Indiana increased to-go orders placed on the internet by 500% with a two-for-one promo that went out via email and applied only to those internet orders.

Smoothie King chain restaurant locations offer a free smoothie in exchange for a text message from customers.  The cost of the smoothie is a fraction of the value of having that customer on an email and text list for future promos, and sales are up on promo days by 24%.

Jack-in-the-Box has even experimented with placing a small computer chip in special promo posters that communicates with mobile devices and alerts customers to local store locations and deals.

Maybe those retina scans aren’t that far off after all.

As marketing methodology improves using these new technologies, restaurants will be able to reach their customers in increasingly innovative ways.

Building email and text number databases of customers will help connect customers and businesses and allow restaurants to improve sales in slow periods and maximize customer retention.

Most importantly, restaurants can learn about their customers and cater more directly to their needs.  Knowing what customers want when they want it is half the battle in any service industry, and especially in the food service industry.

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