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Marketing Your Restaurant’s Core Values

Cor3e Value MarketingIn a previous post, I discussed the benefits of implementing Core Value Marketing as part of a successful growth strategy.  This type of program creates a bond with your potential guests while providing tremendous opportunities for free publicity.

Most importantly, it allows you to provide much needed support to organizations in your community that need it to continue their good works.  This is a win/win proposition that allows your business to grow while helping the causes you care about.  Your business does well because it is doing good for others.

Success in Core Value Marketing is contingent upon a number of factors. Determining the right organization, offer, and tracking methods are instrumental to producing the results that you would like to achieve.

Restaurants that attempt to provide benefit to their community often are disappointed in the response, but rarely recognize that the failure was based on a poorly designed and implemented plan.  Successfully organizing a Core Value Marketing program that benefits both the restaurant and the group you are helping, requires taking several factors into account.  Failing to consider each of these items could result in a plan that disappoints both the restaurants and the groups you intend to help.

Here are some important steps in executing a successful Core Value Marketing campaign:

Determine the Offer: Are you going to offer a rebate to the organization or a discount on gift certificates?  Is it going to be valid for a day or a month?  Just during the week or on the weekends as well?  How will your distinguish which guests came in because of the offer?

The first step is to determine what type of offer you can afford to make.  A smaller rebate or highly restricted offer will deter many of your potential guests.  A large rebate with no restrictions may displace other guests or damage your bottom line.  Before making an offer to any organization, you must know what is practical and affordable.

Determine the Organization:
Once you know what you can afford to offer, it is time for you to find a group to partner with.  There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting the group.  You must choose a cause that people feel passionate about.  The group that represents this cause should have the ability to quickly distribute this information to those who care about it.

Large charities may not find your offer worth investing their time in.  Smaller charities might not have the reach to drive traffic through your doors.  A mid-sized, community based group will probably yield the best results.  Also take some time to consider any drawbacks to the organization you are considering.

There are too many worthwhile causes available to choose one that may potentially cause a backlash.  Stay away from political groups or those who are even slightly controversial.  You may also want to add special consideration to groups who allow you to make a tax deductible donation.

Spread the Word: While the organization you choose should do most of the marketing, use your connections to publicize it as well.  Send a well written press release to any media outlets in your market.  These often will appeal to newspapers and radio stations looking for a feel good story on a slow news day.

Do not forget to provide these releases to any local bloggers who write about the issue.  Make sure your contact with the organization has copies of your logo and basic information about your restaurant.  Make certain that they have all the information on the promotion and the restaurant correct to prevent angry guests from arriving at your door.

Track the Progress: This is one of the most important steps in the process and the one where most restaurants fail to capitalize on the program.  One of the first decisions you must make is how you will track the sales generated by this program.  If your promotion continues for more than one evening, you should opt to track it in house.

You should provide updates on the amount of money earned by the group throughout the promotion.  This creates excitement for the group and may inspire a last minute push to get more of their supporters to take advantage of the promotion.  This also creates another great opportunity to send out a press release and gain some more free publicity.

Publicize the Outcome: After completing a successful campaign, the last thing you want to do is mail a check.  This is another great opportunity to solidify your connection with the organization you are supporting.  Again, press releases are your friend.

Bring the group a big oversized check and find a good opportunity to present it.  Try to get the local media to show up for the ceremony.  Make sure you have a camera present as well.  Hang a picture of the presentation in your lobby.  Let your guests know about the size of your donation.  Use this positive publicity to excite the next organization you work with.

The opportunity to gain exposure for your restaurant while helping the community is far more fulfilling than publishing another coupon.  The benefits of this type of marketing go far beyond simply increasing sales.  Your staff will respond far more favorably to this type of promotion than discount based incentives.  The integrity of your menu pricing is maintained in the minds of your guests.  You also have the ability to convey to the community that you want to be a good corporate citizen.

These benefits make Core Value Marketing a wise component of your restaurant’s marketing plan.

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The New Age Of Restaurant Marketing: ModMarket

modmarket founders

ModMarket founders Rob McColgan and Anthony Pigliacampo

You’d think finding a place to eat lunch in a health nut haven like Boulder, Colorado that featured simple, all-natural ingredients made from scratch for a good price would be pretty easy.  Boulder residents Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan realized a couple years ago that unless they wanted to eat at Chipotle every day, finding good, affordable, healthy food prepared fresh and fast was much harder than it should be.  The two friends then set out to fix this problem.

Their solution is Modmarket, a fast casual restaurant located in the heart of Boulder’s 29th Street Mall.  The menu and the food follow a simple set of principles laid out by Anthony and Rob when they started: serve food that

  • Tastes great
  • Is made from scratch
  • Features simple ingredients that anyone can recognize
  • Is served quickly
  • Is affordable
  • Wouldn’t turn you into the guy from Super Size Me if you ate it every day

The crazy thing is how revolutionary this simple credo has turned out to be.  Modmarket’s daily offering of fresh salads, brick oven pizza, gourmet sandwiches, and made-from-scratch soups has been an instant hit with the Boulder locals, and founders Anthony and Rob are hard at work on a second location in Denver that opened at the start of the year.
Even more impressive than Modmarket’s fresh and tasty menu is their extremely savvy marketing campaign.  4174835126_86884a9d6d_m

Modmarket’s founders are skillful practitioners of  cutting edge restaurant marketing techniques,  but one of their mostModMarket Receipt successful campaigns comes from an innovation all their own: using receipts as advertising space.

“We view the receipt as an asset,” says co-founder Anthony Pigliacampo, “We’ve taken what was going into the trash and turned it into a marketing tool.”  All Modmarket receipts list nutritional information for each item the customer ordered, not only placing the restaurant ahead of the curve on menu labeling but also reinforcing Modmarket’s message: we’re a healthy alternative to other fast casual chains.

“People like the fact that it’s transparent.  We’ve had people come in just because they’ve heard about it,” Anthony says of the nutrition information on receipts.  But Modmarket’s use of all that white space on customer receipts doesn’t end there.  At the bottom of each receipt is a bold black arrow pointing to the right that reads “Turn Me Over.”

On the back is a limited-time promo giving the customer 10% off their next order, provided it happens in the next two days.

Below the Modmarket promo is an ad with a coupon for a local chiropractor, which Modmarket prints for free in the name of supporting local business.  Below that ad are instructions for connecting to Modmarket’s Wi-Fi network – a great way to get customers to come back on their next lunch break.

Modmarket also uses catering as a secondary revenue stream and as a way to get their brand of fresh, tasty, healthy food in front of more potential customers in the Boulder area.  “Catering has spread through word-of-mouth and it’s great because it exposes our brand to new people and helps us utilize dead times at the restaurant,” says Anthony.

Catering can sometimes present a logistical challenge – especially when customers request Modmarket’s services with very little lead time.  On the other hand, margins are higher on the catering side and “getting our food into more hands,” as Anthony puts it, only helps find more Modmarket converts.

By far the most effective marketing campaign for Modmarket has sprung from local media.

Generating buzz around a story can be a delicate art, but when done properly can result in some great publicity for a restaurant.  The Modmarket guys landed in the local news after they placed a street sign in front of the restaurant that read “You Can’t Eat At Chipotle Every Day.”

On the surface it seemed like a fairly straightforward statement, but the Chipotle location a few hundred yards down the 29th Street Mall didn’t see the humor.  They asked Modmarket to take down the sign and soon enough the story was in the papers and a lot of new customers were coming through the door.

Of course, recruiting new customers doesn’t do a lot of good unless they become repeat customers.  A large part of the process of turning new customers into loyal ones depends on good food and great service, but there’s no reason why some smart marketing can’t help that process along a little.

Modmarket definitely recruits loyal customers through their receipt promos, but another method that has turned out to be very effective is email marketing.  There’s a computer terminal placed on a prominent wall in the restaurant that encourages customers to sign up for messages.  In a little over a year the list has grown to over 5,000 email addresses.

modmarket pizza“We make it so people want to open the emails we send them,” says Anthony.  “We don’t send them very often, and when we do, there’s always a great deal.”  In fact, Modmarket has seen as many as 1,000 redemptions on coupons they’ve sent via email.  Three elements of their email marketing strategy contribute to their success: 1) getting customer permission to send email, 2) carefully controlling how much email is sent, and 3) always including a compelling offer with every email.

Of course, no restaurant can call their marketing strategy effective without wading into the messy world of social media and the web.  Modmarket has rolled up two sleeves and plunged in on this front, with positive results.

For starters, the Modmarket website is clean, informational, and easy to navigate.  It’s also been optimized to show up in search engines like Google for specific keywords unique to people searching in Boulder for a great, healthy place to eat.

Anthony’s advice for other restaurateurs wanting to get more traffic to their website is to have Google help for free.  “The Google Local Business Page is the easiest way to increase visibility on the web,” he says.  “Even if you don’t have a website, at least create a Local Business Page for free.”

As far as social media goes, Modmarket is active on both Facebook and Twitter.  They test different marketing messages on the two social sites by using a unique coupon code specific to each message and then track code performance through their POS system.  The messages that work get used again, those that don’t are tossed.

These marketing messages are then mixed with a healthy dose of non-promotional messages that help create a conversation with customers.  For example, on Modmarket’s Twitter feed, a message promoting “Free Lunch Fridays” was followed by a link to pictures of the new location in Denver before opening day.  Posts like that give customers a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant and help engage loyal customers even when they aren’t there.

The conversation continues on Yelp.  Many restaurateurs have viewed the review site with a mixture of suspicion and fear, especially after revelations that Yelp was aggressively selling $300-a-month “sponsorships” that allowed users to decide which reviews ended up at the top of the list for a restaurant.

Modmarket views Yelp as an opportunity to engage customers, no matter what they have to say.  “The thing with Yelp is that you can respond to customers,” says Anthony.  “We’ve had a ton of reviews that started as 3s and are now 5s because we talked to that customer and addressed their issue.”

The secret is to respond to customers on Yelp as you would if they were standing in your restaurant.  Accept blame – even if you know their criticism isn’t true – and then win their trust by offering an incentive to try your restaurant again.  “We like to reward people for criticizing us,” says Anthony.

Modmarket also uses the criticisms they receive on Yelp to motivate their staff and hold them responsible for service.  Negative reviews are posted on a bulletin board in the back of the house so that employees get direct feedback on their performance.  This approach in turn helps Modmarket gain more positive reviews in the future.

Another aspect of web marketing for restaurants is using the website as a tool for collecting orders.  Some restaurants have struggled with online ordering systems in the past because the orders interfere with service in the dining area as staff try to fill online orders while dealing with a rush in the front of the house at the same time.

Modmarket dealt with online ordering by integrating it with their existing POS system.  That means the process of taking the order and getting it to the line in the back of the house is fully automated and frees up precious staff resources to handle in-store customers.  “I wouldn’t do online ordering without point-of-sale integration,” says Anthony.

modmarket frontThere’s not a single one of these Modmarket strategies that emerges a clear winner in the battle to gain more customers and keep the ones they have coming back again and again.  But taken together, the sum of these many parts adds up to a very effective campaign that has generated a lot of business and helped Modmarket expand very quickly.

None of these strategies require a huge budget, although they all do need some investment and especially some time to succeed.  And what works for Modmarket may not necessarily work the same way for another restaurant.  The key is to take a comprehensive strategy and test different parts until you find what works for your restaurant.

Continual improvement is the hallmark of any successful marketing campaign, and Modmarket founders Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are no exception to that rule.  Even as they see success with their current efforts, Modmarket’s approach is to look for ways to make their marketing and customer engagement initiatives ever more effective.

“Nothing has ever been good enough the first pass,” says Anthony.  “That’s why we track what happened and then try again.”

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Online Ordering: Is It Your Future Blessing or Curse?

You can do anything on the Internet these days, and increasingly people are relying on the web to do all kinds of things that make their daily lives more convenient.  On paper, the idea of introducing an online ordering service sounds exciting to restaurateurs.  After all, who can complain about making sales before your customer ever steps through the door?

At this point, it’s mostly national chains that have introduced online ordering, many with some considerable success.  But as the technology gets more advanced, like order integration with your in-house POS system and cheaper to implement, many smaller operators may seriously consider implementing an online ordering system.

And as this technology trend continues, many can probably learn from the school of hard knocks Chipotle Mexican Grill has been through with online ordering.  When Chipotle launched their online ordering feature a couple years ago, it was almost too successful.  Orders poured into some chain locations, and staff trying to fill online orders frequently got in the way of staff trying to take care of customers in the store.

How many times have you walked up to a restaurant, taken one look at the line, and walked right out again?  Traditionally, this is how food service has regulated its peak periods and prevented extremely long wait times.  When customers are ordering online, however, they have no idea how many people are already waiting in line.  That created all kinds of problems for Chipotle, because online orders kept pouring in even though the restaurant was already full.

A great problem to have, right?  Chipotle responded by adding a dedicated prep line for online orders in their busiest locations.  They also streamlined the order generation process and added staff for those peak times.

For smaller operators, there’s a couple lessons to think about.  Because sooner or later, you will probably have online ordering, especially as customers catch on and start expecting everyone to provide the same service as Chipotle and other big operators.  Besides, an online ordering system can really help boost sales and customer convenience, which makes the concept very appealing to any restaurateur.

Be prepared.  Internet sales aren’t going to come in during the afternoon lull.  They’re going to pour in when everyone else is hungry: right at lunch and during the dinner rush.  When you first start out, assign some extra staff.  You don’t know how online orders are going to shake out, and the last thing you want is to compromise service to your in-house customers because you can’t keep up with online orders.

Manage order flow.  As Chipotle learned, having two teams, one working on walk-in customers and the other devoted to Internet sales, is a great idea in theory, but when those two teams are competing for the same food prep resources, problems and inefficiencies arise.  Make sure you develop a way to either give both teams their own resources or a way to integrate orders from both sources that allows your staff to deal with them in a timely manner.

Be flexible.  Every restaurant is different, and each one trying an online ordering service is going to be presented with a unique set problems.  No matter how well you prepare, something is going to go wrong.  Be ready to make adjustments and continue to tweak your service until you get it right according to your circumstances.

For many restaurants, online ordering seems like a distant prospect.  But I’d be willing to bet it’s a trend that sneaks up on the food service industry faster than most realize, and when the day comes for your restaurant, no matter how large or small, to accommodate customers coming in from the Internet, be prepared.

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The Holidays Are Coming: Is Your Restaurant Going To Give Back?

Open Present BoxAs the holidays approach, giving back to the community is something that should be important to any business, and not just as a shameless marketing ploy.  Being authentic about your business’ involvement in charity is something that only time and commitment can communicate.  Having a genuine passion for charity work is a huge plus, and well-run businesses of any type aren’t shy about showing it.

But all too often it’s easy to get swept up in busy schedules and the hectic day-to-day effort that comes with running a restaurant.  It’s not that you don’t have the passion, it’s that you don’t know where to start.  Here’s two ideas for jump starting your involvement in the community during the best time of year: Christmas.

Hold a food drive. This is a great way to get butts in seats, engage your customers in the charity work you’re doing, and do something a little more meaningful than writing a check, all at the same time.  The concept is pretty simple: give a percentage point discount off the final bill for every pound of non-perishable food your customers bring in during a designated dinner rush.

This concept is great because it works on so many levels.  Customers are happy because they feel like they participated in the event, plus they get a discount.  You get to make a big show out of weighing the goods and talking about how much food you collected for needy families.  And underneath it all, feeding hungry people at Christmastime is truly a worthy cause.

Donate surplus food to the Food Donation Connection. Sponsored by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the Food Donation Connection takes surplus food from restaurants and gives it to local food banks in a timely way so that it feeds people before spoilage.  The NRA ‘s partnership with Food Donation Connection is a perfect opportunity for any restaurant to get involved with a great cause.

No matter how you decide to give back to your community, make it a priority this holiday season.  Yes, it’s an especially effective method for marketing your restaurant.  But on another level, a well-run charity program has reward all its own.

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Menu Pricing’s Theory Of Relativity

Menu Pricing's Theory of RelativityIn a previous oldie-but-goodie Back Burner post I talked about menu engineering – how to put together a menu that effectively markets your dishes and makes customers want to spend more and buy high margin menu items.  One thing that post did not touch upon, however, was how to price and organize those prices on the menu.

Research has shown that organizing prices the right way can affect what customers order and what they consider to be a good deal, and often will encourage them to spend more in your restaurant.  How?  Call it the Theory of Relativity.  When someone looks at a menu, they will inevitably comparing prices.  If you’ve read the post I mention above, you have already helped the customer make an emotional rather than monetary attachment to the item they want to order by de-emphasizing the price altogether – removing the dollar signs, placing it below the description rather than by itself out to the side, etc.

Even so, people are going to compare prices.  That’s where the Theory comes in.  More often than not, customers will choose a middle-of-the-road option.  The trick is to define “middle-of-the-road” for your customer.  That’s why a smart restaurateur will create one entrée that is ridiculously expensive – absolutely and shamelessly high end.  You may never sell a single one, but it doesn’t matter.  That unaffordable entrée will give your customers a compass by which they will judge the rest of the menu.

The research shows that customers will pay more on average if they have a higher priced item to compare against.  Their perception of value changes the higher the number they are comparing against is.  This phenomenon was illustrated very well in a recent study that took a completely irrelevant number – the last two digits of the respondent’s social security number – and then asked participants to bid on different items for sale.  Those with social security digits in the upper 20% bid 200% – 300% more for items than those with digits in the bottom 20%.  Why? Because people innately base their perceived value for a product on the next relative number, whether it’s the last two digits of your social security number or a $25 prime rib.

That means you can price your bread-and-butter, high margin, best selling dishes a little higher and still convince your customer they’re getting a great value.  And you never know, someone just might order that high end entrée once in awhile, which won’t be bad for your bottom line at all.

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Restaurant Management Tips: Be Like A Stock Broker

Diversify Your Restaurant's Revenue StreamRunning a successful, profitable restaurant is just like being a stock broker: you must diversify to minimize risk.  This lesson is even more relevant today considering the current economic climate.  So, you have a great concept, some popular menu items, and a decent dinner rush.  Good.  But your profit margins could be better, and your business more resilient, if you took the time to diversify.

Some ideas:

Add retail items.  Loyal customers love creative apparel referring to your restaurant.  Think of all the money the Hard Rock Café has made just from selling T-shirts and hats alone.  And they still have the gall to charge $16 for a burger!  Plus you’ll get some great free advertising for your business.

Make your food more accessible.  Customers love your menu, but they may not have the time or the inclination to sit in your dining room and eat.  Consider carry-out for popular items, large party catering services, and even food delivery to make sure your customer can have your food whenever they want.

Host special events.  Weddings, corporate functions, and large parties often require specialized menus and pricing, but making your restaurant available for larger functions is a great way to sell out the place on slow days and to take advantage of high seasons, like corporate Christmas parties.  Plus many of the guests at a large event have probably never been to your restaurant before, so impress them so much they come back for more.

Create profitable partnerships.  Chances are there are several other local businesses that would like to reach your customer base.  Come up with creative ways to give such partners advertising access to your customers…for a fee.  This could include advertising in menu inserts, banner ads on the emails you send out, or product giveaways at promotional events in your restaurant.  Of course, there is a fine line here between annoying and pleasing your customer, but use constant feedback and modify your strategies until you get the formula just right.  The result will be a great revenue stream that is almost all profit.

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Why Doesn’t Your Social Media Bring In Customers?

Restaurant Social Media MarketingMeet Bob. Bob might be considered equivalent to the strategic design behind, and the effective level of marketing across your social media profiles. Let’s take Bob off the internet and put him in your dining room to see how accurately he reflects your online presence and your overall performance.

You don’t view social media as an extension of your customer service; instead you look at it simply as medium for advertising.

* [Bob at the door. No greeting, smile, conversation or introduction.] “Our specials today are our leftovers from yesterday (actually Easter). Let’s just say we’re now called The World of Ham!”

You jumped into social media without any research (because everyone else was doing it.) You have no idea who your customers are, what social medium(s) they use, how to connect with them, or how to target new potential customers. Your strategy is to follow the lead of the big boys.

* [Bob at the table. He does not look up, only at the pad in front of him.] We now have $5 all you can eat subs; a $3.99 make your own burger bar; McWaffles for $.09; and a Homerun Hit menu for the kids for just $9.99.”

Your strategy is “Tweet and they will come.”

* [Bob with a bull horn on the side of the road… in a residential neighborhood… at 3 AM. The social media police show up, tell him he’s doing it wrong and begin beating him with their truncheons.]

You don’t advertise the fact that you even have social media outlets (in print, radio ads, on your website, or via connecting/integrating with business listing sites.)

* [See Bob inside the restaurant; in a body bag, duct-taped to the floor trying to relay what a “great” place you have.]

You don’t listen, even when fans ask you to post more info on your social media sites.

* [Bob at the table (nonstop, echoing in an empty room): “Our place is great!  Tomorrow we’ve got a balloon guy; Thursday its Tom’s Mystery Meat Roll Day (if you can guess it, it’s FREE); then it’s Fun for the Family Fridays where we throw your mom in the kitchen for that burnt food retro feel, etc.…”] (See customer…leaving.)

Your social media “guru” knows nothing about the restaurant biz in general and even less about your business specifically.

* [See Bob boasting in the service area. “Sure I know all about petro chemical engineering. I sold tires for 2 months at The Rubber House before I got kicked out of my dad’s Liberal Arts College.”]

You tried that social media thing for a month and it didn’t work, so you quit.

* [See Bob waving sadly to the hot new waitress Vanessa who quit because she didn’t make $300 on her first full day on the floor.]

You’re not involved locally, in anything. You literally have to earn every page view, tweet, fan and dollar the hard way.

* [See Bob pushing the local Girl Scouts out the door because he’s afraid they might steal the hearts (and tips) of the cheap bastards that still patronize this place.]

You’re not tracking keywords relative to your business, your hometown, your competition, or your industry.

* [See Bob back in his body bag.]

You think “social media” equals Facebook.

* [See Bob, on his mobile phone, surfing the internet, texting and looking for a new job. He would like to be a better Bob but you’ve tied his hands.]

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Better Sales Don’t Change Your Restaurant’s New Reality

New Restaurant RealityRestaurants take heart: change seems to be coming.  After two years of declining growth and slowing spending, it appears that consumers are finally going to spend more this holiday season, not less.

A flock of reports have been circulating in the retail and food service worlds pointing to positive growth on the horizon for both industries.  As the Thanksgiving holiday approached last week, many restaurateurs held their breath, waiting to see if the news was good or too good to be true.  Would shoppers be hungry on Black Friday?  Would they even bother to come out at all?

After hopeful reports by many in the food service industry that we had reached the bottom, and the only way out was up, the Friday after Thanksgiving seemed like the best time to find out if it was really true.  And initial reports have been very positive.  There were no major jumps in consumer spending over the Thanksgiving holiday, but spending was definitely up, which is better than the alternative.  Consumer watchers are fairly certain the trend will continue into the Christmas holiday, which is another shred of good news for restaurants.

Even as spending rises, however, value remains the watchword of the day.  That means consumer spending habits have fundamentally changed.  No one is interested in anything besides a deal, and if your restaurant wants to cash in on this little holiday surge, you can bet that the best way is through continuing the aggressive discounting that has become the norm across the food service industry.

There has been grumbling by many in the food service industry that price reductions dilute brand value, but the reality is a bankrupt brand is the one that has no value.  If you don’t find ways to provide value to your customer, you’re going to find yourself bankrupt.

Granted, aggressive pricing is only one way to provide value to your customer.  Superior quality food, sustainable operating practices, top notch service, and a unique concept are all ways to add value to your brand.  Effectively marketing the things your restaurant does well is another thing you must do well to survive in this new reality.

So take heart: the worst may very well be behind us.  But watch out: you better be ready to do what you do even better in the world of heightened customer expectations.

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Why Google Is The Future Of Restaurant Marketing

Google Restaurant Marketing“Favorite Places On Google” is a new feature that provides maps, directions, reviews, and photos of 100,000 businesses across the U.S.  Many of these businesses are restaurants, and that’s significant because eventually users will be able to post reviews and other information about your restaurant and have it display on Google.

You’re probably thinking: “Great, this sounds like Yelp, Zagat, or a hundred other websites that try to get me to pay to get listed online.”

Well, naturally Favorite Places is done the Google way.  There’s no paying to play, which makes it certainly cheaper than sites like Yelp.  And Favorite Places is on the cutting edge of technology – Google has already mailed out decals with a scannable barcode on it to the first group of businesses.  Mobile device users can immediately access deals and information about that business when they scan the barcode, and will even be able to post a review directly on site.

What makes the Favorite Places concept more democratic than other restaurant directory sites is that it pulls from multiple sources.  You can access reviews from Zagat, photos from UrbanSpoon, and search results from Google.  This dilutes the biases that tend to plague other restaurant review sites, because those sites pull from only one source – their own.

So how do you get your site listed on Google’s Favorite Places?
It won’t happen overnight.  Google identifies popular local businesses by analyzing who’s searching for what on their site.  The most popular searches in geographic areas get designated as Favorite Places.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.  You can help the process along by adding information about your restaurant in the Google Local Business Center.  After you “unlock” your business listing by providing key information, your restaurant’s ready for consideration for Favorite Places.

So how is this going to change restaurant marketing?  By democratizing the process that sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon have started.  Taking away payments and diversifying information sources means the most popular restaurants in a given area will be featured, and they will be able to take advantage of that through the decal system.

Favorite Places also gives restaurant owners a free place to create an online presence that can have a real effect on business.  And being able to engage customers through the decal barcode will definitely change the way restaurants target their customers.

Google plans to send out more waves of decals to Favorite Places in 2010.  If you’re one of the lucky restaurants that gets a decal, consider yourself lucky, and immediately start thinking about how to take advantage of it.  If not, start thinking about how to get that decal in the mail.  The future of restaurant marketing is upon us.

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Use Twitter To Market Your Restaurant: 4 Strategies For Success


So, have you jumped on the Twitter bandwagon yet?  Or are you sick and tired of hearing about tweets, tweeting, and all other variations of bird noises?  Are you wondering what the heck I’m talking about?

For those of you who answered “yes” to the last question, you’ve got some catching up to do.  Twitter is a “micro blog” tool that allows users to send short 140 character messages to a list of subscribers.  Although the stated goal of the site is to give friends a way to update each other on what they’re doing, Twitter has quickly become much more than that.

Celebrities are using Twitter to gain large followings of loyal fans.  There are massive lists of users who share information and news through links that spread quickly through the entire Twitter community.  And, of course, marketers are using Twitter to reach customers.

In the food service industry, the Kogi Taco Truck in Los Angeles pioneered Twitter marketing by using tweets to broadcast their stops around the city and build buzz.  The meteoric success of Kogi has everyone in the restaurant industry trying to figure out how to use Twitter to their own advantage.

And judging from recent news stories coming out of places like Kansas City and Boston, Twitter is turning out to be a very effective marketing tool for restaurants.  Chefs are using the site to engage customers by giving out recipes and asking for feedback on new dishes and ingredients.  Other restaurants are advertising meal specials and events to draw in loyal customers are specific days.  And one restaurant in Boston even started tweeting months before the doors opened for the first time.  Potential customers followed the new restaurant’s progression and the result was a packed opening night.

If you do decide to use Twitter, here are some best practices that will help you succeed and get the most out of your efforts:

Post regularly. Some Twitter users send out several tweets every day.  You probably don’t want to annoy your customers with a lot of updates, especially at first.  But you should definitely choose a schedule and stick with it.  That way your followers know when to expect an update and (hopefully) they look forward to your next one.

Be creative. 140 characters doesn’t give you a lot of space.  It also doesn’t give you a lot of time to catch someone’s attention.  Boring tweets will get deleted, guaranteed.  Straight-up sales pitches will also be ignored, trust me.  Instead, use colorful, creative language to engage your subscribers and draw them in.

Do more than just sell. Yes, the ultimate goal here is to get people through the door of your business.  But if all you do is sell, sell, sell, you’ll start seeing unsubscribe notices pouring in.  Throw your customers a few juicy bones before you set the hook.  Give out a few recipes.  Tell a story about the behind-the-scenes action.  Ask for opinions on a new dish.  Get them looking forward to your next tweet.  Then hit ‘em with a dinner special.

Customize offers. Want to know how much all your hard work is paying off?  Offer a special meal deal to your Twitter subscribers only.  Give out a special code that allows them to redeem the deal.  Every time a customer uses the code, you know they are there because of your Twitter efforts.  This strategy has the added benefit of making your twitter followers feel special because they are the only ones getting a special deal.

As I concluded in a post about the benefits of Facebook to restaurants a while back, Twitter can’t hurt your restaurant.  And chances are good new social media like Twitter and Facebook will help you connect with your customers and encourage them to come in and eat.  The best part is, using these services only requires your time.  You don’t have to develop some big marketing budget and fret over the return on investment.  Not counting your time, it’s free!


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