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How To Rock Your Restaurant Marketing Efforts

Restaurant Marketing Live MusicA common misconception in the food service business is that booking live music takes more time and effort than it’s worth.  The process of finding bands, paying them, and providing enough space for them to perform can be a distraction at best and a downright money loser at worst, or so the theory goes.

Yet many establishments have proven time and again over the years that bringing in local bands is a great way to connect with local customers, and if done right, live music can become a lucrative marketing technique for any restaurant.

Denver based Smashburger, an emerging fast casual chain, has shown just how effective tapping into the local music scene can be for a new restaurant.  The company’s Rock Your City program encourages local bands to submit their videos via YouTube prior to the grand opening of a new location.  Smashburger then selects the best applicants and posts their videos to the company website so that fans can vote on the best one.  The winners get to play at the new location on opening day in exchange for free burgers, plus a local radio broadcast.

Free burgers may not draw the next U2, but Rock Your City events definitely do draw crowds of young people coming out to see their favorite bands.  And because Smashburger engages this audience beforehand by encouraging votes for the winning gig, they ensure a dedicated and reliable local audience on opening day.

Boosting engagement among younger customers is a goal any restaurant would like to accomplish.  If you’ve got the space and an inclination for live music, keep these tips in mind before you rock out your own establishment:

Take advantage of the band’s existing marketing efforts.
A good band plays good music, obviously.  But in an age of social media and the internet, any band even remotely serious about their prospects will have at least a preliminary marketing effort online.  And since both you and the band want people to show up for their gig in your restaurant, this is a great opportunity for you to advertise to the band’s fans through their existing marketing infrastructure.

Have the band post a link to your website on their site, their Facebook, and their Twitter account, and get them to email their fan list about the gig with some more information about your business.

Let your customers tell you who they want to hear. Smashburger’s strategy of taking submissions then allowing fans to vote for the winning gig is the perfect way to get the most mileage out of a live music gig before the band ever steps foot on the stage.  Besides, you don’t want to trust your personal music tastes, which may or may not jibe with those of your customers.

Incorporate live music into your own marketing efforts. Include links to YouTube clips of the bands that are going to perform in your establishment on your website.  Post live music schedules throughout your restaurant and email your customers when their favorite bands have a gig.  If you’ve got a newer band playing, promote drink specials to get people in the door, where (hopefully) they’ll turn into new fans.

Live music is a great way to connect with your customers and turn them into regulars.  It doesn’t take nearly as much work as you might think, and the payoff in new business can make it more than a worthwhile endeavor.

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Need To Reach Your Customers? How About Communal Delivery?

Food Dudes DeliveryIf you’re a regular reader of The Back Burner, then you know how I feel about diversifying your revenue stream so that when diner’s spending habits change, you have multiple sources of income for your business.  As dining room visits declined last year, more and more restaurants started looking for different ways to reach their customers even though they weren’t coming into the restaurant anymore.

Restaurants in St. Cloud, Minnesota learned just how effective a proactive approach to serving food can be last year.  A local entrepreneur started a company called Food Dudes, whose mission is to deliver food from any local restaurant willing to participate.

Delivery times average about 45 minutes, and drivers use insulated carriers to ensure freshness.  Customers can place their orders via phone or internet, and so far, more than a dozen restaurants have signed on.  The results have been overwhelmingly positive.  Food Dudes takes a percentage of every sale they generate, plus a $2.99 delivery fee.  But the found business for local restaurants more than compensates for the cut Food Dudes takes.

Not many restaurants are lucky enough to have an enterprising local like the founder of Food Dudes to start delivering their food for them.  And few restaurants can justify the expense and time that would be involved in creating their own delivery service.

But what if your local restaurant association created a communal delivery service that benefited everyone?  The business model can obviously work, as Food Dudes has proven, and with a little organization, any group of restaurants can pool their resources and add a service your customers are certainly looking for: convenience in their own homes.

Some suggestions for starting a communal delivery program for a group of restaurants in your area:

Hire an independent manager. Wherever money is involved the potential for conflict is high, especially among businesses who normally compete against each other.  That’s why you need someone to run the show who isn’t actively involved with any of the restaurants in the group.  That way you have a dispassionate third party who can resolve any issues and be trusted by everyone to handle the money side of the operation fairly.

Pool resources. Restaurants that are serious about getting involved in a communal delivery service should have to buy in to help cover operating and marketing expenses.  Whatever you decide that dollar amount should be, make sure the budget is gets general approval and is handled by your independent manager.

Hire independent contractors as drivers. In the end, you don’t want to have to manage a whole separate operation just to deliver your food to customers.  A single manager should be enough to handle the money and the marketing.  After that, any help you need, like delivery drivers, should be independent contractors.  That makes handling payroll extremely easy.

It may take some initial investment of time and money to get a group of restaurants in your community on board with a communal delivery program, but in the end, it’s a program that can be extremely beneficial for everyone involved.  It can also direct a lot more of the revenue you generate back to your restaurant over a concept like Food Dudes.  That’s because your communal delivery service isn’t looking to turn a profit like a business, which is ultimately what Food Dudes is looking to do.

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This Isn’t Your Mother’s Happy Hour

The happy hour has long been the domain of college bars, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and after-work watering holes.  These establishments always understood a cardinal rule in driving business: a busy place is a place people want to be, and the easiest way to fill up a bar or dining room early is with a happy hour special.

Of course, many restaurants focused on good food, excellent service, and solid advertising to drive business, and for a long time it was easy to fill dining room and pack bars without having to discount during happy hour.

That model is working less and less as customers in all segments of the food service industry continue to insist on deals and discounts to get them to buy.  As a result, fine dining has started getting into the happy hour game in order to get butts in seats and keep them there.

This also isn’t the happy hour you might remember from five years ago.  It isn’t just a couple domestic beers on tap for $2 anymore.  Many restaurants are taking their happy hour all out, with special tapas style menus at bargain-basement prices and premium cocktails for $5.  Happy hour has also gotten much longer, from 2-3 hours to 4-5 hours of deals.

The effect in restaurants and bars that have gotten aggressive with their happy hours is noticeable.  Customer traffic tends to peak in the last hour, and that makes the place look active and exciting to potential walk-ins.  It beats the heck out of a couple quiet diners whispering over cocktails at two tables in the corner.

If you’re considering adding a happy hour or spicing up the one you’ve got, keep a few key factors in mind:

Happy hours should make the customer happy.  These days, your customers aren’t looking for a dollar off a Budweiser.  They want more, and they’re getting it as restaurateurs continue to fight for business.  Make your happy hour a smokin’ deal if you really want to ratchet up the buzz and the traffic.

Create a special menu.  There’s no need to lose your butt on your dinner apps just to stay competitive.  Take your highest margin apps and entrees and turn them into smart, fun, finger-style dishes that can be prepared fast and efficiently, preferably with a margin you can’t lose on.

Spend some money advertising.  If you’re changing up the menu and slashing drink prices, you need volume.  You’re not going to get volume if you don’t get the word out.  Start with your regular customers and then hit the rest of the market with whatever you’ve got (and whatever you can afford): email marketing, local ads, flyers, etc.

Once you’ve got ‘em in the door, keep ‘em!  Customers are there because you’ve gotten their attention with some good deals.  There’s never been a better opportunity to get them to stay.  Use happy hour menus to advertise dinner specials and train your staff to drop some great deals on happy hour patrons before they leave.  At the very least, they may come back for dinner another time after learning that your deals don’t end at 7 pm.

From the looks of it, happy hour specials are here to stay, and if you’re not in the game, your competition is or will be soon.  Many restaurateurs accept this as a fact of life and have already gone after happy hour crowds.  Fine dining, on the other hand, has held on to their prices and focused on the value of their service and product for as long as possible, but now event these places are slipping into the discount game.

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Dipper Wells: Why You Should Turn Yours Off TODAY

Dipper WellThe dipper well is a small countertop sink that uses a constant flow of water to clean utensils like ice cream scoops and barista thermometers.  The sink fills up to a certain level and then drains away, so a dipper well acts like a constantly filling pool.  The in and out flow of water makes it convenient to clean utensils because any residue drains out automatically as the pool continues to fill.

The problem is that many coffee shops and ice cream parlors leave their dipper wells on regardless of how much business they’re doing.  That means water is constantly flowing, and it adds up very quickly.  As restaurants explore sustainable and environmentally friendly practices, partly out of personal conviction, partly out of the need to cut costs, and mainly because customers are demanding it, things like the dipper well have become more and more obsolete.

The sad fact is that we can hardly afford the convenient luxury of a dipper well any more.  A UNLV professor in Las Vegas conducted a study of water use as a direct result of dipper wells, and the results were pretty shocking, especially for a city located in the middle of a desert that is susceptible to drought: 2,453 dipper wells in 1,134 food service locations used 106.4 million gallons of water in a single year.  The professor says the numbers are pretty conservative and the real totals are probably much higher.Dipper Wells Waste Water

Starbucks has taken a lot of flack for their use of dipper wells as well, particularly in England, where a news article was recently published with similarly shocking numbers: 5.85 million gallons of water are used in the 10,000 global Starbucks locations every day.  Starbucks has pledged to remove dipper wells from their U.S. locations by the end of this year, and international shops will follow suit soon after.

Dipper wells became so ubiquitous because of food safety concerns.  A constant flow of water helps prevent bacterial buildup, and they are so easy to clean and use that even the greenest employee can be put to work while minimizing contamination problems.  Plenty of other methods address the food safety issue and are almost as easy to implement, however.

Besides the ethical issue of wasting a precious resource like potable water, dipper wells are also a drag on any business’ bottom line.  It’s a deceivingly large monthly expense that’s easy to miss since your water bill also includes dishwashing, food prep, beverages, ice, etc.  Depending on how many dipper wells you use, turning them off could add up to several hundred dollars a year once you account for water and wastewater charges.

An Efficient Undercounter DishwasherWhat are some alternatives to dipper wells?  Starbucks has started using a one scoop, one pitcher policy in some stores, meaning the scoop and pitcher are used once before being washed.  A commercial undercounter dishwasher could easily replace a dipper well and significantly reduce water usage since many models use less than a gallon per rack.

Many other options exist; just make sure you consult with your local Board of Health to ensure you are minimizing contamination risks before shutting down your dipper well for good.  Replacing the dipper wells in your establishment will save you money, save you face, and earn you some green restaurant credibility with your customers.  And you just might be helping the environment along the way, a very marketable side effect to a smart business decision.

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Gordon Ramsay: The Restaurant Black Widow

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’sshow Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA has been a huge hit, garnering thousands of American viewers and elevating the chef’s celebrity even further.

Unfortunately, the restaurants he’s supposed to be helping are dropping like flies in the wake of his black widow touch.  The show’s premise is to bring Ramsay’s expertise and creativity into a struggling restaurant and turn the place around.

But it was revealed recently that over half the restaurants that have appeared on the show have since gone out of business.

Some owners and managers complain that Ramsay’s management style, which includes making everything fresh every day and using high-end product and ingredients, created a standard too expensive to maintain in a down economy coupled with rising food costs.

Other victims of the show are less diplomatic, calling Ramsay a jerk who thinks he can impose his lofty standards on any restaurant.  Some are even suspicious it doesn’t really matter to him whether a restaurant on the show makes it or not, as long as ratings remain high, which they have through multiple seasons in the U.S. and the U.K.

Perhaps the most important lesson to take away from the Ramsay “kiss of death” is that every restaurant is different, and managers and owners have to account for the many divergent factors that make up the success of any establishment.

Of course, the ideal situation is to be able to attain Ramsay-style high standards and still make a profit, but any restaurateur will tell you that the situation on the ground is hardly ever ideal.  Instead, being highly adaptive, creative, and flexible are the traits that will eventually spell success in the food service industry.

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