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How To Turn Coupons Into Restaurant Marketing Opportunities

Restaurant DiscountsDespite the fact that a majority of restaurateurs view discount sites like Groupon as the biggest threat to their business, and despite a lot of talk in the restaurant industry about how discounts devalue a restaurant’s brand, new market research reveals that coupons and deep discounts are probably here to stay.

The recession may be fading, but the price-based behavior consumers have become accustomed to over the past two years isn’t going anywhere.  This was the most interesting point made in a survey conducted by Radius Global Market Research last month.

According to Radius 86% of diners said they look for ways to cut costs every time they eat out.

The study went on to point out some areas consumers indicated would motivate them to dine out besides price, including:

  • More calorie and nutrition information
  • Social media promotions
  • More chicken, breakfast, and snack options
  • More premium burgers

Consumers also indicated that most of these factors are more effective for the quick service and fast casual dining segments, which leaves fine dining and independent restaurants with precious few ways to motivate increased visits from their regulars.  Besides, that is, coupons.

That’s depressing news for restaurateurs who had hoped to start moving away from discounting and towards a value-based approach – good food, great service, nice atmosphere.  All of those factors are still what make a successful restaurant, but if patrons aren’t coming in the door then there isn’t much chance to show off the things your restaurant does best.

If the hated coupon is indeed here to stay then there is only one way for independents to compete: jump on the coupon bandwagon.  That means if you’re taking a bath on a lot of discounts then you might as well find some creative ways to get as much as you can out of your penny-pinching customers.

Some ideas:

Get an email address. Don’t give coupons away for nothing!  While you would much rather get full price on check amounts, a discount doesn’t have to be a complete loss.  That email address can be worth a lot of extra visits to you if you plug it into an effective email marketing program.

Limit the coupon then work the upsell. Groupons aren’t going to allow you to give discounts on specific menu items or times of the week, and that’s why you should develop your own coupon program and cut out those margin-eating middlemen.

Send out your own coupons to regulars that gives a discount on your high-margin menu items then set your servers to work upselling on everything from appetizers and cocktails to desserts.  Alternatively, offer a blanket coupon, but only for the slowest night of the week.
Restaurant Marketing
Advertise to customers while you’re paying dearly for their presence. Those deep discounts hurt your margins but they do at least give you an opportunity to advertise yourself to a captive audience.  Menus, waiting areas, bathrooms, receipts, servers, and tabletops are all great areas to subtly but forcefully advertise how great your restaurant is and inform guests about upcoming events and deals.

Just because check averages dip every time you discount doesn’t mean you can’t get something of value out of all those deal-hunters.  Being creative with the ways you get compensated for providing a coupon can help you drive more visits in the future and help ease the pain of taking money off the bill.

About Greg McGuire

Greg has blogged about the food service industry for years and has been published in industry magazines, like Independent Restaurateur and industry blogs like Restaurant SmartBrief. He lives in Colorado with his wife and two sons and enjoys reading, live music, and the great outdoors.

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