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Why Secrets Make For Good Restaurant Marketing

Houlihan'sKansas City based casual dining concept Houlihan’s has been around for almost 40 years.  In that time they’ve seen the rise of the casual trend and a lot of ups and downs.  In the early 2000’s Houlihan’s was seeing more down than up, and a new management team was brought in to shake things up.

After a comprehensive self-reinvention, Houlihan’s has enjoyed better times, even during the economic turmoil of the last couple years.  A revamped menu, design, and new approach certainly helped revitalize the restaurant.

Whenever a concept reinvents itself, new ideas emerge.  For Houlihan’s one marketing idea in particular has proven to be extremely effective.  They call it the Secret Envelope promo, and its beauty lies in its simplicity.

It all started as an attempt to perk up January sales.  If you’re in the restaurant business, you know how quiet January is.  To combat that trend Houlihan’s decided to play Secret Santa during the holiday season by giving customers a “secret envelope.”

In every envelope was a prize – and some envelopes had sweepstakes-worthy prizes, like a Caribbean vacation.  Others contained Houlihan’s gift cards for different amounts.  The catch was that to redeem the prize, the customer had to return for a meal in January.

The response caught everyone at Houlihan’s by surprise.  The secret envelope promo added an element of adventure for the customer that really drove excitement.  Sales soared, a lot of buzz was generated, and soon Houlihan’s decided to make the secret envelope promo a regular twice-a-year event.

There are some complications for independent restaurants.  Every state has rules for sweepstakes promotions, and it’s probably not very cost effective to give away a Caribbean vacation.  Additionally it can get complicated deciding how to value different prize levels and how to distribute them evenly.

That doesn’t mean your restaurant can’t implement a secret envelope type campaign, especially if you make it a raffle.  Instead of a sweepstakes, hand out raffle numbers to customers and then collect their numbers when they come back a second time.  Drop those numbers into a hat and hold a drawing on a set day.  There’s a good chance you’ll collect a lot of numbers the day you hold drawing.

No matter how you decide to implement a secret envelope campaign, make sure it gets picked up on the internet and the local media.  The best part about a campaign that has an air of mystery to it is its potential to go viral.  Make sure you take advantage of this tendency to the fullest.

Also make sure you have some prizes with real value to them.  Naturally you can’t afford to give away a Caribbean vacation, but you should focus on variety and include some big prizes with a lot of value.  Nobody will care if all you give away are $10 gift cards to eat at your restaurant.

Houlihan’s saw a huge increase in sales and repeat customers as a result of their secret envelope promotion, and in the age of Groupon mass discount coupons, a promotion that ensures a double visit seems more and more appealing.  Spend the money and get some great prizes, and take the time to get the word out.  If you play your cards right, your secret envelope promotion will bring much more business than a traditional marketing campaign.

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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  1. This is a great promotion and taking action and organizing events like this for your restaurant is excellent. So many folks will not simply take action and implement a program of any kind.

  2. Ϝalose mɑrketing stands high on this list.

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