I sat in on two sessions: "Marketing 101 - Ideas for surviving the down times"; and "Gen Y dining - Meeting their demands". The panellists raised a number of interesting points which I've compiled into a summary list below.
10 tips on how to market your restaurant
- Create a customer database so you can market to your customers. It's much easier to market to people who already like you than try to convert new business. Obtain your customer's details by using a business card draw with an appealing prize. Use your database to remember their birthdays, anniversaries, favourite dishes, likes and dislikes. Capitalise on building a relationship with your customer throughout the evening - talk to them if it's appropriate and take note of what they're saying. Few industries allow real-time feedback on customer experiences or purchase of goods/service. The database doesn't have to be complex - an Excel spreadsheet will do. The most important thing is to start one now.
- Communicate regularly to your customers. Avoid the connotation of spam by considering frequency and always including relevant interesting information. Provide details of upcoming special events, new dishes on the menu, or behind-the-scenes snippets - make sure there's something in it for the customer. Develop a personality, preferably authoring it from the owner or the chef. If you are not a natural writer, you should enlist some help. Implement a regular newsletter schedule so customers come to expect and look forward your email, rather than resent a desperate flurry of spam that is spruiking a one-off event. Marketing research has found that the best time to email is 10.30am-11.00am on a Tuesday, just when people are having their first break for the day. Mondays are too hectic as people catch up on weekend emails.
- Target your marketing. Generic advertising is a shotgun approach that has a high risk and low conversion rate. At best it will increase enquiries for Friday and Saturday nights - times you don't need customers. Instead target your marketing so people will come when you want them - on a Monday or Tuesday. Attract them by waiving corkage, having theme nights, cellar nights or hosting cooking classes. One restaurant organisied a special networking lunch on Tuesdays for local doctors and chemists in the area - it was hugely popular and effectively created a new market audience.
- Identify your marketing radius. Almost every restaurant has an area which is the source of 90% of their customers. Find out who they are and how you can look after them. This area is not always geographical - it can be an online community or a group united by a special interest.
- Talk to your neighbours and find out who they are and what they're doing. Investigate the possibilities of cross-promotion or whether you can work together on an event.
- Can you explain your business offering in one sentence? If you can't succinctly articulate what your business does or offers uniquely, then maybe your customers don't know either.
- Deal with your complaints. A complaint is not just a negative criticism - it's an opportunity to not only win back a customer, but to significantly raise their perception of your business to another level. Listen to their feedback and address their concerns. Respond personally. Turn their experience into a positive and people will be impressed. Wow them with your earnestness and they are likely to tell their friends and colleagues about what a great restaurant you are.
- Restaurants live or die based on the quality of their front-of-house. Good service can save a bad meal, but even the most amazing meal can't save poor service. Your customers should feel special, attended to, and believing their experience was above-average. Make sure your internal operations are right before you even consider marketing your restaurant. Your customers will soon find you out and not return. You will only end up wasting your money.
- Eat out to see what others are doing. Are you aware of what trends or changes are happening in dining? Could you improve your own booking processes by observing how others do it? Don't get stuck in a time warp - are you meeting the demands of today's customers?
- Remember young customers are your future business. Understand they are looking online (often on the street with their iPhone), they are less patient and they want real value for money. Attract them with value offerings like tasting menus or all-you-can-eat pizza on Mondays. Develop products that are more affordable or different - you don't have to discount. Create an experience opportunity they will enjoy. Tap into things they want or appreciate, like wireless access, Fair Trade coffee or cocktails - cocktails that always sell are the ones with quirky or exotic names and ingredients. Be inviting and polite. Treat them with the same amount of attention you would give an older diner. Don't ignore them or offer poor service. Understand that Gen Y are your future customers and they have the potential to be your best vocal advocates. If they are happy, they will naturally spruik you online and on social marketing channels. Tap into the online community, network actively and genuinely, use Facebook, get onto Twitter, start a blog and make sure you're listed on relevant iPhone applications like Urbanspoon. Be an early adopter of these online technologies whilst the market is still relatively uncrowded.
Panel members included David Wasserman, Stevan Premutico, Frank Wilden, Tony Eldred, Gawen Rudder and Astrid Rudder.
Restaurants and bloggers
Ahh that old chestnut. Discussion host Simon Thomsen raised the issue of food bloggers and asked the panel how they think restaurants view the rise of food blogs. "Some restaurants are angry" said one PR specialist. A few are upset about the poor quality of some photos which they think reflects badly on the restaurant. He said he knows of establishments overseas who have explicitly banned photography inside their restaurants for this reason. At the same time, he acknowledged there were lots of great photographs with food blogs, and that some bloggers work as professional photographers.
[I am always bemused to think that poor photo quality is seen as so threatening by restaurants. Does the restaurant's website have photos of their food? If yes, then there's no problem. Customers will always look at a restaurant's website as a first port-of-call (presuming they can find it on Google!). If the restaurant does not have a few photos of their plating style, then they probably should. Potential diners often want visual proof of how the menu translates onto a plate. Food photographs are usually the very reason people visit food blogs.]
One thread of conversation centred around bloggers not being professionals - they are not bound by rules or regulations. They are members of the public who publish to their own agenda. Some may be overly critical primarily to be notorious and attract traffic, but Simon pointed out that being controversial for the sake of being controversial is not unheard of in print media either.
A parallel was drawn between this new era of public discussion on restaurants--via Eatability and food blogs--and the introduction of TripAdvisor six years ago. When TripAdvisor first started, hotels were hostile to the notion of being reviewed by the public (an unqualified amateur public!) on an open forum. Today it is a way of life. It was put forward that retaurants, too, will have no choice.
[The irony that this topic was brought up during the Gen Y discusion was not lost on me. Whilst restauranteurs were encouraged to get online and interact with young people via social media, involving or at least accepting food blogs seemed to be a logical strategy. Not only are many food blogs being read by Gen Y, they are often written by Gen Y too. One person asked how to get Gen Y more excited about food, and to try new things beyond the usual fast food offerings. Food blog, anyone? The writers, their readers and entire networks of friends and online communities get more involved and engaged with food, spreading their infectious enthusiasm to others in a natural flow-on effect.]
There is a public perception that bloggers are independent reviewers and that they provide a scope of how common people are treated. Apparently studies have shown that if a member of the public is presented with an advertisement and a food blog review, nine out of ten people will favour the believability of the blog and not the ad.
It was pointed out that most members of the public understand how to use their own judgement when reading information on food blogs. They can usually get a sense about the background of the person behind the food blog. Most food blog reviews are not read as stand-alone pieces, but small parts of a bigger picture that creates an idea of the overall restaurant experience.
Stevan Premutico said, "Smart restaurants will work toward embracing them. Food blogs are a powerful tool."
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Food blogs finally in fashion
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8/14/2009 02:22:00 a.m.