Just dropping menus into letterboxes can drum up some new business, but there is a slew of restaurants that could be embracing newer, better ways of getting their names out there, writes Danielle Veldre.
US department store magnate John Wanamaker famously said, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half”. For restaurateurs, you could say most of it is wasted if standard scattergun approaches to marketing are taken.
Certainly, dropping leaflets and menus to your local community has some benefit, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
Most restaurants don’t have the budgets for big brand campaigns, but that doesn’t mean you have to compromise on effectiveness. It just requires a little more creative thinking and perhaps using some techniques that may not traditionally be used in hospitality marketing.
Of course, to begin with, you need to have the product right. Good food and good service—the elements small business marketing expert Carolyn Stafford calls the “hygiene factors”, which will be necessary to get people to come in at all.
When you think about how you found the restaurants you love, it’s most likely you either stumbled upon them or had them recommended. Word-of-mouth is the key to restaurant marketing. It’s also free; but the trick is knowing how to generate it. According to Stafford, the experience is the fundamental piece of the puzzle.
Are you experienced?
“I really believe the heart of marketing for restaurateurs lies in the experience people have, from the minute they walk through the door until the minute they leave,” Stafford says.
“If you don’t give really good service and good food and good coffee—those fundamentals—then people won’t come back. But the restaurants and cafes that do well take their marketing to the next level because they provide a holistic experience.”
In the world of marketing, ‘experiential marketing’ has been one of the buzzwords of the past few years. An experience that people feel special to have had creates word-of-mouth referrals that money just can’t buy. And restaurants, which engage all the senses, are uniquely positioned to capitalise on that.
It might be a flamenco dancer at a Spanish restaurant or a lion for a Chinese New Year celebration. It should be relevant to your target market, though, otherwise you’re wasting your time, warns Stafford.
“It’s important as a restaurant that you are very clear about who your target market is. If you want families and young children and you’re a pizza restaurant, providing paper and crayons and entertainment for the children, providing that family-oriented experience, is going to be important.”
At the core of the experience is also ensuring all the ‘branding’ elements are right. Is the look of your menus consistent with your decor? These are things that don’t cost a lot of money, but require a level of attention to detail that won’t be lost on your customers, whether they’re conscious of it or not.
Engaging all senses is also where a restaurant can elevate the experience.
“The more senses we can get people to use in their experience, the more memorable their experience becomes,” Stafford says. “Is the music appropriate? Lighting is also important. If you’re wanting a romantic couples restaurant, the lighting and the candles and those sorts of things are really important.”
It’s business time
If you want some more practical ideas for extending your marketing, you could do worse than looking in your own backyard.
Client services director of small business marketing firm Eyes Wide Open, Sam Galea, says restaurateurs often take the local business community a little for granted in their approach to marketing.
“You have to recognise that a lot of restaurants don’t sit out there on their own in a suburb, they’re usually situated within CBDs or suburban business districts,” he says.
“I don’t think restaurants maximise the potential clientele in the business or corporate market.”
Stafford agrees that engaging with the local business community is an effective marketing strategy.
“With restaurants, the power of alliances is very good. Actually being part of the small business community and getting to know other restaurateurs and having a collaborative, non-competitive approach is very important,” she says.
“If you’re a restaurant and you’re part of the Chamber of Commerce, why not host the Chamber of Commerce meeting? Bring key influencers into your restaurant and give them a taste of what you offer, and they’ll come back. It’s all about getting people to come in and have an experience so that the experience then perpetuates itself.”
Galea exhorts restaurateurs not to view the business community as a one-dimensional kind of customer.
“A lot of restaurants think of the business community as a lunch-time clientele, but they forget that businessperson is going to go home and talk about the food and service to their partner, other members of the family, and come back to that restaurant in the evening for that special family event,” he says.
And if you do want to go down the traditional path of direct mail, these are the customers you should be targeting, Galea says.
“Restaurants have to start thinking of the corporate customer as someone who will use a restaurant in the evening as well as the day. That’s why it’s important to get them at work. It’s easier, you can target more clearly when you’re aiming at your clientele in the workplace.”
Galea says a strategy that Eyes Wide Open has employed with some of its clients is to use a targeted direct mail piece followed up with some telemarketing—a technique that he says can improve response rates.
“Telemarketing is almost a non-event in the domestic market, because a lot of people have barred telemarketers from their phones, but you’re able to reach business people quite well.
“If you take the approach of buying a current contact list that is applicable to the surrounds where you have your restaurant, and you buy a fairly targeted list where you have specific names and job roles, you can design a direct mail piece with a compelling offer that people will react to very readily.”
He acknowledges that telemarketing can add to campaign costs but says the return on investment is high.
“The telemarketing aspect can increase the cost of this sort of thing; but, when you look at the cost of buying a customer, follow that up with the sort of service restaurants should be thinking about these days—then you may have that customer for life, or at least for a lengthy period of time,” Galea says.
Building a strong relationship
Since customers happily disclose their mobile numbers to a restaurant when making a reservation, Stafford says there is untapped potential in restaurants being more savvy with data collection.
“I think a lot of restaurateurs don’t know how to create a relationship unless they have regulars that come in day in, day out.
“Restaurants actually don’t do a very good job at all of keeping customer information. They’ll have a reservation book and they’ll just write the name of the person and their mobile number; but they should be able to automate their systems, so that they’re putting all of this straight into a database.”
She says then the restaurant can ask permission to communicate with the customer about any special events or offers. This builds loyalty, trust and a relationship where there may have been none.
You can also do this with a good website, but Galea cautions against simply putting a static brochure online and missing out on the potential of having a good website that you can use to communicate with customers.
Just because the menu through the letterbox is the currency of much restaurant marketing, it doesn’t mean you can’t try methods not normally applied to hospitality. Developing relationships with your customers in a more formal way is really just an extension of a business that is, when all is said and done, about people.