Offering special menus to coincide with current events is a commonly employed marketing tactic. But are they worth the effort as part of a long term marketing plan or are they just a PR stunt? Rachel Davis reports
There are many opportunities during the calendar year to run ‘special’ themed events; Mothers Day, Melbourne Cup and Valentine’s Day among them. These event days offer the customer a reason to dine out and should help fill your restaurant for the day, but if the planning is done properly, they can also be used to promote your presence and build up your customer base.
“We have been running themed days for a number of years,” says Diane O’Reilly, marketing consultant for Brisbane’s Bretts Wharf restaurant. “And our experience is that they work really well. There are a number of factors, but essentially making them a success is about knowing who your customers are and understanding what the customer is looking for. At Bretts Wharf our ‘special days’ are Melbourne Cup lunch, Christmas lunch, Valentines dinner and Mothers Day lunch. What we offer on each day is different, keeping who our customer is firmly at the forefront of the planning process. Financially, each ‘special’ day is a great success. We get more bookings than we have seats, so from that perspective alone, they make good marketing sense.
“We find offering a finite dollar experience is very popular, especially with a family day such as Christmas or Mothers Day. With the current economic climate it is even more useful to be able to tell a customer upfront what they will be paying. These days aren’t integral to our marketing strategy but they are certainly worth doing on an ongoing basis.”
Bretts Wharf restaurant offers its customers something that ties into the day being celebrated and the days are planned months in advance. “Each event day is treated in isolation and the diners are offered a very different experience at each one. Mothers Day is a family affair so our menu is tailored around that, but we also give the mothers a treat when they get here, something that isn’t necessarily advertised before the day, so that we get that element of surprise and they feel special. Melbourne Cup is a day of fun and we offer our diners a real party atmosphere, so that they feel part of the event itself.”
Crunching the numbers
Adam Gerondis and his Bondi eatery, Sobo, have used the current event at the forefront of everyone’s minds to market their restaurant, the global financial crisis. Gerondis and his team have made international headlines with their ‘credit crunch’ menu offering diners the chance to pay what they felt their meal was worth.
“Initially, we were overwhelmed with the response and the restaurant was fully-booked every night for the first month,” says Gerondis. “People were constantly inquiring and still are, so we decided to extend the promotion for another month. In terms of profitability, most diners have paid the same amount as they would have, but some have paid a lot more and, yes, there have been a few who took the opportunity to only pay a couple of dollars for their meal. The press coverage we have had has been really overwhelming, and from that perspective alone it has been a phenomenal success.
“We also do a lunch special that is proving very popular, with a fixed price including two courses, a glass of wine and coffee or dessert for $25. We don’t have much competition this close to Bondi Beach for that price. The key is to constantly try to offer something new and different and themed, and special days are a really good way to do it. We are now offering a good-value kids meal, to try to entice those slightly more reluctant families to eat out. We’ll do Melbourne Cup this year as well. Not doing these days is just bad marketing sense because everyone else is doing them. After nearly 30 years, you’d think there would be nothing more to learn, but there is always something.”
Incorporating event days and special menus into a long-term marketing strategy is solid business practice, as long as they are well-planned and can stand out from the crowd, says Wayne Roby from Cuisine Scene Hospitality Solutions.
“Special event menus, such as Melbourne Cup or Valentine’s Day, are a really useful PR and marketing tactic,” says Roby. “Where people go wrong is that they don’t allocate enough time to properly plan and advertise what they are doing. If you choose to hold a special event day and create a special menu, it’s a really good way to maintain and even extend your profile. But if you think just putting up a big screen to watch the game will do it, you may go to a lot of effort for little benefit.
“With a sporting event, there are lots of angles you can use to create a really exciting day for your customers. Leaving enough time to plan and research what you can do is the key to success; perhaps your staff can wear a special sporting uniform or you can get a personality to host and MC the event to make it more exciting. Before I became a hospitality consultant, I ran restaurants and I would always begin my year’s marketing plan with a calendar. In it, I would list every special day that could be celebrated—everything from Mothers Day to Secretary’s Day and local food and wine fairs—and I would plan my marketing to incorporate every day that was appropriate to our clientele. It’s also a good idea to research the ethnicity of your local area and offer special menus on days of significance in their calendar.”
Understanding who your customers are is integral to a successful marketing plan and managing your special event days with this in mind can raise your profile. “There are a lot of new technologies that can be employed to help market your event days and help you get some good tailored feedback to get future days working even better for you,” says Roby. “If you advertise well in advance, using flyers and your existing customer database, you can really get value for your efforts. Times are tough and any extra effort you put in will be worth it.”
But don’t let an event day pass without collecting some feedback and, more importantly, some contact information. Use available technology to make it easy. Using the end of meal as a way of securing feedback and contact information that can help build your customer database can give your marketing strategy a boost, says Roby.