1. Build Marketing and Promotion Plans (and Follow Through!)
Creating restaurant marketing and promotion plans ASAP not only solidifies your efforts to track return on investment (ROI), but helps keep all your staff and tasks organized. Review previous years’ notes, form revised plans, and start executing.
“The marketing plan is a guide; it’s not a bible that you stick by…because you have to have the ability to change because you never know what’s going to happen,” explains Andrew Freeman, founder of af&co., “Have your goals then establish a simple, one-year marketing and PR plan. The more elaborate it gets, the higher the likelihood you’re not going to do it or you’re not going to read it.”
Freeman recommends solidifying three main goals and tactics for those goals. Then developing breakdown 90-day, one-page template plans with who’s leading the plan, goals, tactics, who’s completing specific tasks, and when those tasks are due. At the end of the 90 days, review your profit and loss statements (P&L) to see what’s working and what’s not.
2. Focus on Concept-Specific Promotions
Kelly Stoker, account director at Prim Communications, says because quick service can be competitive, they should be promotion heavy. “With quick service, they have to watch their competitors so much more and see what’s happening, and take copious notes,” she says.
Because she had notes about a client’s Father’s Day special, Stoker easily saw what went well, what didn’t, and if they were busy or not. She can also measure her client’s slow period against a busy competitor to pull key marketing and promotion ideas to help drive more business.
Full-service restaurant promotions should be spread out and highlight items within the core of their brand, she says. If your menu is seasonal, that creates repeat visits for more automated restaurant promotions. Plus, if you know the seasonality of your sales cycle, you can run promotions during your slow cycles to increase customer count.
3. Respond to All Reviews
It may feel crushing to respond to negative reviews, but experts agree that if you don’t, customers start to wonder if your restaurant cares about them and their pain points. And no matter what your restaurant marketing plan, no promotion or deal will entice customers to dine with a restaurant that’s indifferent about their needs.
“People get a lot of courage when they’re online. They have this anonymous feeling like, ‘Oh I can say whatever I want because you’re just a big bad business,’” says Paul O’Meara, partner at Jupiter Compass. When you respond back apologizing and asking how you can help, he says reviewers may respond positively and delete their review.
“Reputation management is key, making sure that you’re dealing with all the positives, negatives, everything that comes through Yelp, Google, Instagram, Facebook, managing all that because even negative reviews are an opportunity to turn them around and have that become a positive loyalist,” says Freeman. He also recommends thanking customers for positive reviews and rewarding them offline for their loyalty with a promo like free drinks at their next visit.
Reputation management is key, making sure that you’re dealing with all the positives, negatives, everything that comes through…because even negative reviews are an opportunity to turn them around and have that become a positive loyalist
4. Review Your Return on Investment
Check your reports to see the growth in sales, social media engagement and following, press clips, or website traffic. Are your promotions even working? Is your restaurant’s marketing plan implemented properly? Which of your marketing activities is providing the best ROI? If you don’t know, pull your reports today and do a full review.
You can also measure loyalty through OpenTable or Venga, says Freeman, which shows repeat business. “That’s a really good gauge of if your marketing is resonating, not to mention the great service and food that you deliver, but is it resonating and are people are coming back more?” explains Freeman, “You should always be looking at an increase in repeat business.”
Stoker says promotion ROI for restaurants depends on the concept, but there are a few types worth considering: “dollars off” usually work better than “percentage off”; complimentary items with purchase’ offering free alcohol (where it’s legal); and food-related, brand-specific holidays like National Donut Day or National Pretzel Day. Then, when you’re running your restaurant’s promotion idea, push the message to media outlets, email marketing campaigns, social channels and ads, your website, and direct mail.
5. Give the Best Experience Possible…Especially if it’s Dramatic
“I always say the best marketing you can do is give every guest an amazing experience,” says Freeman, “Because then they’re going to be evangelists and they’re going to tell their friends and there’s nothing better than word of mouth.”
Standout with something unique that fits with your restaurant, and have “at least five gotta-have dishes” that are Instagrammable, delicious, memorable, and a bit dramatic, recommends Freeman. One of his clients has a ten-layer carrot cake that easily markets itself when a slice is brought through the restaurant. “There’s not one table that doesn’t say, ‘I want that,’” says Freeman.
6. Limited Time Offers
Gift card opportunities work well because customers can try the restaurant’s cuisine, but free stuff, not so much. “What I’ve learned over the past is giving complimentary desserts and things like that don’t necessarily drive people in…You’re not going to say I’m going to go there because they’re giving me a free cookie,” says Freeman. With Limited Time Offers, they run for a short period of time and could be driven by price, ingredients, day of the week…anything short term that can drive an action by the customer that has to be taken now.
7. No Extreme Couponing
Stoker recommends treading lightly with coupons because “once you get in, it’s hard to get out…people expect it, and you become the Bed, Bath, and Beyond.” If you do use coupons occasionally, Freeman says to call them “dining certificates” or “promotion cards” to get away from a grocery store mentality.
8. Use Your Low-Cost Customer Drivers
Social media, email marketing, websites, and blog posts that are Search Engine Optimized (SEO) can all drive marketing and promotion traffic for minimal dollars. Mention your new menu items and hires, local distributors, live music, specials, and seasonal dishes, says O’Meara, because those keywords within your content get noticed by search engines like Google and help your overall marketing strategy. If you’re not tech savvy or are running thin on your budget, consider asking a go-getter employee to spend a few hours crafting content.
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