Six years ago I came back to work with my father to try to grow the family business. I was fresh out of college with an accounting degree so the first thing I did when I came back was obviously analyze the numbers.
We had our product, we had our numbers but there was one thing missing that I didn’t understand…marketing. I knew there had to be a better way how to advertise your restaurant.
For years my father was spending money on things like radio ads, television, coupon magazines and I just wandered how effective it all was. We weren’t tracking it.
So I started reading, and then we started testing. Here are the methods that have worked the best for us over the last six years.
Start With Direct Response Marketing
The first thing you should do when advertising your restaurant is switch to direct response marketing. If you are paying for radio or TV stop it right now.
Sure those methods get your name in front of thousands of people but how do you know if those people that heard your commercial are coming into your restaurant? Are you asking them? Do you include a coupon in the commercial? I doubt it.
Direct response is advertising you can track. You can send out 1,000 post cards with coupons on them and know:
- Who you sent them to
- Who brought them in
- How much you spent on the mailing
- How much those customers spent in your restaurant (assuming you have a decent POS)
- Your ROI
Wouldn’t you rather spend your advertising dollars on something that gives you all of this information?
Direct mail is one of the greatest tools for direct response marketing. You can use it in so many different ways to reach out to your current customers as well as potential new customers.
Think about all the ‘junk’ mail you receive at your house. You know it is junk, but every once in a while you might see something that catches your eye and you might save it to take advantage of the offer.
Plus, unlike email, where you can easily hit delete, the consumer has to physically pick up this piece of mail to throw it away. So at least you know they saw it.
We have fallen in love with direct mail so much that we spend over half of our marketing budget each month sending out different mailings to different lists within our restaurant.
Focus on Building a Massive List
Speaking of lists, you need to start collecting your customer information now! If you don’t already do this you need to start immediately.
This is one of those things I had to read 4-5 times on my own before I was convinced it was worth it. Let me tell you I wish my dad had started building his list 25 years ago when he was first getting started.
There are several ways to grow your database quickly if you don’t have one.
Your customer database is a gold mine. These are people that you know have eaten at your restaurant before.
I’m sure you have heard the saying before that there are only a few ways to grow your sales
- Get more customers
- Get your current customer to come back more frequently
- Get your current customers to buy more products
If you currently spend money on traditional advertising mediums then you know how hard it is to get new customers.
Don’t you think it would be easier to get you current customers to come back more frequently or by more products?
There is a reason every month that you could send out a postcard to different segments of your database to get them to come in or sell them additional services:
- Valentine’s Day
- St. Patrick’s Day
- Any other Holiday
- Catering packs for graduation
- Catering packs for tailgating
- Catering packs for weddings
- Catering packs for retirement parties
- Catering packs for any other family gathering
As you can see there are endless promotions you can advertise to your current customers to try to increase sales.
As your list grows it becomes a numbers game. Say you get 20% response on birthday postcards and this January you only had 200 contacts. Well that is only 40 people.
Maybe you run a promotion with your servers to get new sign ups and next year you January birthday list is 500, now you’re getting an extra 100 people in the door. 60 more than last year!
Do you see how this starts to add up?
Frequently Reach Out to Your List.
This is where the fun starts to happen. With each post card you send out you get to test whatever kind of offer you want!
If it works, then keep sending it out until it loses its effectiveness. If it doesn’t, change it slightly and test it again. Marketing and advertising your restaurant is all about testing to see what works and what doesn’t with your customer.
You can even send out two different offers at the same time to see which gets a better response. As much as I was a numbers guy with my accounting background, I really started having fun with learning how to advertise the restaurant.
The three main ways we reach out to our current customers is by direct mail, email and Facebook.
We send out a four page newsletter to our entire dining room database once a quarter. We used to send out smaller post cards once a month but once our list got close to 10,000 customers this started to get expensive.
We also send out a postcard once a month to the following lists:
- Catering customers
- Monthly birthdays
- Monthly Anniversary’s
- Kid’s club members
As you can see we are touching our current customers 5 different ways with direct mail. The birthday cards and anniversary cards run on autopilot once you get everything setup.
You will have to spend some time creating content for the other post cards. However, once you get it going you will get the hang of it.
We use Constant Contact for email. Email is another great direct marketing tool. For each email you send out you can see how many people opened it and how many clicked any links you may have inserted.
I would suggest only one to two emails a month at the most. You will find on almost every mailing you will have some people unsubscribe. If you are constantly blasting their inbox you might find this number going up.
The other great thing about email is that is very cost effective compared to other forms of advertising. Plus, like with all forms of direct response marketing you can add on some sort of offer and track its effectiveness.
We try to post every day on Facebook. However keep in mind, that just because you might have a few thousand fans on Facebook, not all of them will see every post.
Facebook actually makes it really easy to grow your fan base. For $5 a day, we added over 7,000 fan likes to our page by advertising for them in less than one year.
Now that you have the fans you have to reach out to them. You can’t use Facebook to constantly sell your products.
Some of our most engaging posts are simply pictures or employee spotlights. Things that are fun and encourage people to like or comment on the post are going to get more interaction.
Of course you have to pay for that interaction most of the time.
If you have ever ‘boosted’ a post on Facebook you will see the results underneath say ‘organic reach’ and ‘paid reach’ paid is almost always higher unless you have a viral type video that gets a lot of shares.
It is worth it, in my opinion, to boost some or all of your post. Why did you work so hard to build up your fan base if you are not going to reach out to them?
A simple post might only get 120 views and 1 like with no money behind it. Or you can spend $1-2 and get 400-500 views and 7-8 likes. We are talking about pennies or fractions of pennies per view.
Posting everyday might sound intimidating but Facebook makes it easy to schedule your posts in advance. We typically schedule 1-2 weeks out but I have heard of some going a full 30 days.
Just make sure you have notifications coming to your email or phone app so you can respond in a timely manner.
We use some other things like Twitter and Instagram but between these three main avenues we are reaching the bulk of our customers.
When we have a new special or promotion running you better believe our customers know about it because they are getting a post card in the mail, an email in their inbox and they are going to see it in their Facebook news feed.
If for some reason we miss with those three, there will also be 2-3 areas inside the actual restaurant they will see it as well.
Continuously Look for New Customers to Add to Your List
Did you know that over 16% of the country moves each month? That means you are potentially losing 16% of your customers each month.
So once you have built up a nice sized list, you can’t stop building!
You won’t have to fight so hard for new customers but you need to have a nice trickle of incoming contacts to replenish the ones you lose.
This will become evident as you start sending out direct mail and you start getting some returned saying the person has moved.
The good thing is there are easy and cost effective ways to do this.
The first and best way is comment cards. These should be readily available to every guest in your restaurant. On one side ask for as much contact information as you like and on the back ask them how you could improve your operation.
As an added incentive, let them know you will be giving away a $50 gift card once a month to those who filled out the cards. This will ensure a constant flow of new contacts.
Another way is to buy a list of those people who moved into your neighborhood. This is relatively cheap and you could send them an offer to try your restaurant. If they bring in the offer, add them to your list!
Remind people all over your restaurant and even on your Facebook page sometimes to sign up for your birthday club for their free meal. Customers will gladly hand over their contact information for a free birthday meal!
Get creative with it. As you start venturing into direct advertising you will see there are no limits to what you can do, just have fun with it. The mechanics are simple, build a list, work the list, maintain the list, and keep working the list.
However you must take action to get it done.
Use Your Four Walls
You will also want to make sure you are taking advantage of all the prime real estate right in the four walls of your restaurant.
If it makes sense, you could have table toppers on every table with current specials or promotions or reminders to sign up for birthday clubs!
You can pass out flyers to every guest with their receipt. These are a great cheap way to get a piece of marketing materials into your customer’s hands.
We even have a TV or digital display hanging in in our dining room. The TV plays a slideshow of images of different promotions we have going on.
We simply create a Power Point slide show and save all of the slides as jpeg image files. Move these to a flash drive and you are up and running. Your very own slide show that you can change out whenever you want!
The TV we bought is still going strong more than 5 years later so I would say we definitely got our money’s worth!
I hope you have enjoyed these ideas on how to advertise your restaurant and that I was able to explain the benefit of switching to direct response marketing.
We used these techniques to see high single digit transaction growth and mid-teen sales growth for over 2 years before it leveled off into the mid-single digits.
Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!