Easy tweaks can mean the difference between a successful customer engagement and a missed opportunity.

Staffing and wages. Food costs and procurement. Revenue, traffic, and guest satisfaction. With all the concerns on restaurant operators’ plates, something is bound to fall through the cracks—and more often than not, it’s marketing and outreach.

“A restaurant operator is worried about operating a restaurant, so marketing is put on the back burner when the kitchen’s on fire,” says Allison Page, cofounder and head of product at SevenRooms, a restaurant guest management and marketing platform. Fortunately, Page says, there are small ways brands can take advantage of missed marketing opportunities to better engage their customers and boost business—the first of which is to capture as much guest data as possible.

Page says this data falls into three categories: personal (information collected at the time of booking reservations or while dining in the restaurant, such as name, email address, phone number, and location); preference (what allergies guests might have, whether they’re celebrating a special occasion, if they’re vegetarian, etc.); and transaction (how much a guest spends, what type of food and wine they order, or how often they frequent the establishment).

Arming themselves with this data, operators can then move away from one-size-fits-all marketing campaigns and instead target specific audiences. It’s a winning plan in the customization era.

Altamarea Group, which operates 10 restaurants in the New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., areas, is one company using SevenRooms’ marketing platforms to target its campaigns for greater success. Jonna Gerlich, Altamarea’s managing director of marketing, says filtering emails based on guest data, preference, and dining history is crucial to making them feel appreciated and enhancing the success of any marketing campaign.

“We’re not going to reach out to a vegetarian for a meat dinner. And if somebody doesn’t drink wine, maybe that’s not the first person to invite to a wine dinner,” she says. “Any of those details are really helpful to tag so that they’re searchable and filterable.”

New York City restaurant group In Good Company uses “tags” to track consumers’ beverage preferences and then promote special events to the appropriate customers. “We can send that list our invitation to a tequila education night, and the return on that is so much higher and more impactful than if you just sent it out to 400,000 subscribers,” says director of sales and marketing Robert McGovern.

For brands without the time or team to support these targeted marketing campaigns, even something as simple as capturing guests’ birthdays at the time of reservation is a missed opportunity that could easily utilized—whether by sending birthday wishes via email or surprising guests with a complimentary dessert during their visit. “Or operators might contact them before the reservation to see if there’s anything they can do on the occasion to make their birthday really special,” Page says.

But guest data and targeted email campaigns aren’t the only areas in which brands are missing the marketing boat. While nine out of every 10 SevenRooms’ clients are using Instagram, Page says they’re just scratching the surface of its revenue-driving power.

“We’re at the bare minimum of what restaurants could be doing on Instagram. Today, it’s all about content and putting up a pretty food photo to see how many likes you get,” she says. “But making sure they actually have a link to make a reservation is extremely important, because when someone sees that amazing food photo and wants to come in, they should be able to reserve immediately.”

Paid advertising on social platforms is also a big miss for restaurant brands, with Page noting that operators barely touch paid models at the moment. “There’s a huge opportunity there for restaurants to leverage platforms like Instagram to make sure they’re getting the right ads to the right guests at the right time, and then offering that link to convert,” she says.

In Good Company doesn’t heavily implement paid social advertising, but the restaurant group does leverage its reservation system to advertise instead.

“Anytime we’re messaging through our reservation system, we can have a banner ad on there from a sponsor, and we can get paid for that,” McGovern says of the partnership with brands like Grand Marnier and Maker’s Mark. “You know you’re targeting people coming into a place to buy food and drink, so our partners love that.”

Feature, Labor & Employees