But restaurants don’t market themselves, and marketing is too complicated to be lucky.
Silverberg works with three New York City restaurants— Il Punto, on the edge of both the theater district and the garment district; Pazzia on the residential Upper East Side near homes and schools, and Albella, in the financial district—all of which are managing to survive these difficult times in a competitive market.
And they’re doing that because of the hard work Silverberg’s putting into marketing them. She’s taking note of the location of each restaurant and playing directly to its demographics.
“I’m looking around for businesses that are near the restaurant, feeling that they need to take people out for lunch or dinner and need to have parties some place. So I go through the phone book and make a lot of calls.”
For Il Punto, she contacts the nearby off-Broadway theaters and asks them how the restaurant can work with them.
“For example, for opening night we’ll deliver hors d’oeuvres for 100 people—for the theatergoers—and we’ll get a free advertisement in their program. They’ll sometimes put a poster up in the lobby and a sign on the table saying ‘Compliments of Il Punto.’ We give them the hors d’oeuvres in return for the advertising.”
She’s also worked with the garment center companies because they often have clients they take out for lunch or dinner. During a cold call, if the person she’s called is receptive, she invites him or her to lunch as her guest. “I bring them to the restaurant and they like what they see, they like the food, and then they come back and they pay, naturally.”
What she’s doing, she says, is making associations. “I bring business to my client in the form of associations with local businesses. One hand washes the other—they help us, we help them.”
For Pazzia she contacts school administrators and principals and invites them to lunch or dinner. They often bring back their entire staff for parties or occasionally even bring a parent for a meal.
And downtown, Albella is near to the 9/11 memorial, so Silverberg invites in tour guides to dine with her. They in turn pass on the restaurant recommendation to the hundreds of people they guide around the former World Trade Center site.
It’s not easy doing what Silverberg does. It takes a lot of time and also some chutzpah to make cold calls.
“People sometimes think I’m out of my mind and say they’re too busy, they’re not interested. Others say, OK, let’s meet. I know a lot of people are terrified of cold calls, but I ask myself what the worst thing is that could happen.
“If someone says no, they’re not turning me down, they’re turning down the idea. My father was in the sales business. He told me you have to make a certain number of phone calls until you get a person who will agree to talk to you. And of those, you have to talk to a number until you get one who will see you, and of those, you have to see several until one does business with you.”
Marketing is done very differently for Andy’s Burgers, Shakes & Fries, based in Mount Olive, North Carolina.
The company creates campaigns by thinking a little differently, says founder and president Kenny Moore.
“There’s not the dollars out there to spend on marketing, so you have to be creative,” he says.
So Andy’s sponsors an on-the-ice burger-eating challenge during each of the Raleigh home games of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes.
The challenge asks participants to consume a 50-ounce hamburger, 6 ounces of fries and a 20-ounce drink in less than 30 minutes. Any successful entrants win free tickets to a future game.
“There are 16,000 people cheering for [the person] to eat this hamburger,” Moore says. “It creates a lot of buzz, and the sports guy from CNBC tweets about it. It is a way to get our name out there and virtually only costs us the price of the food.”
The 100-location chain also runs the eating contest at the annual Mount Olive Pickle Festival. Participants eat their meals on a stage accompanied by music. It’s both awe-inspiring and sickening, Moore says.
Events like that are inexpensive, he adds. “The local TV stations come out and cover it. The winners’ checks cost us, but the amount of buzz you get is amazing.”
Silvergreens restaurants, of Santa Barbara, California, is doing its marketing in a quieter way.
It’s targeting customers who have already dined, trying to boost repeat business rather than new business.
The two-restaurant company uses its receipts as marketing collateral. Its point-of-sale software prints receipts with coupons, tips, and nutrition information, based on the customer's purchase.
“It’s one of the easiest marketing tools that we have,” says Lenka Keston, director of marketing and business development.
“Advertisement rates are so expensive, and trying to determine the ROI rates on other media is really tough. This tool is already there in the restaurant, as we’re already printing receipts.”
Focus on Repeat Business
Silvergreens runs regular promotions, courtesy of the receipts. “At lunch we might run a breakfast promotion,” Keston says. “If a customer didn’t order a beverage this time, we might print a coupon for a free beverage for next time they come in. It’s based on what we would like to see our customers ordering.”
The coupons also help draw customers back in to the restaurant a little sooner than they might have come otherwise.
“We can set up expiration dates based on the date the person came in. They usually validate starting the next day so they can’t use it that day. So, the coupon might bring them back in sooner if they usually only come in once a month. We typically give them seven to nine days to use the coupon.”
Customers report appreciating the receipts, and the restaurant appreciates them, too, Keston says, since the customized coupons have a redemption rate that’s three times as high as that of traditional coupons.
The cost of offering these receipts is minimal—just under $100 a month, Keston says. “But based on the ROI we see, it’s really nothing compared to the other offline ads you can do.”
Beyond these methods, most restaurants these days are using social media as a marketing tool.
“Traditional advertising can be incredibly expensive, so social media can be very appealing to restaurants because it's free,” says Jeremy Gregg, the executive director of The Plan Fund, a nonprofit microlender in Dallas that provides loans, training and support to small businesses. He says many of his customers are restaurants.
“Social media can be a very powerful tool for starting a conversation with customers, which can build into a long-term relationship that results in repeat customers,” he says.
Social Media Know-How
Gregg offers the following advice:
- Advertise in your restaurant that you are on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites and encourage customers to "like" you and "check in." That way your customers’ likes are sent out to everyone they are connected to on Facebook, providing free marketing for your restaurant.
- Offer discounts to customers who show you that they check in/update their status to tell their friends about you. It’s a great way to turn your customers into your sales force.
- Run a competition asking consumers to create a 30-second video about why they love your restaurant. That will create some great buzz about your restaurant, expose you to the creators’ friends (as they can post it on their Facebook page, on YouTube, etc.), and, best of all, you potentially have a free video advertisement you can use. All it costs is a prize for the winners, which could be as simple as a free meal.
- Remind customers on their receipts to “like” you on Facebook.
- Give guests rewards for liking you or following your Twitter feed. If they can prove that they do one of these, you could offer 5 percent off their check.
- If you are an independent restaurant with limited resources, don’t try and become involved in every type of social medium. Just do one well—have a Facebook page and really focus on it, for example.
Andy’s Burgers, Shakes & Fries uses Facebook and Twitter regularly, and Moore himself is often the poster.
“We try to respond to everything that comes on there to show our values and our sense of humor,” Moore says. “It continues our brand. My chief operating officer heads it up and goes on Facebook every day, and responds and keeps it relevant.”
Moore and his COO, Neal Dennis, respond to questions or complaints that come in through the web, he says. If there is a complaint, Andy’s responds as quickly as possible.
“We try to set ourselves apart by providing world-class service at an affordable price point, so if our customers feel strongly enough to post about something we did (or didn't) do, we feel we need to take that seriously and respond with a sense of urgency,” Dennis says. “After all, many of our customers take ownership of their neighborhood Andy's, so most comments are simply trying to help us get better as a company.”