Restaurants can usually depend on a good deal to bring in customers, but as the competition toughens, fewer patrons are being swayed by combo meals, coupons, and value menus. According to foodservice market research from The NPD Group, restaurant visits inspired by deals were down 3 percent in the year ending December 2012 in comparison to a year ago.
Restaurant.com, a website that helps small businesses give diners the best deals and offers gift certificates, has recognized the decline in deals and is working to find new ways to support local restaurants. Its newest initiative to support independently owned business is a seasonal wave of “Dish Mobs” conducted in cities across the country.
The Dish Mobs initiative was based off Cash Mobs—a social campaign that encourages people to support small local businesses by spending their money en masse to give the owners an economic boost. Dish Mobs seeks to give the same help to local restaurants. Restaurant.com hosted the first Dish Mobs events in fall 2012 and followed with a second round in February and March.
“Many diners forget about the importance of dining out at locally-owned restaurants,” explains Christopher Krohn, president and CMO of Restaurant.com. “Simply having a great meal at a restaurant in your community can really contribute and give back to the revenue stream. While the Dish Mob event takes place at one restaurant, the message encourages and reminds local residents to eat at the many independentrestaurants in their community.”
Participating restaurants in markets are chosen based on factors such as partner relationships, weather conditions, and consumer interest. For example, Salt Lake City’s Sushi Groove was chosen for a February 27 mob after local bloggers requested a Dish Mob in their market.
The difference between a regular day at the restaurant and a Dish Mob event is the spotlight that it shines on independently owned stores, which drives new diners to these locations. For an event at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood in Baltimore on February 26, Restaurant.com partnered with “Buy Local, Buy Maryland,” and with local bloggers to get the word out about the event. Although the event is only hosted from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at each location, the attention from the “Mob” can bring a rush of customers to the location. One restaurant owner said his phone was “ringing off the hook” during the most recent Mob.
A second round of mobs—which featured restaurants in Baltimore; Dallas Orlando, Florida; Raleigh, North Carolina; and Salt Lake City from February 20 to March 1—helped the participating restaurants connect with patrons, influential leaders within their small-business community, bloggers, and local media.
In addition to the featured restaurant that benefits from a Dish Mob event, Krohn adds: “Dish Mobs help to remind consumers to dine local andkeep revenue in their communities; it's also a great way to bring together local residents who share the same dedication for their community,” he says. “We've had bloggers, artists, business leaders, and other attendees take part in the Dish Mobs events because they share our passion for independently-owned restaurants.”
Restaurant.com plans to continue hosting Dish Mobs every quarter in a variety of cities.