Ribs at Sonny's BBQ in Florida.

Sonny’s BBQ

"Sonny’s BBQ strives to put others first in everything we do."

Sonny’s BBQ: Marketing Passion, Tradition, and Great Food for 50 Years

The classic barbecue chain remains true to its time-honored traditions.

Editor’s note: This is the latest monthly column with Rom Krupp, the founder and CEO of Marketing Vitals, an analytics software helping restaurants of all shapes and sizes. You can read his column on Twin Peaks here, Abuelo's here, and Hopdoddy Burger Bar here.

In 2018, Sonny’s BBQ will celebrate its 50th anniversary. The restaurant was founded on principles it continues to live by today. It’s being passionate about barbecue and respecting time-honored traditions. Sonny’s is constantly perfecting its craft and bringing that expertise to the table with every meal. This month, I spoke with Ryan Mitchell, Sonny’s senior director of marketing, and below is our conversation.

What marketing strategies did you launch with that you still use today?

We believe our ability to thrive for so many years is a true testament to the loyalty and support of our guests. From the beginning, our founder Sonny Tillman wanted to develop relationships with his guests and spent a lot of time in the restaurant which is now woven into the fabric of our culture. Today, our many franchise owners and Pitmasters ensure that our food and service lives up to our nearly half-century promise.

How have your charitable-giving promotions and sponsorships helped with community relations?

Sonny’s BBQ strives to put others first in everything we do. In December 2013, we established Random Acts of BBQ, which is a program that recognizes humble individuals who are making a positive impact in their local communities and oftentimes go unrecognized for their good deeds. With true Southern hospitality, we throw a surprise BBQ celebration in their honor to fuel more generosity.

What do you believe has changed the most when it comes to driving customer frequency?

Convenience and technology. Over the past few years, we have seen guests seek more convenient alternatives in the restaurant space that include online ordering and third-party delivery services. People live busy lives and they desire ways to save time, which could potentially lead to new rituals when eating outside of the home.

What role has social media played in brand awareness?

Having a platform to showcase our personality, has been of tremendous value for our brand. At Sonny’s, we are all about our food, pitmastery, Southern hospitality and being an important member in the local communities we serve. Through engaging imagery and videos, we can interact with our fans in new and exciting ways.

What is your top marketing tip for a new restaurant just starting?

There are many options, but I would say the key tip would be to listen to your guests. This means all guests—whether they are in your dining room, on social mediaor sharing their opinions during formal consumer research. They will tell you what they want, what they expect from you, and they will inform you when you let them down. Do everything you can to exceed their expectations, which will help you develop long-term relationships.

What is gamification and how can it drive employee engagement?—Drew from Philadelphia,

Gamification is based on applying engaging game concepts of point scoring, rewards, and competition to an employee incentive program. It is an innovative way for managers to offer servers the ability to earn perks, including monetary rewards, while generating enthusiasm to increase performance and retention. These are designed for managers to track employee results and for employees to measure and match their scores to their co-workers. This creates a very energizing, motivating atmosphere across the workforce regardless of shifts. 

Do you have a restaurant marketing question? Email Rom@MarketingVitals.com and follow him on Twitter @Vitals_com

Marketing VItals

Rom Krupp is the founder and CEO of Marketing Vitals, a game-changing analytics software helping restaurants of all shapes and sizes with intelligence that leads to actionable decision-making With over 20 years working with over 400 brands, Rom Krupp helps restaurants turn data into dollars.