Inside Strategies for Out-of-Towners

The 113-year-old Indianapolis restaurant St. Elmo Steak House was featured on the NBC hit Parks and Recreation, with the show’s cast at the entrance.
The 113-year-old Indianapolis restaurant St. Elmo Steak House was featured on the NBC hit Parks and Recreation, with the show’s cast at the entrance. st. elmo steak house

Even markets that aren’t tourist destinations welcome visitors, and restaurants roll out the welcome mat for conventioneers, business travelers, and sports enthusiasts.

In terms of tourist destinations, Huntsville, Alabama, is no Orlando, Las Vegas, or Vail, but that matters little to Nick Mikus.

When travelers venture to Huntsville, Mikus works hard to bring them into his 1940s-era Italian steakhouse, Nick’s Ristorante. Thanks to his strategic efforts and the 4-year-old eatery’s upscale and inviting vibe, Mikus captures diners from throughout the country and even from international destinations.

“Because of the military and government business in Huntsville, we get a plethora of different groups coming here in droves, and it’s business I want to capture,” Mikus says. “In this industry, you can’t let opportunities pass you by.”

While locals remain the backbone of most restaurants’ earnings in cities like Huntsville, tapping into the travel-trade market provides benefits to the brand and the bottom line.

“When these travelers come to town, they’re spending,” says Amy DuFour, catering and special events manager at Capital Ale House, which runs three locations in Richmond, Virginia, including a flagship store in the city’s downtown. “If you’re not trying to get these folks in your doors, it’s just lost sales.”

Nearly every market across the United States welcomes out-of-towners for business, leisure, sports, entertainment, and more. In markets big and small, east and west, restaurant operators have become creative and bold in attacking the travel-trade market to extend their brand, increase traffic, and drive revenue. Here’s how.

Build Strategic Relationships

In today’s digital era, “influencing the influencers” has become a trite marketing term to describe how businesses of all types are seeking inroads with everyone from celebrities to mommy bloggers who are capable of driving impressions. As important as that is, many operators also discuss the importance of building personal connections with local influencers who are also capable of swaying diners’ decisions.

“When it comes to travelers, it’s not about advertising on television or radio, but about building the sound relationships that can promote your restaurant,” DuFour says.

To that point, DuFour sits on the board of the Greater Richmond Tourism Association and has fostered a strong partnership with Richmond Region Tourism, an organization aware of large groups that are coming to town.

“We try to take an active role in what’s going on, and that involvement produces opportunities,” DuFour says.

In another state capital, the lauded 113-year-old Indianapolis eatery St. Elmo Steak House provides Visit Indy, the city’s convention and visitors association, with a spend credit each year to use at the restaurant as it recruits convention, event, and meeting planners. Though an investment, St. Elmo proprietor Craig Huse knows that early exposure can create a ripple effect that drives business. His 366-seat restaurant is located within blocks of the Indiana state capitol, the Indiana Convention Center, and the city’s two professional sports arenas—ideally positioned to welcome visitors from all industries and diverse interests who are venturing to the city for any number of reasons.


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