In a world of fast-as-thought social media, it might be easy to forget about good old-fashioned word-of-mouth advocacy. After all, most marketing advice you find is geared toward content creation and online marketing strategy.
But your restaurant exists offline, in the real world of face-to-face communication. And here encouraging word of mouth is a cost-effective and just plain effective way to keep customers coming back.
From earning loyalty rewards to creating greater engagement with events, there is a wide variety of ways to focus on building word of mouth tactics that will promote your business and get people excited to walk through your door.
Word-of-mouth advocacy consists of the reviews and endorsements existing customers give to potential customers. Friend and family recommendations aren’t something anyone dismisses lightly. In fact, a number of studies show that consumers trust suggestions from friends and family over every other channel.
This shouldn’t be surprising. We’ve all experienced the buzz of a new restaurant or must-have product. It can seem like everyone we know, and even everyone we meet, mentions it at some point in every conversation. And when something that buzzworthy comes to town, it doesn’t take long for you to want to check it out.
Simply put, word of mouth is people talking to people. “You’ve got to check this out,” “Have you been to this place? I’m dying to go,” and “I just ate at this restaurant, and it was amazing.” Seeing those kinds of reviews online is one thing. Hearing them from people you know and trust? That adds a cache no screen can match.
According to consumer research firm GWI, word of mouth is the fourth most common way people discover new brands and businesses. And that’s based on global reporting. This means all around the world consumers confirm that what others have to say about a brand is just as important as any online ads or reviews they see. Why? Because, as noted above, we trust the opinions of the people we trust.
Keep in mind that word of mouth does not exist separately from your other marketing efforts. Online and offline marketing need to work in tandem. Your customers talk about your restaurant to their friends, but they’re also quite likely to post about your business and their experience online as well. Social media, online review websites, and word of mouth are all equally important elements of your brand’s image.
Reward everyone who steps in the door with a warm, unique, and welcoming space. The atmosphere and the “vibe” of a place mean a lot, especially when you’re dealing with first impressions. The feel of your space and the food you have to offer must work together to create an experience that keeps people coming back for more—and telling their friends to do the same.
The likelihood of customers recommending and returning to your business on a repeated basis embodies customer loyalty. And nothing builds that customer loyalty like feeling seen, known, and welcomed. Reward your regulars for their business by remembering their names and regular orders and taking the time to chat and get to know them. They’ll pay that effort back tenfold.
Stamp or punch cards are an easy way to offer regulars tangible rewards to work toward, giving them even more incentive to come into your restaurant and tell their friends or family.
Something as simple as “buy 10, get one free” works for everything from lattes to appetizers to desserts. Loyalty cards are also easy for you and your staff to process, which in the midst of the day-to-day hustle is no small thing.
A newsletter or well-maintained social media presence to which you regularly post and answer messages goes a long way toward building a sense of vibrancy and activity around your brand. These also make your regulars feel connected and up to date on upcoming events, special menu offerings, and general goings-on.
Simple surveys tucked inside your menu or QR codes added to receipts provide opportunities to generate instant feedback from your customers. Encourage survey completions by offering a small treat as a reward, for instance, a percentage off of their overall bill, free dessert, or a keepsake like a sticker or a magnet. Instant rewards are great incentives.
Hosting a regular trivia night turns your restaurant into a place to meet with friends, family, or even a date. Customers know they’ll get more than a good meal; they’ll also get entertainment and a chance to socialize. For restaurants, there are other upsides beyond just word of mouth. Trivia nights can help boost sales, and regular events can build habits for customers.
Trivia events are a fun way to boost your crowd on a weekday and encourage groups to come in on weekends. Date night incentives encourage couples or smaller friend groups to book tables Friday and Saturday nights. Think Valentines (or Pal-entines) types of specials and discounts. Create a more intimate setting for quiet, cozy dinners or offer packages like a bottle of wine and an appetizer for a discount.
Live events pull in regulars and newcomers alike. Music, open mics, spoken word, and other performances are all popular live events. A variety of events will appeal to a variety of people, so don’t be afraid to try new things even after you’ve hit on a few solid crowd-pleasers.
No matter where you are, there’s probably an art scene you can tap into and network with. Promote local artists by displaying their work on your walls or hosting art receptions or special showings. A steady rotation of talent can build your restaurant’s reputation as a place to go and see what’s new. Plus, the artists will likely tell their friends where their work is being displayed.
Hosting private parties, from family-style dinners to something more formal and corporate, is a terrific way to bring in business during your off-hours or traditionally low-traffic days. Even better: If you have event rooms you can book while still being open to the general public. Make sure you are promoting your ability to host private events as a large part of your marketing efforts.
Share discounts and other offers on social media to encourage your regulars to cash in on the opportunity—and share the offer with their friends. Word of mouth works online as well as offline, and encouraging your regulars to share your posts boosts your reach online and brings in more offline business.
While hosting private events in-house is a fantastic way to use your space during off-hours, don’t forget about catering to off-site events as well. Set your terms, such as whether you offer staff as well as food and within what radius of your restaurant you’ll travel. A few successful events will begin to cement your reputation as a go-to place for quality food and service.
Like social media exclusive offers, referral programs are successful because the more customers give (by referring others to your business), the more they get in return. You can even offer special perks and discounts for repeat referrers, creating a tier of rewards for regulars to aim for.
Small town businesses have a long and successful history of sponsoring local teams, groups, or events to support their community while also promoting their business. Show some hometown loyalty and build support through Little League sponsorships, charity events, and more.
Newspapers and other local periodicals may seem dreadfully analog these days, but those community and events pages still draw eyes. Running an ad, promotion, or other notice in the local newspaper might surprise you with how much steady business it can bring in. Like word of mouth, the old-fashioned way of getting news around still works. Don’t forget these channels in your marketing efforts.
No matter how much technology grows, or how much it becomes a part of our lives both personally and professionally, good-old word of mouth is still one of the very best ways to build a business that lasts.
Jon Bernard is a national account manager at Stomp Stickers. Stomp is an e-commerce business that offers high-quality custom labels, stickers, boxes, canopy tents, and more. Bernard’s passion is helping his customers brand and market their products through a variety of custom printed items.