Restaurant Marketing on the Cheap

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by devotay, Jan 29, 2002.

  1. devotay

    devotay

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    Hello.

    I thought that now, in the midst of a wartime winter recession, might be a good time to get some folks talking about their marketing tricks.

    How do you get people in the door at your establishments? How do you get them back? How do you get them to buy more when they're there? What kind of promos do you use? Do you have, like we do here, silly and arcane local ordinances that interfere with your business?

    We're all web savvy here. Do you use the internet to market your restaurants? How? Websites, email, restaurant review sites?

    What else? What other forms of advertising seem to work best for you?

    I'll start.

    I have a website that averages about 30 hits a day (pretty good I think, for a little local restaurant site in a small town). I underwrite the local public radio station and I use newspapers sparingly, for special events and in their free listings for our live music and gallery exhibits.

    I eMail a list of around 700 subscribers every 1-2 weeks with the goings on in my restaurants. Only once did I use unsolicited email, but it actually worked pretty well. I compiled a list of all the teachers in the school district via their websites (by hand - ugh!). Then I sent them a carefully worded email about their being an important part of the community, and how important it is to support local businesses, etc., and offered a $10 gift cert. I got a very positive response, as well as several new subscribers to my email newsletter. Only 1 person wrote accusing me of spamming, despite all the caveats I included regarding "one-time mailing" and "won't send more". A couple of hundred responded positively in various ways, and I got a lot of new customers.

    Our new "Wine Appreciation Night" seems to be off to a good start as well. On Monday nights, our whole wine list is 25% off.

    So what about you folks? What are your great ideas?

    Peace,
    -kmf
     
  2. marmalady

    marmalady

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    Do you do takeout ? Especially lunches? A little 'gourmet to go' shop I worked at had a deal where they faxed daily menus to local businesses; if the business put in an order by 10:30 a.m., they got a 10% discount. Was a little work getting the fax #'s initially, but brought in some great business. They also did delivery, for an extra charge.

    Orrr,,,, if you're closed one night a week (say Monday), how about offering cooking classes? People are very into 'chef instructors' right now, and love to brag to their friends that they learned this or that from their favorite chef!
     
  3. devotay

    devotay

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    Marm,

    Yes we have take out available, and I've been doing classes 'round here for 6 years. I didn't mean suggestions just for me , tough. I am hoping to see everybody chime in with good promos and "Guerilla" marketing ideas. Share the wealth! What else have ya got, people?!?!?!

    Peace,
    -kmf
     
  4. peachcreek

    peachcreek

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    Most, if not all of our advertising is done through the support for non-profit organizations. This week, I donated several SMALL gift certificates to a local church charity. I also will be helping out next month at a local ski race. I am donating maybe $100. in product, but for the amount of advertising I get it is a deal. I get hit up constantly for advertising, as any manager knows- the seeming million phone books, dining guides, along with mainstream media of TV, newspapers and radio. Its easy to spend thousands of dollars, and the media salespeople could really care less about you or your product or service. But a carefully given donation will make a HUGE impression on the community. And THEY REALLY DO NEED THE MONEY! And I find that it does bring in customers. Last year, I showed up at a local cook-off fundraiser with maybe $25.00 in soup, and ended up getting interviewed on a local TV station and with a color photo of me on the front page of the paper! I could't purchase that amount of free advertising! Also, when a local TV station wants me to do a food demonstration for their early show which airs from 6-7 am, I pry my butt out of bed at 3:30 am and show up to cook! Last month I had to do a spot on gazpacho, and a LOT of people saw it. "Gazpacho on a stick" was a big success! People were very amused and remembered.....

    BTW- the single most effective ad for me is my underwriting of the morning news on NPR.
     
  5. w.debord

    w.debord

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    Unforunately I have more ideas for marketing other types of businesses then restaurants but I guess I could restate what's probably obvious.

    Knowing what city your in makes a huge difference, and your in a great little town. You have tons of tourists/parents and we all stay at hotels/motels. I have to admit I do glance thru those info. boards at motels and the dirrectories in the rooms. If I saw a coupon for a free app. with a purchase of a coctail or something similar I'd be temped to try it. As a out of town parent coming to visit we always have a hour or two with nothing to do and no where to go (we stroll the downtown area and window shop). If you had a sign in your front window I'd see it and stop in for a taste and a drink.

    When we are out of town and have no one to dirrect us to the good places, we do ask the person at the front desk for guidance...offer a coctail hour with h.d.'s to people who can prove they currently are front desk workers or do it by invite only.

    Is there any association where you could have a dining tour between restaurants? What do they call those?...a progressive meal?

    And charity!!!! In your town that would have to be a must with such a socially concience group! Link up with some or all of them.

    What about catering in to the school for different functions? Do something free during parents week to get some attention.

    Once we find a good place we are highly likely to revisit it each trip. After eating dinner if you had some sort of 'bonus' to get us back for lunch the following day, that would be interesting.

    Since lack of money is a problem with college kids is there anyway you could have a cheaper menu like one lunch one day a month so kids could afford to try out your place? Put a sign in your front window. Then they might select your place to take their parents when their in town..


    Also your kind of in a little bind right now with all the new chain restaurants coming into the area. I've heard excitement over the Olive garden and red lobster....but once they try them they'll get sick of them as always. Us parents still want the charm, we still want to eat at the small places downtown! We want service and personality with out meal.
     
  6. devotay

    devotay

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    Thank you, good suggestions all. But once again, I am seeking ideas from everyone, FOR everyone, not just my two little provincial eateries. Tell us about your successes AND your bombs. What worked and what didn't and why?

    Does anyone use server sales incentives? What about local papers vs. radio. vs TV vs. internet? If you us the internet to market, how? Do you enter competititons? Utilize your local farmer's market? I sometimes do demos at the market, just making spur of the moment dishes of whatever looks good at the market that day.

    Peace,
    kmf
     
  7. peachcreek

    peachcreek

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    I run a "special" from 4-6 pm on to go food. Buy a quart of soup to go, and get a loaf of fresh bread FOR FREE! It works well. I get rid of my leftover bread which would have been utilized as a secondary product anyway....I do not include any butter, utensils, or crackers with the special, its meant to be taken home.
     
  8. unichef

    unichef

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    Couponing cheapens the perception of your restaurant.

    One thing I used to do was enter all the competitions, food shows, etc.. that I could. Whenever I would win something I would type up a press release (my sister was a marketing major and showed me what to do) and send it to all the local papers, industry magazines, etc.. along with a photo. It worked every time. You need to know that the editors of your local paper spend their time looking for filler for their rags. If you send them a press release and photo, it is like you are doing the work for them, they love it.

    The perception to the public is much greater when you are featured in an article vs. when you run a paid ad or print a coupon, and it's free to you!
     
  9. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Uh, heh... I gotta tellya Mr. 1996 US SE Culinary Olympic Team member :) :), you have more gold medals than Michelle Kwan. Not many people have the ability to do what you do! You're talking to mere mortals here :)

    Kuan
     
  10. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Getting to know your food writers, I mean by first name. I invited 4 to each Farmer~Chef dinner....they got to hear about our projects eat a super meal and if they wrote about us great, if not I called them later on and told them about interesting events. Pulling in authors to the farmers market to do book signings.
    One of my non-successful promos was just not pushed in the right way, ametuer photo contest of the market, I get the photos to use they get a prize , the photos go in a cooking school's kitchen as part of an exhibit......then we auction them off. I thought it was pretty darn inventive. Just had a tomato festival and a couple other projects fall at the same time.

    I do the media/pr for the market, just getting the freeby calendar shtuff is a great move.

    Today I was wheeling and dealing with a vender on having the market listed on his weekly e-mag that goes to 8000 people, I have a e-mail list of 500 along with postcards.

    We have a goofy local show in the afternoon that interacts with people that show up outside of the studio....again freeby airtime...take posters with pertainent info.

    If your doing events or open houses INVITE THE MEDIA>>>FREE>>> it works.

    And oh yeah I got a hand written note from an editor that asked me to attend a fundraiser for journalism students $100 a pop....If I had a ton of money I'd buy a 10 top and write it off my taxes, but as it is I'm just trying to pull in a few others to have a decsnt showing.
     
  11. devotay

    devotay

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    Wow, cool ideas shroom. I really like the photo contest idea, but for us, well, I don't think we have a large enough population base; otherwise I'd steal the idea.

    I too have a large eMail database, about 800 people right now. I send out a lengthy newsletter twice a month and little blurbs about music or specials 1-2 times a week. We've also just done a postcard campaign to select Chamber of Commerce members - Bank presidents, realtors, U of I Department Chairs, etc.

    We have a big food festival coming up in the fall that I am organizing along with the local food Co-op and the local public radio station. Lynn Rossetto Kasper of the Public Radio Show "The Splendid Table" will be here, and that weekend's show will be done from here. We're all very excited.

    My affiliation with Slow Food helps a lot too. I'm still hearing from people about last year's CBS Sunday Morning thing. People come to town to visit their kid at the U. and "simply must" eat at that place they saw on TV.

    About the coupon statement above, by UniChef,
    .Yeah, perhaps you're right, but I'm not running Charlie Trotter's or the French Laundry here, just a simple place with really good food. If a coupon will get more butts in chairs, I'll do a coupon. This is, after all, Iowa City in February in a wartime recession.

    Thanks everybody for all the good stuff here... keep it coming!

    Peace,
    kmf
     
  12. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    I've been approached by little towns to help them set up a farmer's market. Each location has something special about it.....If you have a University I would check out different programs, social groups etc and get them involved in your market. Pull in herb societies, Nutritionists, do tastings, etc....
    I asked Joan Gussow, author of "This Organic Life" to come do a book signing at the market and talk to different groups in St. Louis on eating locally.

    Check and see what grants are available through your Dept of Ag or Dept of Economic Development, I will garuntee that they have a promotion or marketing dept. with grants....hook up with extension agents.
     
  13. devotay

    devotay

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    The farmer's market here is great, and it's right across the street from one of my places!

    Joan Gussow is wonderful, too. She was one of the Speakers at last summer's Slow Food Leaders' Congress in CA., and we're hoping to bring her here, along with many other writers, for the festival this fall.

    How big is your market in St Louis? More than 1? How often is it open? Year round or just in the summer? Do you promote your restaurant there witha booth or something?

    Peace,
    kmf
     
  14. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    No restaurant, just teach, private chef, odd catering job, co-founded and run the market, plan and do events....etc....
    check out Clayton Farmer's Market in the archives on the front page....that tells why and how I started it.
    check out www.saucecafe.com under chef's collaborative, you can plug in my name and it will pull up past events...farmer~chef dinners etc.
    Market is out doors June1-Oct 26 this year, Indoors Nov-Apr....
     
  15. lynne

    lynne

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    Get to know your travel industry people. B&B owners, front desk workers at hotel/motels, concierage folks, Convention & Visitor Bureaus, Chamber of Commerce. Offer to host a meeting (space or apps or a meal) GIVE them copies of your MENUS or a sample if daily changeouts. They refer guests daily to eating establishments and have books or a basket of menus. Those guests then talk to other guests...

    If you can, some kind of incentive for referrals works well. If you can't -- get to know who they are; if they visit, greet them by name, thank them for a referral -- everyone likes to be recognized. Those little things can go a long way.


    A web menu helps a lot -- many people plan where they will eat ahead of time. The number of people who have printed off web menus, highlighted the items they like then ask for personal reccomendations of which is best is huge!
     
  16. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    Yesterday I was in an independant ice cream store talking to the owner....it was that kinda lunch....anyway she asked what I did and we talked about her marketing her shop....essentially she is 3 blocks from a (not mine) farmer's market in a family oriented St.Louis town.....I suggested she contect with the market do an ice cream day....selling scoops for charity....handing out coupons to her store....even work with the high school or local college to donate to an educational cause<read free PR through the school printing> Seems that everyone wins. More people to the market; maybe a segment that did not go on a regular basis, ice cream for charity;what a write off and people get to taste your product; PR for your shop at a hugely popular market 3 blocks away!!!, Fliers and posters provided by the charity or the market....I'd further promote it by taking ice cream to the radio and Tv stations, get posters up in stores in the area, get print involved again office folk like food...pick up the freeby calendar segments, invite a celebrity to scoop or the charity to have their members there handing out info....gotta watch the celebrities, I've found that most people can sell their own product better than anyone else if they have the people skills....it shows in their faces.

    So from alittle ingenuity you can make a BIG impact with one project....course follow up is always good.
    A couple of years ago Thomas Keller was doing a signing in St. Louis and a couple of groups wanted to host a reception for him...the person set up to do the "box lunch" was NOT a food person at all...she called wanting suggestions...I asked a new exciting restaurant that was going through a tough time if they'd host....they were falling all over them selfs (they used to work for Boulud) anyway the place was PACKED with foodie people that were impressed with the 3 course meal....that shows what 1 event will do for you....
     
  17. isa

    isa

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    Allow me to rant for a minute or two.

    Don’t be like a person who spends thousand of dollars on a motorcycle but will cringe at the thought of paying 300$ for a good helmet...

    Marketing can be an important tool in the success of a business. Don’t automatically think that professional help will be very expensive. It is not always the case. Many firms will provide you with a marketing plan for a reasonable fee.

    Not ready to invest in your business? At least get yourself a few books. There must be a marketing for dummies book somewhere...


    Ok I’m done. :)
     
  18. fodigger

    fodigger

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    I do two types of marketing for our business - We are different from alot of others because we are an upscale golf course resort still waiting for the county to give us our permits for the hotel and large restaurant(been in progress for 2 1/2 yrs now). We currently have a small restaurant and banquet facility for 350. We belong to the area wedding professional assoc. and we give the local hotel a credit that they can either use on the golf course or at the restaurant. The other thing I do is that I pay my employees a flat rate fee for them "voluntering" at the local elemetary schools reading program. They read and tell the students how they use reading in their everyday lives. I have gotten huge amounts of press for that although I didn't do it for that it has become one of my best non marketing marketing ideas ever. I guess sometimes alittle good will goes a long way.