IMAGE IS KEY: It's essential to create a unique identity for your restaurant.
CROSS-PROMO: Noncompeting local businesses can help bring you guests.
Many restaurant owners find themselves so busy dealing with day-to-day problems that they never get around to putting together a business-building marketing program.
That's a serious mistake. Marketing is an essential ingredient in the recipe for growth—even survival—for any service business, especially a highly personal service. Yet, many restaurateurs shy away from all but the most obvious ways to promote their businesses. For some, their entire marketing program consists of an expensive ad in the Yellow Pages.
If that sounds familiar, read on.
Here are 10 proven marketing strategies that will help you to improve your profits by bringing in new and repeat customers.
1. Adopt A Marketing Attitude
Almost by definition, running a foodservice business means marketing. Some time, some place, someone may have put up a sign, bought a Yellow Pages ad and sat back while customers streamed in with money in hand.
Perhaps, but not likely.
Building a successful restaurant requires an ongoing marketing program. Competitive prices alone won't do it. Good service alone won't do it. Professional skill in the kitchen alone won't do it.
Years ago, a popular saying offered this wisdom: Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door. As a number of inventors have learned, that's a clever saying, but it has little to do with reality. After inventing better mousetraps, they soon discovered that without marketing their brainchildren sat languishing on store shelves.
2. Understand That Marketing Is More Than Just Advertising
While advertising is an essential part of marketing, it is only that—a part. An effective marketing program requires much more than advertising.
Marketing embraces all facets of your restaurant's operation. To be an effective marketer, you must nurture and promote your business image, sell yourself as well as your business and concentrate on making a visit to your restaurant the best choice for today's demanding customers.
3. Set Your Restaurant Apart
America's most successful entrepreneurs, gigantic or tiny, are those who have carefully developed a unique identity. Your job is to evaluate your strengths and then combine them to form a unique identity—a marketable image for you and your restaurant.
Perhaps you've been in business longer than your nearest competitors, or maybe yours is a family-owned operation with a reputation for gracious hospitality. Your restaurant may be known for its unique recipes or generous portions. Perhaps you have developed a unique dining atmosphere or a highly professional staff who take pleasure in sending customers on their way feeling comfortable and satisfied after their visit with you.
Whatever your marketable strengths, you should write them all down, study them and then determine how to separate yourself from your competitors—how to motivate a potential customer, even one who lives and works outside of your primary trading area, to seek you out.
Once you've sold yourself and your employees on why you are the best choice for customers seeking what it is you offer, you must focus your marketing efforts on ways to promote this image to your customers and prospects.
4. Decide That You Will Never Lose A Guest To A Competitor
Experts agree that, on average, it costs five times as much for a business to find a new client than to keep an old one. You should focus on the significance of that statement. It is one of the most powerful concepts in the business world.
Once a new customer visits you for the first time, you've done the hard part. Now, your job is to instill the notion that dining with you will always be a satisfying experience.
You and your employees must never lose sight of the fact that developing a new customer is a costly and difficult job. Once a stranger crosses your threshold, that first experience will determine whether that person will ever visit you again.
Once you convert a prospect into a customer, you must build your marketing program around techniques designed to make sure that he or she never has reason to be dissatisfied.
5. Harness The Power Of Your Menus
To some restaurant owners, designing and printing menus is a necessary bother. Others recognize the dynamic marketing power that can be unleashed whenever a customer picks up a bill of fare.
Shopworn or poorly designed menus can dull appetites, even cast suspicion on what goes in the kitchen. While sturdy, professionally designed menus using modern technology can represent a significant investment, the dollars spent on them deserve recognition as profitable marketing tools.
6. Keep House Like The Big Boys
The next time you visit one of the chain department stores such as Sears, Target or Macy's, look at the housekeeping. See how the floors are clean and shiny, the shelves neat and clean, windows and other glass sparkly bright. That's no accident. It's likely that the maintenance crew was busy polishing floors and tidying up before you got out of bed this morning.
Companies with the resources to approach business as a science have long understood an important truth: People get in a buying mood more easily when the shopping environment is neat and clean. Nowhere is that premise more important than in a restaurant.
The physical appearance of your restaurant will say more about you and your food than all of your paid advertising. The slightest bit of shabbiness or disorganization that may go unnoticed in most businesses can be deadly in a restaurant. A dirty fork or a spotted glass can lose a customer forever.
If you want to separate yourself from your competition, you will become a better housekeeper than your competitors. An inviting interior and exterior are relatively easy to accomplish and they offer an easy way to reinforce your professional image.
The appearance of your physical facilities and personnel is a built-in advertisement. It says either good things or bad things about your dependability and trustworthiness. What image it conveys is up to you.
7. Make Customer Satisfaction Your Hallmark
Customer satisfaction is the most powerful advertising and marketing medium available to you. Nothing will build your business faster than customers bragging to their friends about you — and nothing will eat away at your business more relentlessly than unhappy customers complaining about your restaurant to their friends and coworkers.
Yes, it can take money and time to resolve a customer complaint, and it can be especially trying when you feel that the complaint is not legitimate. However, the point to remember is that the dollars you spend resolving a complaint are marketing dollars— arguably the most effective marketing dollars that you can spend.
Never allow yourself to forget that the most powerful and least costly source of new business is a personal referral, and the only sources of personal referrals are satisfied customers.
8. Measure The Results Of Every Advertising Dollar
Independent operators may be at a disadvantage when it comes to advertising in major media, but that doesn't mean you can't get in the game. Larger businesses can afford (or think they can afford) to waste dollars on advertising that doesn't carry its own weight, but you must make certain that every advertising dollar is generating bottom-line profits.
The only way for you to do this is to track the source of new customers. Many restaurateurs are under the impression that their Yellow Pages ads are producing far more business than they actually are. Perhaps your own YP ads are cost-effective, but the only way to determine that for sure is to ask new customers how they happened to choose you.
Many restaurant owners make use of local media such as neighborhood newspapers, radio, cable TV, newsletters and targeted direct mail campaigns to augment Yellow Pages advertising. Whatever advertising media you use, it is essential that you take the time and trouble to track the results.
9. Consider Cross-Promotion
When you pick up your order at the local dry cleaner, you notice coupons on the counter good for a discount at the local car wash. What's the connection? What does a dry-cleaning shop have to do with a car wash?
You get the answer to that question when you visit the car wash to take advantage of your discount. As you pull your car up to the entrance, you spot a large sign advertising that same dry cleaner. Aha! That's cross-promotion.
These two noncompeting businesses are promoting each other. Each is benefiting from advertising at no cost except for nominal printing expense.
Cross-promotion is an inexpensive and effective way for noncompeting local businesses to help each other. How many businesses in your community are cross-promotion possibilities for your restaurant? Probably many. Why not take the initiative and suggest a crosspromotion program with the best candidates?
10. Take Action Now
It almost doesn't matter which first step you take in your new marketing program. What matters is that you do something new and creative to overcome the inertia that keeps many restaurant owners from ever reaching their full potential. Creativity and originality are the keys to a great marketing strategy. Don't be afraid to try something new, no matter how unorthodox it may seem at first glance. If it doesn't work, move on and try something else.
While marketing is work—and most RESTAURANT HOSPITALITY readers will agree that they don't need more work—it's a different kind of work. Marketing your business will be challenging, exciting and rewarding. Try it. You may be pleasantly surprised.