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5 ways restaurants can connect with the local community

5 ways restaurants can connect with the local community

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Small local and regional multiunit operators companies that want to succeed against the larger national chains need to think globally. But they also need to capitalize on their connection to the communities they serve. Here are some ways to do that:

1. Walk the local walk.

One approach is to localize the menu with market-specific options. For example, Five Guys Burgers and Fries would not allow its Cleveland franchise operators to use Stadium Mustard, a hometown favorite. If your restaurant has locations on the Gulf Coast, I recommend offering Luzianne tea because of its iconic New Orleans heritage and its popularity among consumers in that region. And work with "farm-to-table" local growers and resources. This movement has become a hot-button for many consumers, who want to know the origins of the food they are eating.

Working with local suppliers doesn't end with the food, either. Local businesses include construction companies, legal counsel and accounting services. These professionals will hopefully patronize your restaurant and recommend you to prospective customers over the less localized national restaurant brands.

2. Connect with the community.

You must also sincerely connect with your communities. Support local fundraisers, spirit nights and other events. Chick-fil-A is a prime example of a big chain that does an outstanding job in this arena, where many large multiunits struggle.

Join the local tasting/taste of events and festivals for charity. Since most of the national chains do not participate, this gives you and your brand direct access to key potential customers. It also helps create greater local market awareness.

Tie in to local high school, college and sports teams in addition to local church groups. By supporting these organizations, you will increase your loyal customer base.

3. Market locally.

Beat the big companies at the social media game. Give your posts the local flavor that the nationals can╒t easily accomplish from a corporate office. Local blogs are a great resource, too. Consider inviting local bloggers to the restaurant to sample your signature menu items. If they like your food, bloggers will positively represent your brand among their followers.

Promote your restaurant website and localize it wherever possible. This is another great way to reach customers in your local markets. Keep it fresh and update it frequently. List local events by restaurant location.

Establish and maintain your restaurant's email or other frequent diner loyalty programs. These are valuable tools to help retain as well as grow your existing customer base.

Take advantage of public relations and news coverage with the smaller local newspapers. These outlets need your support and can be powerful influencers within the community.

4. Be a joiner.

By all means join and get involved in your local and state restaurant associations. This is something else the big multiunits rarely do, thus providing another competitive advantage for visibility.

Don't forget involvement with your local chamber of commerce, Rotary Club and other civic groups. If your community has a local leadership group, such as Leadership Tampa, this is also a great networking resource.

5. Wear your brand.

Wrap your vehicles with the restaurant logo. Even just a bumper sticker is worth about $500 a year in advertising value. These tactics will go a long way in additional brand positioning.

I wear Little Greek logo shirts wherever I go. I also hand out cards for free baklava, which is a low-cost incentive for customers to visit our locations.

Many of the megachains overlook the importance and bottom-line value of local grassroots marketing and community involvement. It is priceless. Your current and future customers will embrace the commitment to their communities. 

By all means, think big. After all, we are entrepreneurs. But reaching the next level of success takes a sincere and dedicated commitment to your local community. 

Nick Vojnovic is president of Little Greek Restaurant, a fast-casual Greek-themed multiunit with an American influence and 19 locations in Arkansas, Florida and Texas.

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