Your restaurant has been reporting stellar sales for several years, your dining room is always full and you’ve got the local media in your back pocket. Now a new restaurant moved in across the street, hiring a PR agency that helped it hit the ground running with a grand opening event, advertising, mailers and more. Your sales start to slip and the media stop calling.
How can you compete against the new restaurant’s seemingly unlimited marketing muscle?
1. Avoid comparing your restaurant to others. A big PR budget does not equal a better product. “Don't compare yourself to the big-budgeted restaurants; this is a rookie mistake,” advises marketing and sales consultant Bert Martinez. “See what the big guys are doing for creative purposes, but by comparing yourself, you can sometimes fall into a victim mindset.”
2. Check your infrastructure. If you’re going head-to-head with a heavy hitter, make sure that you’re ready to take on the challenge with a solid business and motivated employees. “You’ve got to create a solid infrastructure using the three P’s—your People, Place of Business and Business Partners,” says Rudolph Waldner, author of Marketing from the Trenches. “Are you ready for a line out the door? Can everyone talk about the specials of the day and upcoming promotions? Is the store clean and signage maximized? If so, you may be ready to give a big-budget competitor a run for their money.”
3. Find a local partner. Two heads are almost always better than one, so look around for some backup. “Align yourself with local charities that have bigger PR budgets than you,” says Martinez. “Host events at your restaurant and/or give proceeds to a local charity in return for them using their budget to spread the word and drive traffic to your restaurant. Don't overlook hospitals; they have massive budgets!”
4. Get personal with your customers. More often than not, the restaurant using a big PR agency will send out template marketing mailers. If you run a smaller operation, you can be more personal and make customers feel like part of the family. “Send menus with handwritten notes from the chef noting a new item,” says Linda Duke, c.e.o. of Duke Marketing in San Rafael, CA. “Develop an expertise around a unique food item and write a column about it to submit to the paper.”
5. Begin—or rekindle—relationships with local press. “PR is about developing relationships,” says Duke. “Take the time to get to know a writer and they may consider you a source of information to call in the future.”
6. Continue to promote your restaurant through social media and email. “Make sure that you capture names and emails of the customers who visit your restaurant; these customers are the easiest, fastest and cheapest people to reach with your PR message,” says Martinez. “Email marketing has huge profit potential and costs very little; the big restaurants use this strategy, and it works.”
7. Be more creative. When was the last time you created something that really wowed your customers? “If you don’t have a big budget, you have to get creative and get your customers enthralled,” says Alyson Lex, c.e.o. of Rock Your Marketing in Baltimore. “Create compelling offers year-round that will get customers talking.”