With new concepts continually elbowing their way into the market, existing restaurants can struggle to remain relevant. One way to reverse that is to establish strong ties to the local community.
Catriona Harris, cofounder and partner at Uproar PR, an Orlando based public relations firm, helps restaurant clients to create and manage strategic campaigns built to attract loyal customers. She offers these five strategies for cementing your local connection:
1. Get involved in the community, whether it’s through a local charity, supporting a sports team or a fundraiser. “Any time you can get your restaurant’s name out there through a third party and show you’re involved, that’s good,” Harris says.
2. Network. Every community has networking events, “taste of” promotions and fundraisers where local operators can provide a taste of their menu offerings. Harris says these are essentially powerful marketing tools that allow a restaurant owner to connect with potential customers one on one. But don’t sign up for everything on the calendar. “Make sure the event is focused on the demographic that you want to reach. Be discriminating,” she advises. Another way to accomplish the same objective that allows more control is to host a fundraiser at your restaurant and target potential guests.
3. If you have multiple locations, vary the experience slightly—with neighborhood artwork or memorabilia—to reflect the surrounding area. A lot of national chains do this, but smaller operators can refine the practice to a hyperlocal degree. “Providing something unique to the market shows that the owner cares,” Harris says. It also fulfills a “what’s in it for me” craving that many customers have.
4. Buy local products, and call them out on the menu. “Even a single menu item goes a long way,” Harris observes. If a painting was done by a local artist, consider training the host to point it out on the way to the table.
5. Know your market. Lots of families with kids in the neighborhood? Have a menu for younger diners. Groups with special dietary needs? Make sure you can accommodate them.
Finally, Harris says, don’t forget to mention your local connection ties in the traditional media outlets and on social media.
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