Market the Restaurant From the Inside, Out

By Rick Hendrie
Part 1.

The most cost-effective marketing dollar is spent on your current guest. Create 'Raving Fans'. When you nurture that relationship to produce evangelists who tout you, you have struck proverbial gold.

  • Advertising research concludes that word-of mouth is the most effective avertising, because it is the most believable.
  • It is 5 times cheaper to retain a current customer than to find a new one.
  • On average, 15% of the guests you serve are first time users of that restaurant.

These marketing statistics form the basis of a primary tenet of Method Marketing. Focus on your current guest. I know smart restaurateurs who believe the above with their head, but cannot accept it with their heart. They seek the ephemeral 'guest/customer/market segment' they do not currently attract, as if their business were set in quick sand and their guests were slowly being drained away by forces outside of their control. "What about the customer we don't have?" they cry, "What can we do to get them?"

Make your current guest a 'raving fan'. Develop a real relationship with each guest. Nurture it. Follow up on it. If you lavish the right kind of attention on the guest, both when they are in your restaurant and when they are away, you create evangelists who sell your story for you.

What is the 'right kind of attention'? If you have employed the Golden Rules of Method Marketing then you understand the guests likes and dislikes and what they expect when they come to you. You know to whom you are compared. You have heightened your menu, décor, service style and created experience details to deliver on your promise. You have eliminated the elements of you operation and concept that detract. You have hired the right actors to perform your story and rewarded them immediately for 'doing things right'. What else can you do inside?

  • Identify first timers and cater to them. Over one in ten of your guests today will be coming to you for the first time. Welcome them. Introduce them to the key elements of your concept. Guaranteed, many of these guests are intimidated when they first arrive. You know your concept. They do not.
  • Find out the names of every guest who walks in your restaurant. Look to remember them. This should be seen as a process over time to develop a relationship and not a means to 'become best friends tonight'. A guest knows the difference between phony friendship and a sincere interest to find out about them. Approach it as a long-term commitment and reward your actors for doing it. It will become second nature and natural. It will amaze your guests.
  • Invite current guests to be part of an e-mail-based group of VIPs. Use the permission they give you by signing up to reach out to them on a regular basis. Think beyond frequency programs that depend on discounts to produce action. Think about building relationships. Acknowledge their patronage, give them sneak previews of new items, invite them to 'secret shop' and otherwise engage in ongoing 'conversations' that build trust. The guest will soon be astounded, as they realize this is not another impersonal 'e-mail-Spam-promo' deal.
  • Create a newsletter or other printed piece you can use for promotional purposes and to further your story. Change it frequently. Let it be another way you stay in touch.
  • Work with your credit card companies to reach out to guests who have used you, but may not be part of the club yet. Thank them for their patronage. Invite them to join.

The key to all of this is a commitment to developing an ongoing conversation with your guest that develops, over time, into an intense relationship. Everyone loves to be loved. Understand it. Embrace it. Think of it as if you were cultivating farmland. It takes longer to harvest than to hunt, but oh brother, what a yield!



Part 2.

Use your funds to target the guests identified by your research. The best advertising is that which reinforces the feelings your guests have already expressed about your concept.

It may sound as if Method Marketing looks down on advertising. On the contrary, Method Marketing embraces advertising. It just hates inefficiency. Outside of the restaurant experience itself, there is no more powerful way to communicate the essential experience details of your concept than through electronic media. The very same details, I might point out, that you and your guest forged together through Method Marketing. 

There are precious few companies out there who have unlimited advertising funds with which to play. I suspect that if I mentioned names, they too would insist that they do not spend what they should. So, a given in our business is that: "You'll never have enough dollars, hours or people with which to do all you want." Turn that lament into a virtue.

With the "inside-out" approach, you spend marketing resources on a series of ever widening programmatic circles. Do not spend on media until you have exhausted the marketing possibilities within your three-mile trading area and the zip codes from where the majority of your guests come. 

Focus your marketing communications efforts. Answer these questions first, before you spend a dime:

  1. Have you done the research to determine who your guests are? When they use you? What they feel about you? How they describe your concept and to whom they compare you?
  2. Have you determined from where (zip codes) your guests have come, when they patronize your restaurant?
  3. Do you have a plan for your upcoming year? Have you prepared a graph of weekly sales broken out by your day-parts so that you can compare current performance with the past year? Does your plan evaluate the success or failure of past programs? Did sales and guest counts go up? Did you retain those increases after the program was over? Did your profits rise with your sales?

With Advertising, ask yourself:

  1. "Will this 'ad/promotion/vehicle/whatever' reach my target market? How many other people will it reach that are not my target?" You do not need a sledgehammer to smack a fly.
  2. "How often will it reach my target?" We live in a culture where, we are assaulted by 10-15,000 advertising messages a day.
  3. "Has the advertiser shown me how their 'ad/promotion/vehicle/whatever' reaches my target? If not, why?" Advertisers understand targeting, but they do not want you to do it. It costs them too much money. Make them.
  4. "Does the 'ad/promotion/vehicle/whatever' support my story?"
  5. "Does the charity, worthy though it may be, enhance my story?" Fighting cancer is an important goal, but it does not enhance most eating out experiences.
  6. "If the expenditure 'goes back to the community', what return do I get?" It sounds cold hearted, but that softball team had better be eating and spending at you establishment. Otherwise, do not do it.

The best advertising is that which reinforces the feelings your guests have already expressed about your concept. Reassure them that, indeed, "This is why I chose Rick's Place. I just love their..." This is a powerful truth. Remember it.

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