Restaurant week is celebrated by participating restaurants in most metropolitan areas across the globe, twice a year.
It is the perfect opportunity for foodies (and wannabe Yelpers, alike) to flood their local restaurants and try prix fixe menu selections that are easy on the wallet.
Restaurant Week is a smart opportunity restauranteurs. For restaurants, the goal is to boost brand awareness, attract new customers, get a lot of exposure, by aligning with a highly publicized event and hopefully create regular patrons. For residents and visitors, it’s a great chance to try out a new restaurant at an affordable rate.
However, in spite of the obvious potential, some restaurant owners have experienced unexpected problems. Here’s a look at some potential issues and how to navigate them so, as a restaurant owner, you can make the most of your participation.
Restaurant Week isn’t palatable for all restaurant owners
The two main issues restauranteurs experience during Restaurant Week are profitability and retention.
Profitability can be an issue because because:
menu choices are inappropriate for a prix fixe price point; and
prix fixe reservations increase as “regular” customers compete for a (more profitable and) standard menu.
2. New customer retention
And, secondly, retention can be an issue because:
as the prix fixe price point is lower than your average sale per customer (on a normal day) you attract people who wouldn’t normally visit your restaurant; and
restaurant week customers don’t become regular customers because you don’t have a plan to keep them engaged.
Keys to Restaurant Week success
That said, the real key to finding success in Restaurant Week or other promotional activities is to start with a goal and strategies. This approach allows you to plan techniques that have the potential to yield desired results. Also, starting with goals allows you to measure the results and see whether or not your plans worked and what you need to do to improve results.
Examples of smart Restaurant Week goals could include, to:
increase overall brand exposure (tied to certain metrics)
acquire new customers and converting them into loyal patrons
develop X number of referral customers over a given period
make the promotion itself more profitable ad self-sustaining
The last goal, however, may take a few times to get right. With events and promotions, you may run at a loss for the first few times. Treat it as an experiment and investment. Immediate success with a new platform doesn’t always happen right out of the gate.
10 marketing strategies for Restaurant Week success
If your restaurant marketing plan includes Restaurant Week and you’ve created smart goals, here are ten quick tips to get the most out of your participations.
1. Promote your involvement.
One of the biggest benefits is the organizer’s promotion of the event. Promoting your participation to current and prior customers is beneficial. Integrate Restaurant Week logo and brand assets into your current advertising to drive more viewability, credibility and brand recognition. Next, leverage social media. Ride trending foodie topics, Restaurant Week hashtags to boost engagement. Lastly, aim for referrals from current customers.
2. Create loyalty incentives.
As I mentioned above, one of the major problems with Restaurant Week is boosting customer retention. To tackle this problem, create an incentive program for restaurant week goers to keep coming back. Loyalty programs can be as simple as a loyalty card with a barcode, magnetic stripe or both – or loyalty program software.
Loyalty programs are one of the best ways to get the word out about your business and reward loyal customers while tracking their spending and buyer behavior. Keep in mind, a special loyalty strategy only for Restaurant Week patrons should be developed – to track and measure it outside of other loyalty efforts. You can even use a simple strategy: Ask for their email to send special coupons and incentives there way and build your email list.
3. Develop a stand-alone referral program.
Create an incentive program for Restaurant Week patrons to refer their friends. Create a smart incentive program (e.g., social media contest) with a compelling message. For example: “Are you our biggest fan? Refer 3 friends to reserve a table during restaurant week and earn a free entrée on your next visit.” Use referral marketing software to manage the program, track incentives earned and spread the word. Apps like Campaigned, Invitebox, Forewards, GetTheReferral.com, and ShopSocially are designed to increase sales and customer loyalty.
You can also track referrals the old-fashion way with Excel. But note, as your referrals grow, so will the time spent on managing it. Instead, use apps and tools to boost the productivity of your referral program.
4. Give patrons something tangible.
Most people eat out for the experience and to create memories, while some people are simply obsessed with eating out (e.g., adding best brunch spots to the vacation itinerary?) So, why not play off of this psychology. Create a small gift to keep the conversation going after they finish their meals. You could hire a photo booth for the week, share a well-designed post card, or a clever t-shirt, etc. It later becomes a word-of-mouth marketing tool.
5. Keep it social.
In addition to a social media plan (i.e. step 1), create a social media interaction plan during restaurant week. Consider using a unique hashtag for all social content. This can boost awareness and engagement. Leave flyers with your hashtag and encourage patrons to tweet about their experience, share meal photos, a Yelp review, etc. You can also integrate your social activities with specific contests.
6. Staff well.
Does your restaurant run efficiently on every other day of the week? If not, it’s definitely time to make sure staff is properly trained on all promotions and maintain a focus on excellent customer service. Restaurant success isn’t only about the ambiance and food. A good experience is contingent upon service. Do your servers know how to:
describe flavors and foods on the menu?
casually share promotions without sounding pushy or like a robot?
take orders efficiently and how to present each dish?
answer difficult questions or respond to difficult customers?
get customers to spend more money without being obvious?
Before you do any major promotion, make sure your staff is on the same page. Create a supportive working environment for them.
Because the whole point of Restaurant Week is to offer a prix fixe menu (i.e., often a lower amount than your average sale) create key upsell opportunities. This is not the time to nickel and dime customers (i.e. charge an extra fee for substitutions, condiment, napkins, etc.). Rather, find creative ways to sell additional menu items to increase the total sale per person and per table. Drinks are a great place to start.
8. When it comes to menus — K.I.S.S.
K.I.S.S. is an acronym widely used in advertising that stands for “Keep it simple, stupid.) Make this your go-to strategy for prix fixe menu creation. food selection for your prix fixe menu. Since you’re probably charging less than you would normally, be mindful of food costs when selecting dishes.
Rather than sacrificing on ingredient quality, but perhaps select recipes with fewer ingredients or less costs. For Restaurant Week you’ll need to keep it simple and make a good impression. This is not the best time to try something that is new, unproven or go too “plain Jane”.
9. Set reservation limits, if allowed.
Depending on Restaurant Week rules of participation in your area, it may be a good idea to set a limit on the number of event-based daily reservations. By limiting the number of Restaurant Week patrons you give yourself space to accept regular customers (at full price).
10. Focus on the big picture.
Finally, the most important Restaurant Week strategy is this: your involvement in local events should be a mere part of a larger, integrated marketing plan. Restaurant Week is not the only event you should leverage to promote and grow your restaurant business.
These types of events are most effective when they are a part of a broader marketing strategy. If not, you’ll potentially boost sales for a week and then see a drop off in numbers.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Caylena Cahill, owner of CC Photo & Media, is a branding photographer and entrepreneur. She works with small businesses and entrepreneurs to develop a stand out visual brand that resonates and builds confidence and desire with her clients’ audiences. Connect with @ccahill1 on Twitter.
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