Restaurant Marketing Indecision

Yesterday I went for a beer with a friend of mine who owns a small restaurant. We talked about the business (slow these days), we talked about his family (busy running the business) and, at one point, we talked about marketing.

“You know?” he said “These days, there are so many marketing people trying to get your money… ” He paused, drank a sip of Guinness and proceeded.

“They want me to do coupons, they want me to invest in my web site, they want me to advertise in the Yellow Pages, in magazines… I am not rich, I can’t afford all of this!”

I looked at my friend, and I understood what he meant. Marketing professionals pitching -of course – his or her product as the best way to promote the business bombard restaurant owners on a daily basis.

They all look good in paper, but which one is the right one for you? How do you know if a marketing initiative will bring you the clients that you so desperately crave for?

The answer is: you don’t, unless you have a marketing strategy in place.

You see, some of these initiatives might be beneficial for your business – and most will be a waste of money – but you won’t know which ones will work unless you know what to look for.

Before you start spending money in marketing, you need to have a strategy, a vision in place. You need to analyze your needs.

Ask yourself:

– Does your business struggle all week long and you are looking to attract more customers?

– Or perhaps you have slower days of the week that you would love to fill in with clients?

– Have you just opened your restaurant, and you want to increase awareness about your great food and service so that people know about your place?

– Do you want to market to your best customers to encourage them to become repeat clients? (This, by the way, is the best marketing strategy that you can implement.)

– Do you want to promote an event? (Such as a wine dinner, menu change, charity event, etc.)

– Do you want to target some specific customer profiles (such as families or professionals or older people, etc.)

You see where I’m going?

Each of these examples will require a different marketing approach.

If you are aiming to capture older, retired people, you may not gain much by having a great Web presence, since most are not very Internet-savvy.

Similarly, if you have a family-friendly restaurant, an ad placed in a weekly entertainment magazine devoted to young, concert-going people won’t work because your target audience won’t see your ad.

Ads in traditional broadcasting media like newspapers and radio are great for promoting a newly opened restaurant or announcing special events or promotions. They reach a wide audience and can spread the word about your place. However, they are ineffective marketing techniques if you simply want to fill your place; they are expensive and it’s difficult to quantify their results.

Coupons, however, are interesting.

They could be very effective since they allow you to measure their impact (you can count how many of them are redeemed at your place) and can be targeted to fill empty tables on specific days (valid only on Mondays, etc.).

However, it is important to consider how they will be distributed and, if they go in coupon packages, which other restaurants are advertising in them (you don’t want to be the only upscale restaurant packaged with fast-food joints and pizza delivery services).

So you see: Before you spend any money in marketing, sit down and look at your needs. Think strategically and make a master plan.

These are some of the questions that you’ll need to ask yourself:

  1. What kind of customers do you want? (Unless your restaurant is already very geared to a specific audience, such as families – with decor and food for kids, etc. In this case you’re already got the answer.)
  2. When do you need to fill the seats the most?
  3. What’s your profit margin per dish? (So that you know exactly how much can you afford to give away in coupons, etc.)
  4. What can you do to attract repeat clients?
  5. Do you have a formalized referral system in place? If not, you should! Not only is this the most cost-effective and revenue-generating system, but you can implement this yourself easily without spending any extra money!
  6. Do you need to promote a special event?
  7. Etc.

If all these considerations overwhelm you, perhaps you should call in an expert consultant.

Having a consultant that sits with you for a few hours or days and helps you design your own master Strategic Marketing Plan could save you thousands of dollars a year in wasted money and time.

Just make sure that this expert doesn’t waste your time going over your operational details. You want somebody that can help you define your strategy!

You need to make sure that you spend your marketing dollars wisely and you can ONLY accomplish this only with strategic thinking and planning.

Otherwise, it’s like starting a road trip in an unknown territory without a clear destination or a map that shows you the way. You may end up in some interesting place, but most of the time you’ll be wandering lost in small roads that take you nowhere.

You can’t afford to run your business this way.

To conclude: Sit down and create a marketing strategy for your restaurant. This strategy will drive your marketing plan and expenses, and will help you decide what works for you.