Restaurant Marketing - Increase Sales and Fill Empty Seats
Successful restaurants establish a connection with their customers. It is this connection that keeps loyal customers coming back and telling others. Customers become “Fans for life” when the ambience and food quality come together to create a lasting emotional and culinary impression.
A fantastic example of this impression is found with a memory nearly all of us over 30 from all walks of life share: It begins with red and white checkered table cloths, dark wood finishing on the tables and booths (with their red leather padding), slightly dimmed lighting, parmesan and chili flake shakers next to the salt and pepper shakers, a juke box in the corner, and winding down to a table top PacMan or Space Invaders game somewhere close to the salad bar.
As the example illustrates, when a restaurant is able to capture all or a part of something unique and special, business picks up, sales increase and empty seats get filled. After all, “the greatest expense a restaurant can have is an empty seat.”
In this article, Clash Graphics addresses the impact of customer experience and marketing on keeping the seats in your restaurant filled. Both of which every restaurant owner should relentlessly keep at the top of their priority list.
Restaurant Customer Experience
Ask yourself this: “How do I see my restaurant?” Before answering that question, consider getting feedback from both customers and employees. Ultimately, it is the customer experience that drives a restaurant’s revenue. While it is the employees that support the customer experience by maintaining the ambience, food quality, service, and engagement with customers.
Discovery - The two principle ways a person finds a restaurant are by personal recommendations or through the marketing plan with ads, signs, invitations, etc. Both of which provide the opportunity to exceed expectations and create a customer for life.
Customer Expectations - Understanding the wants and needs of customers is vital to meeting their expectations. Encourage them to give reviews, fill out comment cards, or take online satisfaction surveys.
Customer feedback is often priceless insight that should be taken seriously. It is this information that provides an exact blueprint which enables the development of a plan to meet and exceed their needs.
Curb Appeal - What does the entrance of the restaurant look like? Are there cars in the parking lot (signaling success and popularity). Is the location easy to find for a first time customer? The importance of location and visibility cannot be overstated. That said, the outside of a restaurant will often times determine the customer’s mood and expectations before ever stepping foot in the actual restaurant.
Restaurant Staff - These are the people responsible for bringing your vision to life. In turn, they must deliver an elevated level of service, and seamlessly work together from all points in the restaurant to create an amazing experience for all customers and guests.
Think how genuinely engaged the staff at Disney World is, and how their cheer, charm, and willingness to go to any length impacts your experience and emotional association with their brand.
For this reason, service staff applicants should be screened and hired with the customers in mind. Remembering that personality and attitude are fundamental, they can’t be taught. However, the skills to support an amazing customer experience can be taught, and must be purposefully reinforced.
Food - The greatest asset (or detriment) to the customer experience is the food. It is the make or break ingredient from your menu (click here) which ultimately determines whether a seat remains empty or a restaurant has a highly sought after waiting list.
One of the most special things to hear is your customer saying, “Mmmmmm, this tastes so good...” or “This reminds me of...” It is food that is nearly always associated to people, places, and memories. Thus, being associated and part of a lifelong memory of your customer is the greatest of accomplishments.
So, when customers offer feedback on a restaurant’s food, they are speaking from their taste in food, cultural experience, and more importantly their expectations. Use this invaluable information to fine tune the kitchen and at times, refine the menu.
Superior Relationship Marketing for Return Customers
“What am I going to eat tonight?” This is the question that your restaurant’s marketing campaign should consider and effectively answer. People in general want to feel they belong and are a part of something authentic. Running promotional “gimmicks” can generate short term results, but consistent, meaningful, and engaging interactions will create “life long fans” for your restaurant.
Comment Cards and Satisfaction Surveys - In the above section we discussed encouraging feedback, comments, and online reviews. This not only gives your customers a sense of inclusion, but also illustrates that their opinion matters. The win for the restaurant is a better understanding of what customers not only want, but what they expect.
However, merely asking for feedback isn’t enough, and is your opportunity to prove your genuine concern and commitment to a fantastic experience.
An impactful way to encourage customers to contribute feedback is as simple as offering a free side or dessert. Not only have you gotten valuable feedback, you’ve given them a reason to come back to claim their complimentary dish.
First Time Customers - Creating an experience for a first-time customer venturing into your restaurant can be truly exciting and leave a lasting impression. Ring a bell, make an announcement, offer a token of appreciation, a discount on the meal, free drinks, a free appetizer, or free dessert. And for a cherry on top, involve the chef or owner to personally welcome and extend these accommodations.
Not only does such a gesture buy goodwill and leave an impact, but this personal touch also gives the patron an opportunity to become acquainted with signature dishes and desserts they may otherwise have never tasted. Sometimes, putting on a little show can bring big results, especially when combined with culinary charm and great food.
Celebrating Milestones - Set up a customer contact database with contact information and relevant dates (first time at the restaurant, birthday, anniversary, children’s birthdays, etc.). This information allows for dynamic future customer interaction via text, email, or phone.
Whether offering a “Half-Off” day for their “Birth” day, free champagne for an anniversary dinner, or even a free signature dish; their occasion will be unforgettable, unique, and special.
This level of personalization and attention is a sure fire way to permanently embed the idea that you and your staff care about and value them as customers.
And dare not forget about game day (if it’s that type of restaurant). If you simply collect their favorite team or sports preferences, you have the opportunity to create Super Bowl, Kentucky Derby, or World Cup events. Which affords your restaurant another rapport building opportunity, where your customers can eat, drink, and cheer on their teams while enjoying your food and service.
All too often, marketing campaigns are selfishly-focused and structured for short term results. Employing a celebratory and unique approach not only provides a higher frequency of engagement, but also establishes a deeper and more meaningful relationship with your customers.
Take a look at these guest testimonials from Adventures by Disney:
Using relational marketing you now have the opportunity to acknowledge, invite, and celebrate their milestones along with them.
Lifelong Customers Expect Value and Quality
Marketing and acquiring new customers is expensive, thus care and special attention to improve customer retention is an efficient means of improving lifetime value, and creating long-term relationships with potential loyal supporters of your restaurant.
The goal of this article has been to initiate a conversation on how customer experience and retention-focused marketing are inseparable. Simply serving decent food will only get you so far. Offering value and quality in exchange for the customer’s time, money, and experience are fundamental for a business to survive.
As people are becoming more desiring of ordering takeout and prone to convenience, it cannot be stressed enough that “value” is the key to unlocking the loyalty of lifelong customers and filling those empty seats.
High-quality food and unique experiences go a long way in communicating your restaurants commitment to earning patrons business, and delivering an unmatched service. At the end of the day, filing empty seats is a reward for the restaurant that caters to and serves its customers best.
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2140 Peachtree Rd NW #301 Atlanta, GA 30309