For the past few months I have been helping a local restaurant achieve their marketing goals through various channels. After reading:
Debate About Customer Contact/Feedback Systems: Social Web, Email, Paper Comment Cards, Tableside and Blogs, by Jeffrey Kingman discussing how, “paper comment cards are dead” and that email marketing should not be used I decided to share my point of view.
I believe that every restaurant has a unique set of marketing tools that fit best depending on their individual target market. For instance a youthful bar like Sharkeez would generally be interested in using social media to engage its patrons. While at the same token, an upscale eatery with older clientele such as a yacht club might be more effective by using email marketing to reach its clients. Again, depending on age, demographic etc.
In the same respect it is unrealistic to say that all your customers will be on Facebook, or have an email address and are willing to give it out, or even have a computer. When in doubt, ask your clients their preferred method of communication by listing them on the back of the comment card: Facebook, Email, Phone, Snail Mail, etc.
What is the solution? DO IT ALL or at the very least use the tool that best targets your demographic. If you look at the 80/20 principle and figure that the 20% of your customers that are bringing the most amount of money to your business are between the ages of 40-60 and prefer email to communicate then you have your answer. If your demographic fluctuates, as did my clients, then you should DO IT ALL. If you don’t do it all, you are short changing yourself.
Comment Cards- Comment cards are multi-faceted in that they are used to collect emails, gauge customer satisfaction and provide an outlet for customers to express their opinions, concerns, recommendations and praise. Leave a space on the comment card for the customer to write their email. Offer incentives for both customer and server. For the server: establish a reward system where everyone wins, every 20 emails gets a FREE employee meal etc. For customers: a coupon for the next time they come in if they give their email address (which will only be used to share important information with them: invites to wine dinners, specials, events, etc.)
***Comment cards may not be appropriate for every restaurant. Fastfood places can opt to offer a coupon offer on the receipt that is filled out online. I would say most small sit-down casual to semi-upscale can get away with an email program/comment card system. Very upscale restaurant should carefully plan their tactic not to diminish the brand. I would suggest only putting the email signup via the website and taking email via OpenTable or over the phone when taking reservations. ***
Email Marketing- This goes hand in hand with your comment card/eclub signup form that you set up. Use the emails collected to send up to 2 emails per month, if and only if, you have unique messages each time, which should be easy. Catchy subject titles and occasional “coupon/FREE item” incentives keep the open rate above 30% when done properly and not abused.
***While some people are annoyed by emails, others appreciate the updates and love it when they get another coupon to their favorite restaurant. Not sending more than 2 or 3 emails a month is important. If customers are annoyed by the emails they do have the option to opt-out at all times. Email marketing is statistically one of the most successful marketing tools today and should not be underestimated.***
Social Sites- post the link to you email piece onto your social sites and share, post photos of the events and create invites for events that are directed at this audience. Social icons should be reinforced onto your email, comments card and website as well.
On a personal note: I have migrated from Constant Contact to MailChimp for managing my clients email marketing campaigns and I highly recommend them. Setting up emails is much more seamless and easy to use especially for beginners and small business. An additional bonus is that it is free while you build your list to 500 names. An they have other incentives that make it just as if not more affordable then Contant Contact.
Website- Update content bi-weekly to ensure that even new customers are aware of your promos. Put an eClub/email form signup on the homepage as well as the corresponding social site links.
Touching Tables- Whether it’s the manager or the owner, someone should always be touching each table and the other marketing tools are not a replacement for that but rather an extension of those efforts.
Marketing efforts should be interconnected and should reinforce all your marketing objectives on each respective medium even if you have to tweak it a bit. Take Restaurant Week for example, you can easily share this event with all your demographics. Post an event to Facebook with photos of food and even mentioning an incentive like, “mention Facebook and get a FREE glass of wine with your purchase” can help spread the message. Send out an email blast with a link to the menu stating that early reservations that mention the email get a FREE glass of wine. Simply post the link to menu on your website and you are ready to go. When your servers touch tables they can mention the upcoming restaurant week promotion and suggest early reservations for the FREE glass of wine offer.
The pros about each and every tactic mentioned above are that they are all easy to do and not time consuming for most. The cons are that there is no single solution, which is why I recommend for you to do them all. Another thing to be aware of is the bet practices for each method as well. Even when you are doing it all, some customers will still fall between the cracks but at least you will have achieved your 80/20 to the best of your ability. Good Luck!