For many restaurant owners, "promotions" is a dirty word. Many of them do not work and some coupon campaigns cut too deeply into the profit margin.
That is not true with all promotions, however. Some can be clever, relevant and effective. In fact, we've got 10 ideas to share that are proven winners. But before we address those, let's review the four parameters that apply to every successful restaurant promotion:
Know Your Customer Base: No promotion is successful unless you identify, analyze, and understand your existing customers and target customers.
It is a waste of time and energy to run a promotion that fails to entice your audience, yet it happens all the time. Carefully examine your location, as well as the typical age of your customers, before you proceed. What traits do the majority of your diners have in common? Find a promotion that addresses that dynamic and it will be easier to create repeat visitors.
Identify Your Business Challenges: Restaurant promotions exist to help owners overcome a unique business challenge. Is there an underperforming part of the menu? How about a time of day when there are too many empty tables?
Underlying issues are best tackled by leaning on the data and analytics from your restaurant's point-of-sale system. Pick a slow time or an underperforming menu item and make it part of your promotion. Offer freebies or deep discounts.
Seek to Gain More than Revenue: Many successful promotions aim to generate positive publicity for your restaurant rather than generating profits. A feel-good story about a popular, loyal employee (25th anniversary of employment), a charitable outreach program (local youth sports organization) or a promotion to honor military personnel or first responders (Firemen Eat Free, Back the Blue, etc.) can be far more impactful over the long haul than revenue-focused promotions that raise brand awareness.
A revenue-oriented promotion where guests receive a discount on a certain menu item will impact your business as only long as the promotion is live, but the positive vibes from a feel-good promotion or story that bonds you with the local community can boost traffic for weeks or months. Keep this in mind as you evaluate your promotional schedule; try connecting with a local reporter and coordinating a few media opportunities over the course of the quarter.
Know Your Margins: Above all else, it's important to know your margins of every menu item – both food and beverage.
This helps you bundle creative offerings that, in aggregate, still provide the value you’d like. Generally speaking, it's best to promote offerings with high margins as a lead into the rest of your menu. However, it's most important to understand your margins like the back of your hand. That way, you can make informed decisions about discounts and purchasing decisions to identify ways that make your inventory go farther.
To get the most from your restaurant marketing, here are 10 promotional ideas worth adding to your 2019 marketing plan:
1. Leverage a Bigger Event: Have a promotion around a higher-profile event like a local sporting event, concert, or festival. This helps drive business and generates awareness of your restaurant to a much larger audience that attends the larger event. Essentially, you can ride the coattails of that event’s marketing by offering 5% off to people who have a ticket from a local sporting event or $5 off any purchase before a concert that is down the street.
2. Include Charities & Celebrities: Bringing in a celebrity or well-known local enthusiast may not cost very much out of pocket if you donate a portion of the proceeds to their favorite charity in conjunction with their appearance. This will boost foot traffic while generating goodwill and awareness for your restaurant. Examples include having a celebrity bartend from 4-8pm and giving all proceeds from pizza sales go to a local fire station or food bank.
3. Holiday Tie-ins: Identify a holiday that you love and build a campaign around that. Examples include Halloween costume contests where winners earn prizes or featuring a different giveaway item for each of the 12 days of Christmas. The promotion not only gets business, but also will have your customers sharing, linking, and tagging you in content they promote on social media outlets.
4. Loyalty Discounts: Offer discounts to customers who visit most frequently. The key is making the loyalty component a high enough number of return visits to absorb the "free" item(s) provided as a prize to reward their loyalty. For a coffee shop, perhaps it is buying 9 cups of coffees to get the 10th one free. A pub that had a customer purchase every draft beer on its list might get 10% off future beer purchases for the rest of the year.
5. Bundling and Fixed-Price Offerings: Create bargain offerings that bundle a higher-priced item, like a premium wine, with one or two underperforming menu items and discount the combo by 10-20%. This will help you understand your customers and show what sells/doesn’t sell for future menu tweaks. Another example: Include a reduced-price set menu that includes an appetizer, main dish, dessert and bottle of wine for a typically slow night or a quiet period of the day.
6. Get Them in the Doors: Another sure-fire strategy is to heavily discount a part of your menu that is rarely consumed by itself. The thinking is that someone will come in for the heavily discounted item, but end up purchasing a variety of other items before paying their bill. Examples: Discount salty pretzels, triggering customers to buy more beer, or offer a free first domestic beer that will lead to the person drinking more.
7. Down Time: With this time-honored restaurant strategy, you promote discounted items when your crowds are light or your staff is under-utilized. While your margins may be tighter, it helps you recover some of the fixed costs (e.g. utilities, staff, and more) that remain when you are sitting idle. Getting people in the door for happy-hour specials from 4 pm to 5:30 pm are classic examples.
8. Community Events: Promotions that address a community challenge or emphasize local pride always generate business. Perhaps there has been a community sports team that needs funding, a local resident that has lost his/her house to a recent fire, or some local charitable organization seeking to raise money. Allowing these organizations to use your space taps into their network and will boost your popularity in the community.
9. Buy in Bulk & Upsell: Similar to the loyalty promotion, this offers a value-added item if the consumer spends enough to reach the threshold you desire. One classic example is offering $5 dollars off your appetizer with a purchase of a $50 or more. Another option: Purchase two orders of wings and get a free beer.
10. Tie-ins to Launches & Openings: It's wise to feature promotions in conjunction with new launches of menu items or store openings of new locations. Some times, a promotional boost can get the new offering up to speed faster, mitigating any potential for lost revenue.
A great example of this is Chick-fil-A, which recently offered free food for a year to the first 100 people to purchase food at a new location. This not only got people into the new store, but it also drew significant media coverage that turned opening day into a party.
How do you promote your restaurant? If you are not tapping in to any of these 10 tips, you really should.