What This New Google Places Change Means to Your Restaurant Business

Google has just rolled out a major change to Google Places. In fact, there are two major changes that concert restaurants.

  1. Google Places is now merged into Google Plus (or Google+), the social media platform from Google.
  2. Reviews on Google Places are now provided and manages by Zagat. So instead of the usual 5-star rating system you will start seeing 30-point Zagat ratings based on a several parameters (I.e., the food is ranked separately from decor etc).

As a sidenote, Google does own Zagat, which it purchased last year for just over $150 Million.

So what do these changes mean to your restaurant business and the way you marketing your restaurant?

  • You can no longer ignore Google Plus as it becomes a much more important in influencing search-engine rankings. If you’ve been having a hard time trying to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and other social media tools, now you need to add another one to the mix.
  • Getting customers to leave reviews on your old Places page was hard enough but it gets harder yet. First, they have to be on Google Places, then they need to log in and search for your restaurant on there, and when and if they found you, they can leave a review. It’s likely that more people who want to vent and leave a nasty comment will have the tenacity to jump through all the hoops. The tone of the reviews is likely to suffer a bit.
  • More major and dramatic changes are coming down the pike so it’s important to keep an eye on all this so that you don’t lose what you’ve already accomplished online.

You may be wondering if there is any good news in all this. And in fact, there is.

The good news (as far as marketing a restaurant goes) is that the whole online traffic landscape is shifting. It is in the times of major shifts like this that fortunes are created by those would know and do something about it.

Here’s more on this from the “horse’s mouth”:

https://support.google.com/local/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=2623007

Google is definitely not finished with the changes. One does not need to be a psychic to know that more major changes are just around the corner. Get up to speed on how to use these new tools in restaurant marketing and beat your competition into a punch.

What Makes Pinterest a Near-Perfect Tool for Restaurant Marketing

Pinterest is the new kid on the social media block that is demonstrating quite an amazing growth in popularity. Even the social media experts couldn’t see it coming. Yet’s it’s here and is attracting so many eyeballs I’m going as far as to say that it’s a near-perfect tool to use in restaurant marketing.

The tool is so new that before we talk about how to use Pinterest in restaurant marketing, we probably need to briefly review what the heck it is.

The name “pinterest” is combination of “pin” or “pinboard” and “interest”. So, basically, as a user, you get to setup pinboards and then pin the images you like to those pinboards. You can also “re-pin” other people’s images (much like you would re-tweet something on Twitter) or “like” them (much like you would do that on Facebook.)

Someone said that Pinterest is much like Facebook and Twitter, sans all the whining. This definition gives us a very important clue as to why Pinterest is so popular and how you can use it in your marketing.

So here’s what we know so far about Pinterest:

  • it’s based on images
  • it’s positive at its core

Now, it’s that a near-perfect combination to help you sell food? You just have to find ways to get more people to see your images and then add your images to their pinboards and spread the word for you.

Here are some ideas about how you can use Pinterest to market a restaurant:

  • Create a pinboard for each type of menu (breakfast, lunch, dinner) or food group (drinks, entrees, salas, deserts, etc)
  • Add boards like “Things We Like”, “Specials”, etc
  • Create boards that your customers will find useful and entertaining, such as “Awesome Recipes”, “Drink Mixology Tips”, “Wine Paring Ideas”, etc
  • Hold contests where you reward customers for pinning your images to their boards
  • Set up contests where your customers create images that promote your restaurant in some way. It could be the picture of their birthday party at your restaurant or of them wearing a t-shirt with your restaurant’s name on it while visiting various places around the world
  • Add a “Pin In” button to your website
  • Link all the images back to your website
  • “Watermark” the images with your restuarant’s name or website

Just remember that social media is “social” first and “media” a distant second. Focus on creating interaction with other users, contribute great content, share other people’s images, and act like a member of the community.

The currency in social media is attention. When you pay that to others, they will pay you back with that too.

Now let’s go online and start “pinning”!

Is Restaurant Email Marketing Dead?

email restaurant marketingThese days you often hear about the imminent “death of email.” Social media junkies and newbie consultants eager to sell some new “fad-of-the-day” marketing idea usually point out that:

  • email marketing doesn’t work as well as it used to
  • social media, texting, mobile apps, etc. are the next big thing and are going to replace email
  • teens (i.e. future adults) don’t use email that much anymore, and once they grow up, they won’t use it either.

These are lies, which, if you choose to believe them, will hurt your business.

What makes them believable is that they are partially true. (By the way, for a lie to work it has to have an element of truth.)

Let’s review each of these statements.

Restaurant Marketing Lie #1: “Email is dead”

It’s true that in many markets, the effectiveness of email marketing has gone down. However, the same can be said about a lot of other marketing tools and methods. The issue is not as much email per se as the fact that we live in an over-communicated society. Anywhere we turn, we are bombarded by advertising messages. Our brain just had to figure out a way to keep us sane by protecting us from the onslaught of marketing information. It subconsciously ignores and automatically discards anything that looks like a marketing message.

Now, as a restaurant owner trying to get your marketing to work, you need to find a way to sneak your marketing message under the radar of your prospect’s brain. The only way to do that is to make your marketing messages NOT look like marketing. There are very few restaurants that know how to be a “stealth marketer.”

Restaurant Marketing Lie #2: Only the “new media” matters now

It’s true that you should always be looking for ways to add new marketing tools arsenal. However, this should not be your starting point. Unless and until you build a proper marketing foundation in the form of a responsive email subscription list, your chances of successfully implementing all these other tools are significantly diminished.

We keep hearing about “new media” replacing “old media” but it rarely happens: Movies didn’t make books obsolete, and TV did not stop people from going to movies. In much the same way, Facebook, SMS texting and mobile apps can and probably should become viable marketing tools for you. However, email is still going to be one of the best, cheapest, most effective ways to reach your customers.

Restaurant Marketing Lie #3: Teenagers don’t do email

I won’t spend much time on this one because it’s just laughable. As soon as today’s teens become tomorrow’s employees and business owners, they will start spending a lot more time in their Inbox and a less time in their Facebook. Just give them time.

 

The Not-So-Silent Killer of Restaurant Business

Bad publicity can be good for a celebrity, but not for a restaurant business.

Read these comments:

“Why do people come here?”
“The food wasn’t anything to write home about”
“The food sucks,
and the employees are treated like crap”

Pray tell me, would you come here on your date night or would you go somewhere else? I think we both know the answer. As of this writing, you can see these comments online for a restaurant that pops up as #2 in Google for Buffalo, NY.

Or how about this restaurant in Manhattan Beach, CA (came up as #3 in Google for me):

Experience, not so good. The wine was excellent. The food, not so much. The sauce on the pasta was bland, & watered down. Canned sauce from the grocery would have had more flavor. Maybe because we came early evening and their sauce was not done yet? Don’t know. The scallops were over-cooked but still good as they were fresh. Service was NOT first class at all, not even 2nd class. This is the first restaurant that was Zaggat rated that I found was not deserving. It was a waste of time & money. Very disappointed as this is a very pretty setting.”

If a friend from out of town was visiting, would you pick this restaurant?

This comment shows up on top of all other reviews and it has been there for over six months! Over all this time, this restaurant’s management could be looking at their sales reports, wondering about their slow sales this summer compared to last year and blaming the economy. The problem, as is usually the case, is right under their noses: It’s their restaurant’s online reputation.

Notice here that I am not scraping the bottom of the barrel. These are some of the most popular restaurants in their cities that have been in business for a long time.

Restaurant Business Then and Now

Marketing a restaurant business used to be a relatively simple thing: Create an ad, run it in the paper or give a chunk of cash to the Yellow Pages people, and you’re set. Even your biggest and worst mess ups didn’t usually get known outside of a small circle of people.

And boy what a different world we live in now! Restaurant marketing success today depends not as much on what you say about yourself but what other people say about you.

It doesn’t matter if these comments are based on facts or fiction, or if one of your staff happened to have a bad night, or if you had to fire an employee and now they are retaliating by smearing your restaurant business online.  It’s of no consequence if the customer was irate and unreasonable. These comments are now there for the entire world to see and judge and as a result, your restaurant business suffers.

With social media and review sites everywhere, the reputation of your restaurant business is under constant scrutiny of literally thousands would-be-guests. Some of them could be strolling down the local street and reading your restaurant reviews on their cell phone while others would be miles and miles away, on their computer, planning their trip to your city.

How is your restaurant business and your restaurant’s online reputation?

How To Create an Effective Geo-Targeted Restaurant Marketing Campaign

Local Restaurant MarketingRestaurant marketing is essentially communicating what your restaurant, cafe, bakery, pizzeria, etc has to offer to potential guests. It is a way of inciting interest and describing the unique features of your menu, of your service, and of your location. However, as valuable as  marketing can be, it presents serious issues when it comes to reaching the intended consumer.

Conventional marketing (including restaurant marketing) is all about broadcasting or printing the message where a lot of potential consumers will be able to see it, but only few will find it relevant. For greater efficiency, marketing slowly has become more centered on specific demographics, enabled largely by improvements in communication.

For instance, it is relatively easy to create restaurant marketing campaigns that focus on a particular geographic area, like advertising in a local paper. You can also target a particular “psychographic” group, such as advertising your healthy menu options on a healthy living website. However, it can still be very difficult to reach viable consumers, those that turn into guests and into food sales.

Location-based online marketing is the answer. If it’s not in place, over 90 percent of ad impressions are wasted on potential guests who are outside your geographic area. Luckily, technology has advanced to allow geo-location marketing. For instance, smartphones allow marketers to obtain device-location data and modern search engines, such as Google, enable consumers to find what they need based entirely on the geographic location they are in and what’s near it. Better targeting means better conversions and more food sales.

These are the steps to take to make a geo-targeted campaign work for you:

PICK A SPECIFIC TARGET FOR YOUR RESTAURANT MARKETING CAMPAIGN

Make sure that your campaign is targeted well to the area you operate in. Major search engines like Google, allow you to target your restaurant marketing campaigns based on City, ZIP codes, neighborhoods, or even a specific street intersection.

This way, when you advertise your coffee shop, you can be sure that most of the consumers exposed to your message are within a range that would make sense for them pay you a visit.

BE A GOOD NEIGHBOR

You can use your restaurant’s geographic location to your marketing advantage in promotions by focusing on providing consumer incentives at a hyper-local level. For instance, you could create a time-sensitive coupon to those who live within a few mile radius of your foodservice establishment.

EXPLAIN HOW TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE

With geo-location, you can also explain your location, to make it easy for your first-time guests to find you. (People are lazy and most would rather go to your competitor than spend time looking you up in the directory.) It’s very important that you provide a map. Even better is offer directions from the person’s location (walking, by car, or by public transportation).

CAPITALIZE ON THE NEW AND COOL

There some very interesting “new and cool” tools available to you as local marketer. Many coffee shops (and we can’t not mention Starbucks here), are using programs such as Foursquare and Facebook Locations to turn location into a game. Consumers can “check in” at your location, allowing you to provide incentives for consumers to visit a specific location more frequently by offering status (e.g. mayor status, badges), points, or incentives based on the number of visits (e.g. free appetizer on your fifth visit).

Geo-targeted online marketing is a key part of growing your restaurant business and brand, to attract local customers.

Local Internet Marketing is much more than just slamming together a website. The real restaurant marketing work is about becoming “findable” in multiple places when a local consumer is searching for your type of product.

7 Restaurant Business Predictions for 2011

As we bring in the new year, we are going to take on a risk of predicting what the near future has in store for the restaurant business. While we want to be right in our analysis, we hope that some of these predictions don’t come true as they mean it will be harder for a restaurant owner to make money and to keep the money they make in their restaurant business.

Restaurant Business Prediction #1: Daily Deals

With the success of the Groupon business model, more and more entrepreneurs jump on board and start their own versions of “daily deals”. Unfortunately for Groupon, they don’t have a “secret sauce” to help them defend their turf from the onslaught of this new competition. (However, their market is far from being saturated). Fortunately for a restaurant owner like you, there will be even more Groupon-like marketing options available to you.

Whichever “daily deal” or “group coupon” company you decide to work with, remember that they are in the business of making a profit for themselves, not for you. (The same is true about newspapers, TV, Yellow Pages, and any other advertising media). It is your number one job to make sure your restaurant business turns a profit.

To make a Groupon campaign work for you, be organized and prepared. Here are some quick tips:

* Have enough food and staff to serve any increase in business
* Don’t go with it unless you can at least break even on every check (because if you’re losing money, you can’t make it up on volume; any repeat business is the gravy)
* Train your staff to handle the “moochers” just like your best customers (to minimize the risk of getting bad reviews on Yelp, UrbanSpoon and other review sites)
* Train them how to do upsells and how to collect customer contact information table-side (to have a chance to follow up with them and invite them back)
* Get first-time guests on your email newsletter
* Enroll them in your VIP Club or Birthday Club
* Have a follow up / bounce back campaign thought out and in place to bring the new guests back in

More information on how to work with Groupon and other “daily deals” companies is available here.

Restaurant Business Prediction #2: Local Search and Geo Targeting

The Big 3 search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) keep coming up with new and better ways to deliver geo-targeted results. Local small businesses (especially those in the hospitality and foodservice industry) are where it’s at when it comes to providing a better user experience to an online user.

A few years ago, the Internet was thought of as a “global information super-highway” that allowed someone in England to check on the status of their shipment from China to a client in Canada. While this is still true, the Internet has changed into an everyday tool to help a local mom decide which cafe she’s will stop at when she takes Little Johnny to his soccer game or which movie she’ll go to on a Tuesday night with her girlfriends.

Independent restaurant owners are generally slow to embrace marketing technology. Many still don’t even have a website. And now just having a website for a restaurant business is no longer enough: It has to be optimized for local search. Get on this now before everyone else and their dog is on there. Early adopters will make the most money.

Restaurant Business Prediction #3: Mobile Marketing

The new waive of Internet users no longer use a computer to go online. They can — and do — go online from their cell phone. They call them now “smart phones” and even that is a bit of a misnomer: It’s anything but a phone. Chances are, your smart phone has more smarts than your 3-year old computer.

What does this all mean to a restaurant business? It means that if you were late to hop on the train called “website” and “email marketing”, then the new train called “mobile marketing” is going to choo-choo away from you even faster. Build a mobile version of your site and do that now. Google has been reported on some occasions to NOT show “traditional” sites in their mobile search at all, so the sooner you get there the more you will benefit.

And as you are collecting your patron’s emails and mailing addresses, it’s time to start collecting their cell phone numbers too.

Restaurant Business Prediction #4: Inflation and Higher Food Cost

The currency is being created out of thin air by The Fed and all the other central banks around the world at an unprecedented speed. As more currency (not to be mistaken with “money”) enters the circulation and starts chasing the limited supply of goods, the inflation kicks in. Where the inflation will be the most visible is the price of gas, utilities, and the food cost.

I’ve met restaurant owners who purchased their business several years ago and “inherited” everything — staff, menu, decor, pricing, clientele — from the previous owner. They are not ready for these fast-pace chances in their business costs. As the inflation get bigger and faster, food cost management will become a matter of survival and not just a “best practice”. Be ready to tweak recipes, portions, and menus much more often than you have in the past.

Restaurant Business Prediction #5: More Regulation

The governments of all levels are broker than broke. Incessant hand-outs, giveaways, and bailouts require more currency coming in in the form of taxes. While the federal government can ask The Fed to print more dollars, local or municipal governments don’t have that option. Their response is going to be more regulation, strict enforcement of bylaws, permits and licenses, more bureaucracy, and the complete abandonment of reason in their dealings with local businesses. A story comes to mind of a businesses owner who answered the door to find there two IRS inspectors serving him a notice to pay $0.04 in back taxes plus $200 in fines. Brace yourself up for more insanity.

Restaurant Business Prediction #6: Brand Management

Yelp, TripAdvisor and a multitude of other review sites have the power to both put your on the map and to destroy your business. Your restaurant’s brand management is likely to become your headache or at least a priority in the coming year. If you’ve taken the time to build a VIP Club and turn your guests into raving fans, they will become the army to defend you from blackmail campaigns by an unscrupulous vendor or competitor. Also, if you thought mess ups in your dining room were costing you a lot, now they can cost you the entire business.

Restaurant Business Prediction #7: Social Media

Love it or hate it, social media is here and it’s here to stay. Facebook is already responsible for one click out of every four in the US and they are growing bigger. The “ugly duckling” Twitter may not appear very elegant but it has produced solid marketing results for a number of businesses. Foursquare is consistently growing its user base in many metropolitan areas. And lest we forget YouTube that gets a comparable amount of traffic to that of the big almighty Google.

While many early attempts to use Social Media in restaurant marketing were primarily experimental and didn’t produce any long-term results, these tools are now going mainstream and we are likely to see a number of reliable and repeatable marketing tactics to emerge. Become a friendly and smart user of social media and you will increase your trips to the bank.

Restaurant Marketing: To Groupon or not to Groupon?

Groupon coupons for restaurant businessAbout two years ago, a new word was entered out lives: Groupon. This company came seemingly out of nowhere and created an entire new industry. Thousands of coupon junkies are now glued to their computers waiting for the next daily deal to show up that they can share with their friends. Groupon is now arguably the fastest growing company ever promising to reach the $1 billion in sales mark within two years of its history.

Seth Godin, a marketing philosopher and the best-selling author, says that if other people are copying you, you have done something remarkable. By this standard, Groupon is an outstandingly successful company that has over 200 copycats in the United States alone and over 500 worldwide.

Andrew Mason, the founder of Groupon, has created an extremely profitable business model. Groupon sure does know how to make money for themselves.

The big question is, does it or does it not make sense for your restaurant to participate in the “daily deals” campaigns?

Let’s take a look at how “daily deals” campaigns work.

You offer a number of gift certificates redeemable at your restaurant at a significant discount (usually around 50%). The offer is valid only if the target number of certificates sold has been reached. The money your campaign generates is then split between you and the vendor (Groupon or one of their competitors).

An offer like this is designed to bring in a lot of first-time guests who have never heard of and have never visited your restaurant before. Such a campaign can literally put your restaurant business on the map.

As it is usually the case, the positives come with quite a few negatives.

This type of heavy couponing is going to bring in price-conscious customers. Many restaurants who have tried the daily-deals style of marketing report that the guests who show up with a coupon in their hand tend not to buy beyond what the coupon offers. Many don’t bother to read the terms and try to combine the coupon with other deals or discounts you may have going on that day.

Several restaurant owners commented that these guests tend to not tip a lot or not tip at all and are on a lookout for a “gotcha” even though you offer the same food and level of service as you do to non-coupon guests. What’s worse, few of these guests end up coming again.

When you plan a marketing campaign around a daily deal, you have to be prepared. Yes it’s nice to have a lot of new guests to come in and discover your restaurant for the first time. You, however, need to make sure you know how to make money and how to bring these people again after their first visit.

Train your staff on how to work with coupon holders. Add first-time guests to your newsletter, VIP club, birthday club or other type of customer loyalty program you may have in place. Teach your waiters how to capture guests’ contact details table-side. Consider programming your POS system to automatically include the tip into the check.

Offer Groupon deals only on days and hours when your restaurant is slow and only on the items that offer you a high profit contribution margin. Your food cost is probably anywhere from 28 to 36% of the menu price. Given that you only get 25% of the value from Groupon, you are almost guaranteed to lose money on this marketing campaign, even if some of the coupons do not get redeemed.

Remember: Each coupon customer walking in door puts you further in the red unless you do something to drive more add-on and repeat sales.

Simple Tips On How To Grow A Restaurant VIP Club

restaurantvipIt just hurts me to see restaurants to not be able to grow their VIP Club membership as fast as they could. Having experienced a sluggish growth of their membership, or no growth for a long time, many restaurant owners abandon the whole idea of VIP Club. Almost always, prematurely.

Which is sad. Because there is not a faster, easier, or more profitable way to grow restaurant sales than a Restaurant VIP Club.

The following is a short — and by no means complete — list of tips to help you dramatically accelerate the growth of your VIP Club list and of your restaurant business:

1. Offer a clear benefit

Placing a little fishbowl at the cash register is not enough. Sure, some people will drop their business card in there. But don’t expect your guests to line up and trip over themselves at a chance to get on your list. You need to offer a clear benefit to them, the benefit they will realize by joining your VIP Club.

2. Train your staff

Your staff should be doing the sales work for your VIP Club.  Nothing in this world, including your VIP Club, sells by itself.  And your staff will fail, quit, and sabotage your vision unless they believe they can sell what you’re asking them to sell. Keep it simple and leave no room for improvisation. Write a script, rehearse and role-play it until it becomes automatic and natural.

3. Get a buy-in from your staff

We’ve seen restaurants where the staff were refusing to sell the restaurant’s VIP Club to the patrons because they perceived that to be some sort of a “gocha”, a marketing ploy. Your job as a restaurant owner or manager is to educate and inspire your troops and to help them see the good that your patrons gain from belonging to VIP club.

4. Motivate your staff

Why not set up a contest for your waitstaff and have them compete for the most new VIP Club enrollments? Obviously, you can’t have such a competition with no buy-in from your staff in the first place. (See #3 above.)

5. Set up special events

The calendar should be your biggest friend. It gives you virtually endless opportunities to piggy-back and capitalize on some major and not-so-major holidays. As I’m writing this, The Mother’s Day is just around the corner. Do you have anything special happening at your restaurant that week? No? Boo to you!  And if you missed that opportunity, no fear. Because you can always create your own holiday, any day. Go to This Day In History page, pick the month and the date, find an event you could connect to your brand, food, character, heritage or the latest news item related to your restaurant, and create an event around it.

By growing your restaurant’s VIP Club membership, you can reduce the need to advertse, have more control over the type of customers you attract, and dramatically improve the profitability of your restaurant business.  And in order to grow the membership fast, you need to follow a few simple (albeit not necessarily easy) rules.

Key Numbers To Watch In Your Restaurant Business

restaurant-businessTo build and maintain a successful restaurant business, you need to constantly keep your thumb on its pulse and know how fast its heart is beating. You need to be checking the key numbers.

Obviously, your cash registers and your accounting system will provide you with some very important information. That’s the good news. The bad news is, knowing how you did last week or last month may not be a very good indicator of where your restaurant sales will be next week or next month.

Any type of financial data that you can get from the accounting system is known as “lagging” indicators. These indicators tell you what happened. They won’t tell you much about what is about to happen. However, they are still important.

Here are the most important numbers you need to monitor:

  • Weekly sales, total per week/day and also by the hour (you can then create a simple Excel chart and see weekly and daily peaks and valley and also be able to identify over-staffing & capacity issues)
  • Weekly profit (Many restaurant owners mistaken “gross” for “net” and assume that the more gross you have the more money you make. Well, as the song goes, “it ain’t necessarily so.”)
  • Weekly payroll
  • Product group contributions (the percentages of your total sales attributed to drinks, entrees, appetizers, and desserts)

If you manage your restaurant business by relying just on the lagging indicators, you could be looking for trouble. It’s akin to driving a car by looking in the rear mirror all the time.

If you want to have a way of predicting how your restaurant business is going to do in the near future, you need to implement and track a few “leading” indicators.

  • The total number of VIP Club members
  • The number of new VIP Club members added to the list over the last period
  • The number of Birthday Club members on the list
  • The number of catering sales calls made (if you do catering)

Some of the leading indicators are much harder to measure. They tend to be “soft” and qualitative, rather than “hard” and quantitative like the lagging indicators. After all, how do you measure the morale of your staff and how much they enjoy working at your restaurant? How can you confidently know that this week they were greeting guests more cheerfully than a week ago?

Well, these are certainly harder but not impossible to measure:

  • You can use comment cards and evaluation forms that customers fill out at the request of your staff.
  • You can hire a mystery shopping company or — better yet — turn you best customers into mystery shoppers.
  • You can talk to the staff regularly and fill out a simple form at the end of the day, and then tabulate the results weekly and monthly.

There you have it.

Now, let’s get to work and start keeping track of the important things in your business.

The list of indicators above is very short. However, if you implement just half of these indicators in your restaurant business and consistently track them, you will be in the top 5% of the most successful restaurants.