Marketing A Restaurant In A Slow Economy (part deux)

kid-thinkingThis is the second article in the series on how to market a restaurant during the economic slow-down and what a successful concept like Olive Garden does to grow when almost everybody else is shrinking. Loosely based on the information revealed in their Q1 2009 conference call.

4. Expand into new markets.

Olive Garden has seen a lot of response from their Hispanic ads targeted at the new, fast-growing, and dynamic market. This endeavor also includes Hispanic menus, and (since there was no mentioning of that in the conference call, I’m extrapolating) Hispanic staff, effectively positioning Olive Garden to Hispanic clientele as “their” place to eat out.

There could be at least two possible takeaways for you, related to restaurant marketing:

a) The Hispanic market is less saturated by other advertisers but is as hungry as any other. You may get a better bang for your marketing dollars by expanding into it.

b) Too many businesses in general, and restaurants in particular, are too stubborn to try to find a new market. The correct approach is to tackle one market at a time. Once you have won over one market, regroup and stage a crusade on another one. Examples of markets include particular occupations, age groups, hobbyists and enthusiasts. For instance, if you’ve built a successful VIP Club for golfers, you can create an additional VIP Club for children who take up golf.

5. When consumers tighten their purse strings, they go to fewer restaurants but frequent their favorite place almost as often as before.

This is a very important pattern to observe and is a direct result of the “winner takes it all” rule in action. In other words, you don’t have to win by a mile — you just have to win.

A restaurant that provides a slightly better food, a slightly better service, and does a slightly better job of staying in touch with their customers will do disproportionately better than their competition. And given that most restaurants don’t bother to revamp their boring food, never get around to properly train their staff, and have no concept of investing into a relationship with their customers, you just need to do a few things right (not perfect, just a teeny weenie bit better than the next guy) to do well while your competition is crashing and burning.

6. (I know I promised 5 “secrets”. This one is a bonus lesson in restaurant marketing, so stop complaining.) Here it is: Be ready to capture more customers when your competition throws in the towel and turns off the lights.

Well, this particular observation didn’t come from the conference call per se. Clarence Otis (Darden’s CEO) appeared on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” the night before the conference call and referenced the shutdowns of Bennigan’s.

Turns out, several of the Olive Garden stores are located next to the now-defunct Bennigan’s and saw a “pick up” of consumer traffic.

When a restaurant closes in your locale, be ready to meet new customers. By “be ready,” I mean “have the tools and processes in place to turn these first-timers into regulars, and regulars into raving fans.” Otherwise your euphoria will be extremely short-lived.


Say "enough's enough" to half-empty dining rooms, humdrum shifts, and wondering which half of your marketing budget was wasted.

73% of teenagers and adults are walking around with a smartphone (iPhone, Android, or Blackberry) in their back pocket. They use is for everything: Playing games, checking emails, texting their friends and ... googling your restaurant's website. If your website is not mobile ready, you're missing out on a lot of walk-ins. Download our Restaurant Commando's Mobile Readiness Checklist.

Watch this quick video about how to set up a Birthday Club that practically runs on an auto-pilot. This is going to be the easiest, fastest money you will ever create in you restaurant business.

About Chief Commando

Well, actually, Chief Commando is two people, Troy Authement and Alex Makarski. Troy and Alex combined their knowledge and experience to help independent restaurant owners and emerging chains create more growth and more profits in their businesses. Together, they provide a unique blend of expertise not available anywhere else in the industry.

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