Word of mouth is, was, and probably always will be the lifeblood of the hospitality industry, particularly with restaurants. All the external advertising in the world won't make a difference if your customers have poor things to say about you. Good advertising won't fix your customer experience or your reputation on the street.
With the advent of social networking, as well as large review sites for local establishments like Yelp, Urbanspoon and others, word of mouth has evolved and amplified. Now there are permanent records of reviews on these sites. They are read, and customers can be lost even before they try your establishment if these reviews are bad. If you already have a good reputation and your customer experience is positive, this is not surprising, and can be used as a powerful marketing tool. If you have a bad reputation, or if you're new and unknown, this can be a challenge. This situation is where your restaurant marketing strategies will change.
With an established restaurant reputation, you can rely on your classic marketing. In order to build a reputation, though, you want to focus on your customer experience first. Instead of spending your money just on traditional marketing, you might consider building your establishment's reputation first. Get yourself on sites like the ones mentioned above and create the best customer experience you can. When a customer mentions having had a good time, encourage them to put their reviews online. Don't try to suppress negative reviews, but do respond to them and show that you're trying to resolve the situation or issue politely.
Here are some tips that can help you improve your customer experience and the efficiency of your business. These come at an affordable price that will serve you in a multitude of ways. Eventually you'll be decreasing your workload at the same time as you're increasing your revenues. Note that the quality of your food and interior are both important, but they are not included on this list. These are ideas that can serve you through automation.
1. Run a Loyalty Program
For a new business, a good loyalty program can be the lifeblood of your establishment, keeping people coming in and earning points toward prizes and rewards, based on number of visits or amount spent with your establishment. You need to build local connections and partnerships that allow you to offer the kinds of rewards that draw new repeat customers. Get your regulars to promote it as well. Loyalty programs are well established in a great many successful businesses in the hospitality industry, and they generate interest while offering an incentive for return visits. If the food and service are already awesome, this is a sure fire way to keep people coming back. This loyalty program can be built upon by offering a monthly email telling them how much they've earned and what their total is, or an SMS message every time they earn points.
If you have a bad reputation and you didn't have a loyalty program before, that could help bring people back. However, this probably won't benefit you too much until you identify the problem and mend it. It will moreso help you recover once you've repaired the issue. By offering outstanding rewards, or breathing new life into your old program via new rewards, you can promote a new loyalty program in celebration of a big change in the way you do business, such as a change in management or a reopening. As above, email, SMS and other communication channels will help you keep customers engaged with the program.
2. Put Out a Newsletter
If your reputation isn't great, inform people how you've improved. Get them involved. Your newsletter is your platform to broadcast events, seasonal offers, special deals, new menu items and so much more. This will help you attract people and often bring in potential employees or partners who can help you achieve those goals.
The same is true for a new business. You can use your newsletter to promote your vision for your establishment, display new and exciting menu ideas, and even get input from people who have visited your new establishment to see what they think you could improve on. The newsletter is a powerful tool, but should never replace customer input in-house or other marketing tools, only work with them.
Newsletters are most effective when run by email, as a lot of direct mail marketing is disregarded and discarded. Using an automated email saves you time, especially if you maintain a set layout for the document. This way, you can set your email to trigger monthly, and just edit the content once a month. This leaves you free to take the time and ensure that the experience is engaging enough to make them want to sign up for that newsletter and share it with their friends.
3. Run a Blog
Writing a blog relevant to your industry and your goals can improve public opinion of you and draw people in. The public can and will be unforgiving, and much more so online. Don't dismiss them, however. Deleting or hiding bad reviews will make people think you don't care about their opinions. Even if you can't please everyone, make the effort. Respond to some of the criticisms and tell people how you're going to work to change that opinion. This makes people feel valued, shows them that you understand and makes them want to try your restaurant again. In the case of a new establishment, a blog makes you more visible online and gets people talking about you. This will in turn increase the number of people who find you.
As a consequence, this will push more people through your doors, ready to be served. One idea that seems to be pretty popular is to have that blog run by a member of the kitchen staff or a floor manager who can educate people on menu changes, how seating works, and even the challenges faced on a nightly basis and how they overcome them.
4. Keep People Connected
As a new business, by taking advantage of social media posting and even SMS, you can notify people of your daily special, the start of a featured menu for a given holiday or season, and keep your customers engaged and thinking about you even when they're not in your establishment. In turn, this makes them more likely to share with their friends, and drive more traffic through your restaurant. Always have something on the go, be it a featured menu, a daily drink or even a holiday meal special. This provides you a means to attract new patrons, and allows you to engage them on a consistent basis.
A business with a damaged reputation should heed this as well. Through social media such as Facebook and Twitter, they can offer updates on what they're doing to improve their service and interact with customers to find out what they can do better. Through those promotions, they can engage customers to come see what they've changed and how things have improved. Those actions will speak loudly, and your dedication to keeping patrons in the know and your steady stream of specials and changing menu items will pay off.
5. Give Your Patrons Reservation Control and Reminders
New or old, one of the worst things that can happen is someone making a reservation that doesn't get recorded. You don't want a customer to show up with a group, only to be told they didn't get the reservation they made and that their group has nowhere to eat. As a way of giving them control over the confirmation, and reminding them that they have a reservation set, try using contact management in tandem with email and voice contact to keep that process smooth. It works like this. A customer makes a reservation and their customer file is tagged with a reservation tag. As soon as they are placed into the reservation group, they receive an email confirming this and supplying them with a "ticket" that they can present to the staff to show that they have a reservation, regardless of possible computer errors on the establishment's part. In addition, a voice message goes out the day before, reminding them that they have a reservation and telling them that you hope to see them soon.
Combining this process with other tips and tricks can be very effective, and it offers an impressive amount of patron interaction without sacrificing a lot of time and money that could be spent improving the in-house experience. It's important to keep in mind that these are just some of our ideas. You know your industry best, and you can take these, build on them, and show us what you can do with marketing automation. Don't be afraid to try something new. You'll have learned something, if nothing else comes of it. Check out what we have to offer on our restaurant marketing page, and then learn more about marketing automation and consider what it might allow you to do more efficiently.
Something else to keep an eye out for are our featured flows. We put one up every week, detailing a few examples of how a given industry might benefit from our software. If your industry isn't up already, it could be coming soon, so check back often!