Written by: Joe Pappalardo
Every restaurant has a slow period. Often it’s the time between lunch and dinner or Tuesday evenings. In order to maximize revenue, your options are to either cut back on overhead or increase traffic during off-peak hours.
Minimizing overhead can include measures such as:
- Shutting off appliances that aren’t needed to save electricity (e.g., warming lights), or
- Cross-training staff so that you don’t need a full crew when service is slow.
On the other hand, you can employ a variety of promotions, usually discounts and offers, to bring traffic into your restaurant to address idle staff and equipment. Some of our favorite promotions include:
Be a good neighbor. Advertise with local retailers by offering a midday pick-me-up to afternoon shoppers. You have the opportunity to provide a respite for weary customers with a limited menu that won’t tax your back-of-the-house staff as they prepare for the dinner crowd.
Become a social butterfly. If you’re not already taking advantage of social media, you need to start. There are many ways to use social to drive traffic to your restaurant. Some easy-to-implement ideas include:
- Twitter (https://twitter.com/). Tweet last minute promotions to your followers. These work well with local businesses (office parks as opposed to retailers) providing employees with a place to unwind after a long day sitting at a desk.
- Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/). Post a promotion on your Facebook page letting your customers buy their Facebook friends a birthday drink. The process is easy. Your customers click on a link on your Facebook page, fill out a form including the recipient’s email address, and a certificate for a free beverage is emailed to your customer’s friend. This promotion is a great way to increase Facebook traffic as well as expand your loyal customer base.
- Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/). One of the best ways for people to find local businesses. Customers can post reviews that help to drive traffic to your restaurant.
- Instagram (https://instagram.com/). Share photos of customers enjoying themselves at your restaurant or pictures of signature dishes enticing people to stop by to catch a quick bite.
- Vine (https://vine.co/). Go a step further and create and share short videos of special events at your restaurant such as birthday parties, anniversaries, or promotions. You can post the videos on Facebook or Twitter to share with all of your friends and followers.
Leverage SMS marketing lists. Reaching out to your loyal customer base is another way to fill empty seats. These are the folks who not only sustain your business but are your best advocates for bringing in new customers through word-of-mouth.
In addition to email (almost every restaurant has an email club), you can use SMS marketing lists as another channel to advertise special events, promotions, or last minute deals. We’ve found that a restaurant’s most loyal customers are those that subscribe to more than one channel to stay connected. Following are some of our retailer customers most effective campaigns:
- Generate incremental revenue. Response rates are huge for on-demand promotions (based on restaurant advertising, consumers text-in a term to a shortcode to receive a mobile offer). Redemptions surpass even the most generous email campaigns with rates as high as 75% and average redemption rates between 30-50%. A campaign may involve a customer buying one meal for full price and receiving the second meal for ½ off. Using an SMS marketing list, an example call-to-action is to ask customers to text the keyword MEAL to your shortcode to receive the offer. The offer can be advertised on any of your social media platforms.
- Drive traffic to locations. The location and terms of a promotion are important components to filling empty seats. If you advertise the promotion in the restaurant, make the offer good for their next visit ensuring a return trip. You can also set a time limit on the offer availability (e.g., the offer is good for the next 2 weeks) to drive traffic to your restaurant sooner. A sample call-to-action could be “Text CHECK for $5 off any order greater than $50.”
- Increase order size: Give away food in order to encourage the purchase of more profitable menu items such as drinks. An example call-to-action is “Text DESSERT to receive a free dessert with any meal greater than $25.” The dessert is inconsequential as your customers will most likely order an after dinner beverage to accompany their free dessert where in the past they may have left without any dessert. Having guests linger over dessert and after dinner drinks on a slow night may turn out to be a good thing.
Like email, SMS marketing list promotions are easy to implement and can generate ROI in no time. Click on 10 Reasons Why SMS is a Great Mobile Marketing Tool for Retailers for more information on creating an SMS program.