MARKETING AND PROMOTIONS
Every business needs a marketing plan, and your food-service business is no exception. But even as you consider various marketing vehicles, keep this in mind: Research conducted by the National Restaurant Association reveals that word-of-mouth is still the best method of advertising. More than four out of five consumers are likely to choose a table-service restaurant they haven't patronized before on the basis of a recommendation from a family member or friend. So make the foundation of your marketing program an absolutely dazzling dining experience that customers will want to talk about and repeat.
Ask every new customer how they found out about you, and make a note of this information so you know how well your various marketing efforts are working. You can then decide to increase certain programs and eliminate those that aren't working.
A key question for restaurant owners is this: Do your marketing materials -- menus, signs, table tents, ads and other items -- send an accurate message about who you are and what you do?
The first step in creating a complete marketing package is to know your market, and it's not enough to gather demographic information once. Markets change, and food-service businesses that don't change their marketing strategies with population shifts are missing out on a lot of opportunities.
Next, step back and take a look at each element in your facility. Everything from the parking lot to the interior decor to the printed items contributes to your marketing message--and each should be an accurate reflection of what that message is.
One cheap and easy way to promote your food-service business is by giving away gift certificates--such as dinner for two, coffee and bagels for 10, or a free pizza. Call local radio stations that reach the demographics of your target market and ask to speak to their promotions manager. Offer to provide gift certificates or coupons to use as prizes for on-air contests and promotions. Your company name and location will be announced several times on the air during the contest, providing you with valuable free exposure, and it's always possible that the winner will become a paying customer.
You can also donate coupons and gift certificates to be used as door prizes at professional meetings or for nonprofit organizations to use as raffle prizes. Just be sure every coupon or gift certificate clearly identifies your business name, location, hours of operation and any restrictions on the prize.
Some other promotional methods you can try include local event or sporting team sponsorships, discount coupon books, frequent-dining clubs, menu promotions and contests.