As generations age and tech-savvy Millennials move into the spending spotlight, restaurants will need to adopt new technologies to keep pace and to gain new business. With the vast whirlwind of apps, software and devices being developed every year, deciding which to choose can be overwhelming.
Your best bet is to focus on technology that offers efficiency, scalability, market reach, and the ability to stay relevant to your customers. Here are three technologies that will improve your restaurant marketing strategies and, hopefully, your bottom line.
In the information age, consumers have become researchers, continually looking for quick access to the products and services they seek. When choosing where to dine, potential customers are more likely to check out a restaurant's website first - and online menus play an important role in these decisions.
While websites are an effective tool for featuring business information, they also give restaurateurs a marketing boost in other ways. Websites create new opportunities by featuring Internet-only promotions. Engage customers beyond the brick-and-mortar by offering online deals, promoting events, providing an email sign-up form, linking to social media pages, and more. Websites are also a great platform for advertising open positions, communicating the company culture, and targeting the best pool of potential employees.
Visual Content Marketing
As the saying goes, an image is worth a thousand words. So it's no wonder visual content marketing is rapidly growing. Image-based social sites, such as Pinterest and Instagram, offer restaurants the perfect platform for displaying mouth-watering images of daily specials and top menu items or a behind-the-scenes look at the kitchen in action - all at no cost. And restaurants don't need a professional photographer to be successful; most smart phones today take high-quality digital images that are instantly share-worthy.
While there is controversy over food photo sharing, you may want to consider encouraging customers to share photos with hashtags you create. After all, if the purpose of social media is to build relationships, restaurateurs would do well to engage customers via the sites they use. According to MediaBistro's All Twitter, 57% of Pinterest users interact with food content, and social media users spend more time on Instagram than on Twitter. Through image-based social sites, chefs and managers can cultivate a following by interacting with guests online.
Digital Signage & Menu Boards
Efficiency and cost-savings are a must for quick-service restaurants. Digital menu boards are an excellent solution for restaurateurs looking to reduce signage costs because they allow for greater promotional flexibility at the click of a button. Through POS system integration and menu content scheduling, managers can choose which days to display menu items - this is especially helpful when daily specials run out and there are hordes of hungry customers eager to order. As an added bonus, dynamic menus visually engage guests with enhanced food images and videos.
The ability to make adjustments on the fly is a powerful element of the digital menu system. QSRs can manage pricing, images, menu item positioning across all chains from a single web-based location at any time. Some software also provides capabilities for easily updating nutrition information, allowing restaurants to readily abide by calorie reporting requirements.
You've decided on your restaurant's concept. You've created delicious dishes. All that's left is to figure out how to price each offering to make a profit, without giving your diners sticker shock. A few simple tips can help you fuse profitability with customer satisfaction.
The Cost of Doing Business
Food cost is a principal factor in menu pricing. The term is a bit misleading, though; it includes not only the price of the food, but also operational costs. Employee salaries, facility fees, kitchen equipment and dining room décor all factor into how to price a side salad or a lobster mac and cheese entrée. Also, a customer's preconceived notions of a dining experience cannot be discounted. Whether a restaurant is fine dining or fast casual greatly influences expectations of menu prices. Guests will pay more for a meal when they are waited on in a full-service restaurant and will presume the bill to be less when ordering at a café counter.
If each item is portioned out the same for every meal served, then cost will be accurately reflected on the plate. This means calculating the cost of not just a whole tomato but, more precisely, the slice of tomato for a BLT sandwich. Also keep in mind gross profits when establishing menu prices. To determine earnings after food costs provides a restaurateur with better indicators of good business than marking up a set percentage above food cost.
Creating a well-rounded menu can save you from price fluctuations on more expensive items. Buying local and in-season is one way to guarantee cheaper produce. Demographics of the area, how much competitors charge, and how the business is positioned in the market are all important variables that should be reflected in menu prices. If your business is known for a special feature, such as live music, you may be able to charge more for an item than other restaurants in the area.
Once you create your menu's pricing, don't think you are done. There will always be need for revisions, based on market costs of certain goods, rent hikes, or any number of changes to a business. Don't wait to review your menu's pricing only when adding new items. Remember to continually analyze the total costs of running your business and make prudent price adjustments when it makes sense to do so.
Smartphone Technology Benefitting Restaurants
Smartphone technology is one of the hottest trends in restaurants and hospitality establishments today. While it may seem integrating mobile technology is only feasible for foodservice businesses with a national presence, smaller chains and independent restaurants can also benefit without breaking their budget. Check out three new options for preventing bad reviews, increasing efficiency, and generating loyal customers.
Ever been Yelped? You're not alone. More and more, restaurant customers are turning to online review sites to air their grievances, from facility cleanliness to poor guest service. Oftentimes, unhappy customers leave without alerting managers to the issue, and it's these customers who are most likely to share their experiences via word of mouth.
But what if you could easily address complaints before guests leave and prevent those negative reviews from popping up? That's the concept behind TalkToTheManager, a text message-based customer feedback service for cell phones.
Through private messages and hidden phone numbers, the service allows customers to anonymously report a bad experience to owners and managers while still in the restaurant. In turn, managers can act quickly to resolve complaints, particularly during busy periods, when issues are more likely to be missed. They can also respond to customers promptly, thanking them for taking the time to report an issue and assuring them it'll be taken care of immediately.
At $15 per month for 500 messages, the affordable pricing package makes the service ideal for small businesses. Customers also receive free table signage and website widgets. Have more than one location? Add additional establishments to a single account, each with their own 500-message monthly allowance. Beware of overage charges, though, as there is a fee of 1.5 cents per message beyond the limit; however, TalkToTheManager assures that most small businesses will not reach the maximum monthly allowance.
POS systems are a must for many restaurant. Yet they are traditionally expensive and consist of bulky, proprietary hardware.
Enter the next generation of POS systems, which utilize mobile technology and promote affordability. Take POSLavu, a cloud-based POS app that syncs iPad, iPod Touch, and iPhone technology to create a single wireless solution for restaurant operations. Waiters can log and send tableside orders directly to the kitchen printers from their smartphones, eliminating the need for taking down orders by hand or committing them to memory. Tablets also receive this information, and combined with a credit card reader and secure servers, they allow for faster payment processing and guest checkout.
As an added bonus for Management, POSLavu provides backend accessibility via any browser, detailed activity reports, and the ability to upload financial data to existing accounting software.
With three pricing levels to choose from and free software updates, small restaurants can select an option that best fits their establishment's needs. There are no contracts to sign, and POSLavu touts lower monthly fees than standard POS systems. There is a standard cost for each level based on terminal (iPad) support, ranging from $895 for a single terminal to $3,495 for up to 10 terminals. Tech-savvy restaurateurs can choose to self-install the software into their hardware. For those who would prefer to have the system installed professionally, restaurant owners can request assistance from a Certified Distributor to ensure a smooth set up.
A mobile POS system that doubles as a loyalty program? It's as easy as link, pay, reward.
With LevelUp, smartphone users can download an app and receive a unique QR code, which is securely linked to a credit or debit card. When frequenting participating restaurants, customers check out by pulling up the app and scanning the code. Unlike cash or card payers, the app tracks customer data, and first-time visitors to any establishment will receive instant first-purchase savings.
And the perks continue from there. LevelUp currently offers two customer loyalty programs: the Customer Acquisition Campaign, which provides one-time incentives to new customers, and the Loyalty Campaign, which generates repeat business via the popular spend more, save more rewards model. As an added bonus, restaurateurs receive analytics data to determine the effectiveness of the service for their business.
LevelUp is currently limiting its network base to the foodservice industry. The service is ideal for small restaurants looking to grow their business through inexpensive easy-to-manage loyalty programs. The platform allows for a 0% payment processing rate; instead nominal fees are accrued for successful customer transactions resulting from either campaign.
Online Reputation Management
Customers seek online recommendations to support their offline purchases. While glowing recommendations can significantly increase traffic to your restaurant, complaints can just as easily damage your establishment's reputation. By voicing their poor experience online, people can spread the word to hundreds of potential patrons within seconds.
Here's how you can manage your online reputation and create a sure-fire recipe for more restaurant traffic.
Social media sites provide online word-of-mouth channels for anyone who has an opinion. It's been shown that angry customers are especially likely to voice theirs. Because of the wide reach the Internet has, the impact of Web 2.0 technology on restaurant reputation is quite powerful and can deter potential and existing customers from frequenting your establishment.
If you don't already have them, create Facebook and Twitter accounts, which are free. We encourage enlisting the help of a friend or associate familiar with these social programs to assist with the promotional messaging and information you present on your company's profiles. Once the accounts are set up, you will want to pay attention to what customers are saying. When you receive a positive comment or tweet, great! Be sure to thank the reviewer and welcome them back to your establishment in the future.
When you receive a negative comment or tweet, do not respond hastily. Take a moment to reflect on the complaint, and then respond calmly. Address the issue in a timely manner and handle the criticism politely, letting the customer know you would like the opportunity to give them a better experience in the future. Showing your dedication to the customer experience will lessen the review's damaging effects and earn the respect of new customers.
Take the Initiative
There are many websites dedicated to hosting online reviews, such as Yelp, Zagat, Google Places, and UrbanSpoon. Regardless of product or service sought, online reviews affect American buying decisions. However, restaurant reviews can be the most influential, and negative information can cause patrons to cancel reservations and keep potential customers at bay.
Don't wait for a negative online review to find you. Go to Google Alerts and sign up for daily or weekly alerts regarding your restaurant. Add alerts for your restaurant's name and web address as well as terms that include "review" and the names of review sites.
Learn From Others
While a negative review is indeed damaging, it can also be an effective restaurant management tool. Consider using the unsolicited and candid information as valuable feedback for improving your operations. Oftentimes, reviews have merit and provide a useful lens for understanding the dining experiences of patrons. Use it to discover where inefficiencies reside, then take the opportunity to make necessary changes before it is too late.
Daily Deal websites offer opportunities for bargain-hungry consumers to flex their collective buying power, and they're popping up all over the Internet. Giants such as Groupon and LivingSocial partner with businesses to provide discounts of up to 70% - 90%. In turn, they create huge potential to attract hundreds of new customers for businesses across several industries. In many instances, a customer would never have patroned an establishment if they had not found the daily special featured online.
It's important to recognize that there are possible pitfalls being featured on these sites. While they may help to bring more people through your doors, there are drawbacks. If you're thinking of jumping on the daily deal bandwagon, here are some tips on how to get the most out of your partnering experience.
Anticipate coupon redemption. Is your establishment equipped to handle several redemptions during peak hours? Does the expiration date fall during busier times, such as holidays or special events? Consider your staff and budget when planning a date range for your coupon to be redeemed.
Ensure appropriate tipping. Guests may wonder whether they should tip based on the reduced or regular prices. Eliminate confusion and show your wait staff that their livelihood is important to you by instituting a fixed or suggested gratuity based on the pre-discount price.
Do the math. If you offer a meal at a 50% discount, what is the remaining profit? When deciding on a discounted price, factor in all related costs including the fee which the daily deal site will take.
Plan a deal-specific menu. Often times, menu prices vary greatly, as do margins. Profits can be severely eroded if low-margin items are sold at deeply discounted prices. Create a menu for your deal seekers that delivers quality and still maintains reasonable profit margins. Consider an entrée with a choice of beverage, or swap out standard portion sizes for smaller ones in a four-course meal.
Encourage customer loyalty. Daily Deal websites help to market your restaurant by creating more awareness and attracting new guests. Customer retention, however, is up to each individual restaurant. Develop a plan for ensuring diners will want to return again and again.
Social Media for Restaurants
Repeat customers are the main ingredient for restaurant success. By establishing or ramping up your social media presence, you can attract new customers and keep them coming back.
Restaurants can boost sales on slow business days by running exclusive promotions via this powerful and wide-reaching micro-blogging service.
Retweets are the latest means of 'spreading the word'. One relevant Tweet and a creative hash tag will quickly catch the eyes of followers. As your post is retweeted, it will be viewable on other followers' Twitter streams, in turn generating interest in your promotion.
Here's how to make Twitter work for you:
Post regularly. Are you running a one-day special? Post it every few hours. Are you offering a coupon good for one week only? Post it a few times a day throughout the week and create a sense of urgency on the last day.
Become well-versed. No need to be tech-savvy to make Twitter work for you. One simple way to maximize your Tweet power is to brush up on your Twitter Glossary.
Follow trends. Look for trending topics and include those tags when Tweeting your deals.
Get your name out there. Follow prominent and popular industry players, such as publications, bloggers, and local organizations.
Give shout-outs. Post a post-promotion Tweet to everyone who participated in making your promotion a success.
Reply. If you receive mentions and direct messages, respond to them that day (the sooner, the better). Send new followers welcome messages. And engage in conversations involving your promotion and brand.
Using Twitter is a cinch. All you need is a free account and some designated Tweeters. Need ideas to get started?
Links to trendy food articles
Sneak peeks behind the scenes
Preview of new menu item
Chef's recipe of the day
Facebook-centered promotions can be a boon for restaurants. The key ingredient is featuring relevant, current, and compelling content, which is the driving force behind this social networking service.
What many businesses fail to realize is they must do more than create Facebook pages and advertise the occasional mid-week special. Fans do not flock to pages without incentive or reason.
Here's how to make Facebook work for you:
Build your initial fan base. Add Facebook social plugins to your website and email newsletters to help promote your page.
Get the conversation started. It isn't enough to be "Liked". Fans can hide your updates from their feeds, thus never viewing your notifications. So now that word is spreading about your page, begin a conversation with your growing list of connections. Ask questions and listen to what others have to say. Make their feedback matter.
Update often, but not too often. Facebook users require fresh content to remain engaged. Remember that posts are primarily viewed on live news feeds, so publish attention-grabbing content each week.
Keep posts interesting and fun. Got a new menu item to promote? Create a poll for fans to help name the dish!
Add some flair. Enhance content with photos and videos. Showcase photos from a holiday party. Upload short video quick tips featuring your chef and kitchen staff.
Respond, respond, respond. Communicate with your connections regularly by responding to comments, and be personable when addressing concerns and negative posts.
Creating a Facebook page is a snap. Just sign up, select your page type, and fill out your restaurant profile. Check out industry competition and apply similar strategies to your page, such as coupon offers, nutrition guides and reviews.