In recent conversations with restaurant marketing leadership, I heard mostly familiar themes when discussing their marketing strategies. There are those smaller concepts that have found some success with a “Name your own price” promotion and other unique efforts to drive sales that have received quite a bit of media attention. But the majority of restaurant people I spoke to were sticking with more traditional strategies, with the occasional “toe in the water” when it comes to attempting less tried-and-true methods of increasing market share.
Most common among the marketing strategies some restaurant leadership shared with me is discounting or limited-time-only promotions. Jean Smoke, Director of Marketing for the 550%2B unit TacoTime concept, told me her concept has a “limited time addition to their World Famous line of Crisp Burritos, a Crisp Pork Burrito at a discounted price of $1.99.” They’ve found this offering is bringing in their current Crisp Burrito fans as well as new customers for an exciting new item. Frank Day, Chairman and President of RockBottom Restaurant and Brewery, said his concept has “built traffic and created some excitement with consumers by running a variety of promotional specials, some supported by media but mostly promoted within the four walls of his restaurants”. Marc Geman, President and CEO of Spicy Pickle, a 40%2B unit deli and sandwich concept, said his brand will be, “rolling out a Picklenomics menu that will offer a build your own section as well as half sandwiches with soup or salad, a drink and chips that will combine their high quality product with favorable pricing.”
Along similar lines of marketing by discounting, Pops for Champagne in Chicago, is offering a Low Fare Promotion. “From 3-7pm weekdays, guests receive 37% off any food item ordered.”, Tom Verhey, owner of the nation’s longest running champagne bar shared with me. Dan Beem, President of Cold Stone Creamery, was pleased with the results his concept had when they brought their new ice cream cupcakes to market at an introductory price point. “The response was so great that our stores were hardly able to keep the cupcakes on the shelves and our sales spiked as a result.” Paul Damico, President of the Tex-Mex concept, Moe’s Southwest Grill, said the goal of their $4.99 Joey Jr. Bundle was two-fold. “First, we wanted to offer our guests a right-sized portion. Second, we wanted to give our guests a meal option under $5. This strategy was a success and we plan to continue expanding our menu in a similar fashion during these hard economic times.” In response to Subway’s $5 promotion, Jeff Warfield, Chairman, President, and CEO of Submarina, a California based deli concept, has rolled out a $5 value meal that includes 6 inch sub, soda and chips. “Our 6-inch sub has as much meat as a Subway 12-inch, and we use fresh-made bread.”, claimed Warfield.
Fewer restaurant concepts had much to share with me in the way of marketing strategies beyond offering discount pricing and limited time promotions. One avenue some did touch on was improving their online presence. TacoTime recently revamped their website to offer more interactivity to their customer base. They have some online promotions coming soon, including a “look-alike” contest. They and Cold Stone Creamery are also looking into building their online presence through ever increasingly popular social marketing methods such as Facebook and Twitter. Josh Richman, CEO of Happi House, said, “Our most targeted strategy is the establishment of an email club for our guests. Each new address collected online or at the restaurant gets a free meal for joining, a free offer on their birthday, and monthly promotional messages.” Happi House is able to track message views, printed redemptions, which offers are most successful, and who their most loyal members are.
Other restaurant concepts are focusing on staying relevant to their customer base. For example, Submarina and Spicy Pickle both are marketing the healthy aspects of their menu offerings, not only the nutritional information, but the absence of enzyme/preservative/filler content in their ingredients. Pops for Champagne is appealing to the generosity of their guests with their Toast on Tuesday Promotion. Guests are encouraged to find something to celebrate and visit Pops to toast that with specially priced glasses of champagne. Pops will donate $1 from each glass to the Chicago Job Council, an organization that helps people living in poverty find career opportunities. According to Megan Winters, Marketing Manager of Port City Java of North Carolina, they are “making environmental, economic, and social differences through its Fairganic coffees.” In response to the increasing receptivity to “green” efforts, Port City Java uses only organic beans cultivated in a way that has low environmental impact.
While most restaurant concepts have made some type of marketing strategy adjustment in response to the market, there are a few I spoke with who feel they are positioned in such a way that they are simply going to continue to do what they currently do. Jeffery Bank, CEO of the New York based Alicart Restaurant Group, had this to say of one of their concepts, “Carmine’s has been around for over 19 years and is the original Italian family style concept. It is extremely value driven…It is a perfect brand in this economy and that is why our sales are up, not down.” In this case, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” seems to be working.
While there are variations on the theme, there’s no doubt that current conditions call for restaurant concepts to make sure their marketing strategies are effective and sustainable until the market improves.