True story of how restaurant marketing success happens when you least expect it and appear as if it were magic marketing.
Twenty years ago or so...
Table to table, family to family, I walked through the dining room.
I love this aspect of the dining room cruise and look at:
- The things. Are they as expected?
- The people. Are they in happy mode, more than satisfied, do they want for nothing?
To test the second, it is necessary to capture a glance and maybe even a few words need to be exchanged. Those words can’t be canned. They must be sincere. The body language must scream “I care”.
Table by table I walked the dining room cruise.
It was only a few months since I purchased the restaurant and it was still in the “slow sales” stage. Every guest was the most important person in the world to me. Each and every restaurant guest was also the most important person to my staff and I constantly reminded them. “You are paid by the people you serve.”
There was a snail slow computer in the office. There were no fancy cash registers. No social media and no Internet. The big screen TV in the corner was not yet paid for.
I was very proud of my new staff. They rocked. They gave the best they had as I did the dining room cruise. Table to table. First the people . . . happiness intact? Then the things, the food, the clean, making sure there were no surprises.
Then the surprise came:
I was stopped with a touch on the arm from the back and a question: “Are you the manager?”
Me: “Yes and the owner and more. What can I do for you?”
“My name is Dale and I wanted to stop you to let you know how impressed I am by you and your staff.”
In my surprise, I was speechless for a few seconds before the response: “Why thank you. I am so glad you are happy.”
Dale went on: “I am the manager of the local Sears store and wonder if we could have our annual staff event at your restaurant?”
Speechless again for a moment. This was unexpected. I then said: “Of course! We would happy to serve you. How many people are you thinking?”
“We expect that by the time the families attend with the staff there would be about 250 people.”
“Oh?” I look around at the seating for about 140 people in the dining room.
I did not hesitate with my response: “Sure. I am very confident that we will be able to figure out a way to make every one of your staff members happy.”
Dale was very happy. He must have aleady been thinking about this: “Great!” he responded with a big smile.
I had to be honest: “We only seat 140 at one time though.”
“Oh.” He was thinking first about finding a place where he trusted the staff and was not as concerned about the details.
My mind was going at top speed now: “Would you be willing to create an event which extended over 2 or 3 hours and allow the families to come at their own convenience? Or possibly hand out two separate invitations which alternate the time?”
He said "yes" and was relieved at my quick thinking.
He then said: “This sounds great. How much will it cost?”
- Why did he NOT first ask “How much will it cost?”
- How did I ever make it happen and stay open for business?
- He already saw the passion and teamwork in action. He wanted a fair price but his priority was to get his staff served and satisfied.
- We closed the restaurant dining room that night at 5pm and dedicated the whole business to taking care of the staff at Sears. Carry out and delivery was open for business.
Here is where you need to separate the accountants from the marketers: Knowing you have 250 people on their way, what is your objective as a restaurateur?
My objective was to get 250 people to love the restaurant. For this specific event, immediate profit was not top of my mind. The priority was to turn the event into a marketing opportunity and gain new friends. The restaurant team had to show commitment and caring first. Every person was a potential long term Ambassador.
The plan included: Overstaff, over deliver and ensure every person was treated as if they were “a friend, family or royalty”. This mind set is right out of Jay Conrad Levinson’s book “Guerrilla Marketing” and applies today more than ever.
The restaurant was packed full for several hours. We greeted everyone who was not with Sears with a very, very generous offer to have take out, or have food delivered, or to visit again with a special offer.
Thinking back to that moment brings a tear to my eye. I was very fortunate and blessed to have great people working on my team. .
Dale from Sears was appreciative and each year brought his staff back for their annual event.
Every week I would go shopping at Sears. I would find tools, devices, electronics, etc. to add to my collection. Of course I would show appreciation, shake hands and learn names along the way.
The result was:
- Dale took care of his staff.
- Dale and I stayed connected during my time in the area and before he retired, we were able to collaborate and help each other. In my eyes, Dale is a Linchpin that Seth Godin talks about in his book "Linchpin".
- The restaurant made 250 new friends who returned for many years.
When does restaurant marketing happen? It might be by mail, social media, phone, TV, radio, the Internet. I have done them all. No other methods of restaurant marketing beats the eye to eye contact, the personal invitation, or the excellence in an operation.
Execution is restaurant marketing. When it happens, be there, be available and be open to the possibilities.
Those happy people who share the story before and after their event can be your restaurant marketing ambassadors. They do it for free. Be sure to show your appreciation.
Your turn to wander around the restaurant dining room. You never know who is watching. (I do)