While most restaurants have always been budget-challenged when it comes to marketing and advertising, these times of a worldwide pandemic has greatly exacerbated the problem for those tasked with increasing both foot traffic and check averages for an individual restaurant or chain.
So if you’re like us, you’ve taken a deep dive into where your already-limited funds are spent—where you can get the most bang for your buck on a short-term basis and where you can cut back to live and fight another day. But before we get into those details, let’s start with a sentimental recap on what could have been.
2020 Started With A Bang For Restaurants Everywhere
In February of 2020, The National Restaurant Association released a report with these key findings:
– Restaurant industry sales will hit $899 billion in 2020, up 4% over 2019 (1.2% adjusted for inflation).
– Restaurant sales will grow thanks to an expanding economy and positive consumer sentiment. Both support spending in restaurants.
– Consumers’ pent-up demand for restaurants is high; nearly half of consumers say they aren’t using restaurants as often as they’d like.
But then Covid-19 hit. And to say everything changed would be quite the understatement. Our industry was decimated.
Now what are we—and especially you—left with? Certainly, a winter of uncertainty, as well as a recovery that may unfortunately take a very long time. As consumers get used to eating at home and spending less for both food and entertainment, how ingrained will these new habits become? How long before their purse strings begin to open again?
Regardless of the answer to those questions, the short-term challenge for restaurants is the same. How do you not only survive during the cold winter months ahead, but also adapt to eke out whatever profit you can?
Simple Ways For Restaurants Marketers To Cut Executional Costs
Some brands are leaning even more on in-house solutions. Others are laying off in-house departments and building new agency relationships to produce a minimized amount of short-term work. Neither way is right or wrong, it just depends on your particular situation with staff and agency. Both options are certainly worth exploring.
There are also some inexpensive tools for you to use to produce great-looking work with minimal skills and cost. Two of our favorites are apps that allow you to post on social channels: Wordswag and Loomly.
Wordswag is a super-inexpensive app that allows you to quickly and easily create posts that look like they were done by a pro. Pick your photo, pick a font and you instantly have a super-gorgeous post ready to go.
We’ve used many different social posting platforms over the years. From the rich and robust like Sprout and Sprinklr to a laundry list of free options.
We still haven’t found a free option that quite does the trick, but Loomly is an inexpensive one worth exploring. While you’ll give up some of the power of the big platforms, Loomly has everything most marketers need to schedule, approve and boost posts on all your social platforms. And the cost? Depends on your needs, but it’s typically a fraction of the big ones.
One last idea is something many restaurants have already gone to, a QR code menu option versus printing their menus. Certainly, this makes sense given the PPE restrictions everyone is operating under, but the cost savings can add up, too. If you haven’t explored this option yet, we certainly encourage you to do so.
Simple Ways For Restaurants To Increase Profits
There are many simple tactics that restaurants can use to increase profits. Following are a few strategies we not only see as potential money-makers but are easy for your restaurant to implement.
Eliminate Menu Items
It’s been well-reported that restaurants are greatly reducing their menus. Two examples that you’ve probably read about are IHOP cutting their menu from 12 pages to two pages and Red Robin cutting over 50 items from their menu. Truth is, customers don’t seem to be bothered by the smaller menus—if they even notice at all—as there are still ample options from which to choose. But what they, and others, have done is cut the items that aren’t nearly as profitable. They’ve also done a better job of promoting the items with which they make a higher profit. The result is better profit margins per check. And who couldn’t use more of that right now.
Other benefits of fewer menu items include:
– We all know how expensive partnering with a delivery company can be, as they greatly eat away your profits, but by reducing your delivery menu—even smaller than your dine-in menu—to just your most profitable items, you make more per order, so after DoorDash (or whoever) takes their cut, there’s more left for you.
– Rarely-ordered menu items might mean you have to order specialized ingredients that you rarely use. If these items aren’t as profitable, you can cut them from your menu as well as cut the cost of ingredients that are rarely used.
– The fewer menu items you have, the easier and cheaper training can be. It’s certainly easier for staff to familiarize themselves with 15 menu items versus 30. Plus, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper for you to ensure your staff can taste all those items so they can share their thoughts with customers when asked.
Family Packs for Takeout or Delivery
Another trend we’ve been seeing a lot of lately is restaurants offering “Family Packs” for takeout/curbside/delivery only. It perfectly matches the demand for deals that customers are expecting, but because it’s a family pack, it still delivers a larger profit for you. What’s more, with fewer families wanting to dine out during this pandemic, it keeps customers engaged with your restaurant…and maybe introduces you to some new ones as well.
Another big trend is that many restaurants are now offering meal kits. This provides customers with all the ingredients needed to prepare a restaurant-quality meal at home. This has the potential not to just put a meal on the table but to provide a new experience to families that are stuck at home. Marketers can tell this story and connect with potential customers by focusing on this new, great experience—something that’s missing for so many right now.
Curbside & Delivery
With winter looming and additional lockdowns on the horizon, you have to get this right. Not only that, but people expect both. Even more so, they demand both. And the curbside trend isn’t going away anytime soon. Maybe not even after the pandemic. So if you don’t offer these two options to your customers, you could be missing out on additional sales.
The Right Advertising Message In The Right Place
So while the above might be some simple ideas on how to save or make more money during these times, what you say and how you send your messages to customers over the next year is just as important…making sure you garner their attention in the chaos of messaging throughout a given day with relevant messaging that they’re looking for.
Clear, Concise Messaging Around Safety
If customers are going to step foot in your establishment, they want to know you are taking the necessary precautions to keep them safe. So, while not over-communicating, you certainly want to make sure you are communicating the steps you’re taking on your website and, every now and then, on social. What are your sanitation procedures, do you offer cashless transactions like ApplePay®, do you offer mobile menus, etc?
Driven Even More So By Value
While customers are obviously concerned about their physical health, they’re also greatly concerned about their financial health. This is why deals and discounts can really motivate existing customers to come back in. Deals that we’ve found move the needle most include:
– LTOs create a necessary sense of urgency and also communicate value.
– New menu items create excitement, especially with doubling as an LTO.
– Promotional incentives like BOGO and % off are hyper-relevant and currently have great stopping power.
Don’t Forget To Sell The Experience Of Your Restaurant
One benefit that you have for sure over dining at home is the experience of eating in your restaurant. Do not forget to push this message on appropriate channels, like Facebook and Instagram…to make sure they know what they are missing out on if they don’t come in and eat.
The most valuable thing a customer can give you besides money, is their email address. Collect emails, every chance you get. If you give an offer, get an email address in return. Not only are emails great ways to communicate LTOs and other special offers, but they’re super helpful when targeting your customers on social, as you can email match your list as part of your targeting.
Please don’t forget that social is much more than collecting followers—you also have to connect with followers. When you do, and they share, it’s “today’s” version of word-of-mouth. And it’s as powerful as ever. Social also gives you the chance to switch up messaging more often than any other channel. So you can change on the fly to communicate new deals, take advantage of good weather conditions (or bad), and promote new, exciting menu items.
The Time For Your Restaurant To Thrive Is Now
The bottom line, like with everything in life, for every problem there is also opportunity. But waiting for the industry to turnaround will let others take the lead, giving them a leg-up when recovery is a full-go. The restaurants that are best at identifying and taking advantage of the opportunities are the ones who will come out on the other side of the pandemic better positioned than ever before to be the restaurant of choice for more customers than ever before. There no reason that restaurant can’t be your restaurant.
• Restaurants can do more than just survive during the next year of this pandemic, they can also thrive. But it means making the proper short-term decisions that help financially without tearing down the brand long-term.
• You can save money short-term with execution considerations that still give your brand a professional look and feel and allow you to easily hyper-target your customers through social platforms.
• You can save some profits, and maybe even increase profits, by offering experiences your customers are looking for—even if those are at-home experiences.
• While you probably can’t afford a full-blown media plan during 2021, there are some inexpensive ways to still communicate your message…and knowing what messages are relevant now is even more critical than ever before.