Author name: hcalton

Giveaway Free Food! What?

Over the years we have learned that sometimes, you need to think outside the box. Does it make sense to give away things to try and win a new customer? Absolutely! We have a supplier who does all of our embroidery and our shirts and hats. I told the owner once that he should consider doing a little something for free and include it in the delivery of the goods that we ordered. My point was, when you have the machine set up, and you are running the shirts or whatever, if you put a computer bag on the equipment and send it along with your compliments, I would be much more likely to say how much I loved it and order them for the staff. If you have a customer that you want to land, ask them when they are having their next team meeting. Offer to take care of the food. Then, knock it out of park! Make it fabulous. Make sure the packaging is perfect. Then drop it off and tell them that you’d love to help them in the future. When they eat your amazing food and see how well its packaged, they will be thrilled to order from you again.

             Ok, so why would I give the first order away? What do you need to do to land a new client. Take them away from your competitor? Make them a Raving Fan of you and your business? Don’t be afraid to invest by showing people just how good you are.

             Whenever we do catering or off site lunches, we use the high end Plastic Scrollware and the Reflections “Silver” disposable knives, forks and spoons. Two ply nice napkins. If the competition is using paper plates and cheap plasticware and napkins, be the one the stands apart. Add the extra touch. Be the best at what you do. If the other guy is using a cheap product to save money, be the vendor that the customer looks to for a quality product. Don’t get into a bidding war on who can be the cheapest. Sell the quality of what you do.

             Remember, if you can produce items that fit you color profile, have labels for the packaging, have additional touches that speak to who you are; all the better. Be sure to include a hand written thank you note on a card with your logo on it. Include a menu for your in house dining. Thank the person who ordered the job by including a dining certificate as a way of saying how much you appreciate their confidence with you. When the job is finished, follow up to make sure that everything went as they expected.

             Don’t ever be afraid to invest in your future by giving away some of what you do best. When the folks ate the targeted business see what you can do, you have already moved ahead of the competition.

             When I was younger, I was in sales. I created a Donut/Bagel Box that I would fill with The guys with the pink logo or the Einstein bagel Brothers product. Then I would go by prospective client offices, drop off the goodies, thank them for allowing me to stop by, and as that if they needed anything to let me know. I received a call one day from the print buyer of a large National Association. He asked if I was the creator of the “Introductory” package. When I said that I was, he said that he had 15 packages of “Samples” on his desk from people looking for his business. He said that he only had opened one; mine.

             Finally, remember as well that when you send in lunch for 12 people, not only do you make the buyer a fan, but also everyone else in the office. The next time they need great food, they all will voice their opinion to use you.

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Give your guests a gift that gives back to you…

We discovered an idea maybe 15 years ago that may be the best marketing idea we’ve ever conceived. We call it the Red Envelope giveaway. Here’s how it works. We actually print red envelopes that have our logo on the front. On the flap, it has instructions in large bold type. It starts with “Do Not Open This Envelope!” Here’s how it works. Each sealed envelope holds a card that lists a prize. Free glass of wine. Free appetizer. A free dessert. Dinner for one. Dinner for two. Dinner for four. All the way to dinner for two every month of the year! That’s the grand prize. Now, when we print the cards that list the gifts, we don’t print 500 of the grand prize. If we are giving away 2,000 Red Envelopes, maybe we print 15. There are way more of the smaller prizes. However, it doesn’t work to just print the small gifts. You want people to win so you can publicize what a great game it is. The trick is this. Every time a guest Dines with you between The day after Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, they get one envelope. Not one for everyone at the table, one per check. They do not open it. Then, starting on New Year’s day, they bring the unopened envelope in and they are seated for dinner. The server opens the envelope and announces the prize. The cutoff date is the middle of February, excluding the Three days around valentines day. They can only open one envelope per visit, so people with multiple envelopes end up end up coming numerous times to get their rewards. One year we had great guests who got 17 envelopes. All of them were free appetizers or desserts! We bought them dinner for being great customers!

             The trick is to stick to the rules. People who show up and want to open ten envelopes at once are told “no”. Guests can only redeem one per table. All of the rules are printed on the envelope. You want to be firm, but fair. When the end date arrives and people show up with a red envelope they just found, we thank them for being great customers and tell them we wish them better luck next time. One year someone called us in July and said that the opened a red envelope that they found in their car and it was  a grand prize winner and would we honor it? We kindly said no, but we’d see them next year.

             Why is this such a great promotion? First, it drives traffic in the December time frame. Every envelope is a winner and has value, so no one gets a blank. Then, when things slow down after the Holidays in the cold of January and February, people are coming in to redeem their prizes. The last week before the expiration date, people are calling in and begging for reservations. People who have a great prize, like dinner for two, tell their friends. When someone wins a big prize, we ring a bell and announce to everyone what just happened. If they agree, take their picture and send it out in an email. “The Smiths Just won dinner every month of the year for Two!” are you holding one of the 14 remaining big winners. It’s a little Like Charlie and the Chocolate factory, but you gut the prize.

             It’s a lot of planning, but we have you covered. We’ve done this before. Let us know when you want to get started and we’ll get to work. By the way, this is a project that you plan for in August, Not three days before Thanksgiving. But you knew that.

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All Aboard!

There is a saying that goes, “The way you onboard your staff sets the tone for your business”. In short, set eh ground rules for new employees and be diligent about making sure that they understand who you are as an organization and what you stand for. If people come on board the organization without knowing the ground rules and what is expected of them, they tend to do whatever they like. That, is a recipe for disaster.

             We have an employee Handbook that talks about everything that we believe as an organization. Our company policies. Lateness, Time Off, Uniform Code, Employee relations. Management, Medical issues, Discrimination, language, Hours of operation, points of service, Pay checks, Clocking in and out, and the list goes on and on. Everything is put in one document. The employee meets with a manger and they are given an overall look at what is expected. Then they are given a copy of the employee handbook for them to read. At the end of the handbook they sign that they understand everything that they have read and agree to abide by the rules and regulations therein. Now, there will be the ten percent who say “Yeah, Yeah” and then sign it. No one starts a shift until that task has been completed. But, after signing it, and a signature by management, it goes in their file. Then, when they are late three times and they are told that they are being released and they say, “But I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to…” you simply say, “well you signed for it in your employee handbook”. Proper execution of bringing staff onboard, making sure that they understand the rules that you abide by, makes for a much more efficient and productive staff. Make sure that you cover everything and that everyone in the organization are given the same training so that no one can claim that they didn’t get equal treatment.

             To that point, everything that you do with employees needs to be documented. Every time they finish a training section, they sign and the manager signs. Then you start their employee file. We can help you with all of the forms and the processes. Employee handbooks, Employee write up sheets, Disciplinary paperwork. These seem like such little things, but after several Employee issues and the threat of legal action, you discover that having done your homework is a lot cheaper than a lawyer. We’ll help you put together a great onboarding process that will make your organization better and more effective and keep you out of trouble so you can focus on making money.

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The Duck Patrol

Believe it or not, the decision as to where to dine is often made by the kids. Do you think that the happy meal happened by chance? Kids often influence the choice of food venues because they like or have fun at the establishment. Though they don’t account for a large part of the total check, they are the ones who bring parents and family along. How you treat these diminutive customers spells the difference e between adding dollars to the bottom line and having an empty dining room on school nights. Do not overlook these customers and instead turn them into an asset.

             At one of our restaurants, which is near sports fields and multiple kid friendly activities, we offer that Kids eat free off the kids menu with an adult purchase. We made the offer Tuesday through Thursday nights. These are the nights where families are trying to get all of the activities in and still get the youngsters home in time for a good nights sleep. We have a fun paper kids menu for the kids to color and occupy themselves while the parents enjoy dinner and a beverage or two. But aren’t we giving away food? Sure, a cheese quesadilla, two Kiddie burgers and some chicken tenders. But we drive traffic early in the evening and a lot of times create a tradition where the family knows that on Wednesday nights after soccer practice, they are coming in to have dinner with us. If the kids yell loudly enough about us when the parents ask where they want to go, we get them in for other nights as well. Be sure to thank them for coming and remind them that the kids will love our strawberry waffles with whipped cream at our Sunday morning brunch after church. And, when we found out that a lot of the families were coming from a particular Gymnastics school, we went over and dropped off flyers for folks who did not know about us.

             But that wasn’t the question was it? This started with talking about the Duck Patrol. At one of our units, I purchased a box of assorted “rubber Ducks”. Green, purple, pink, unicorn, striped, and all sorts of looks. I put them in a basket and when little ones come in, I walk around with the Duck patrol and invite them to pick a duck. NOW, never pick the duck for them. It is half the fun for the kids to pick. They love the process and the surprise. They cost me about 20 cents each and the impact is priceless. I had an instance recently where a little one was crying and making a ton of noise, but one visit from the Duck Patrol and we had one happy camper! They are plastic and last forever. Whenever the parents see the little one playing with the duck, they are going to remember you. When the kids are asked where they want to go again, they want another duck and so we get the repeat business.

             It may not be a rubber duck. Maybe a cow. A moose, or something that speaks to your concept. But think about making sure that you are marketing to the young ones. A billion Happy meals can’t be wrong!

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Be a champion in your community!

             There used to be a business axiom that you should spend between 5 and 10 percent of your yearly sales total on advertising and marketing. Now, whether that was created by Park Avenue is ripe for discussion, but businesses worked somewhere around those numbers. Back in the day of print media, restaurants advertised in the Newspaper, Magazines and other publications. The pitch was always that 52,000 subscribers will see your ad. Some high end publications would pitch us with ¼ page ads at a price of $3,500. Why, because all of these people were going to see my ad. Of course, these people were from all over the market, many 50 miles from my location. Many of the people who purchased or subscribed to the publication were only interested in a particular story. There were so many ads that it was difficult to find one, even if you knew where it was. There was no targeting to an individual. You paid a lot of money, put as much info in the ad as you could, and hoped.

             But we decided to take a different approach. In our community, where 90% of our customers come from, we have become champions for Community, Social and Non-Profit organizations.  The majority of our marketing comes from being supportive of those organizations and helping them in their fund raising efforts. We target our donations. Dining Certificates, Gift packages, food donations at events. We give away food at gala’s and make sure that everyone who attends (typically, guests with some measure of disposable income) know that we are there and helping with a cause that meant something to them as well. We would have signage announcing our presence, handouts that we customized inviting attendees to come and see us. We had brochures and other marketing items. Additionally, we let the organization know that we were happy to support them out we wanted them to send an email to their membership acknowledging that we had been a huge supporter of the Group. That when someone asked them for a recommendation for a great restaurant to visit, to mention us. Finally, we requested that the next time they were having a Board lunch or dinner, to use our facilities.

             Because we focused on the organization that was close to home, we had a much better control on how to manage the message. Every year, we help Hospice in Our area when they do a “Taste” of all of the restaurants as a fund raiser. Free food for 350 guests. That may seem like a lot. But we would do our World famous Venison Chili (It was a Fall Event). We had banners, our logo was everywhere. We had our own logo’s napkins. And the cost to us for 5 gallons of Chili was not much more than $125. Everyone at the event knew that we were being supportive and we gave out customize coupons for them to bring back to the restaurant to redeem. And of course when they did, we knew where they were from and how our marketing effort worked. As time went on, we added additional prizes and donations to our participation making us even more visible to the 350 attendees.

             So, which approach seems to provide a better return? $3,5000 for an ad that gets lost in a sea of print, or focusing on a group of people in your community who consider you their hero?

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Swapping prizes for your information…

Information is money. But how are you going to get your customers to offer up theirs?  The more that you know about your customers the better you can create additional revenue. Who are they? Where are they from? What is their Birthday or Anniversary? What did they think of their visit to your restaurant? All of this information is extremely valuable and so you need a way to secure that from your customers in a way that they want to give it to you. We devised a card that allowed for all of that, and gave them a chance at a reward at the same time.

             We created a card that fit inside a standard check presenter. On the front, we offered to enter them in a drawing for a chance to win $100 in dining certificates from the restaurant. They needed to fill out their name, email, address and optional Birthday and Anniversary information. IN addition, we asked them how we did and did we exceed expectations. If we got a negative comment, the mangers would respond to the email and send a note of apology. We gathered them and at the end of the month, we pulled a name and contacted them and sent them a $100.00 dining certificate. But, for everyone who filled it out, we added them to our email list.

             We now had them on an email list and we could use the Birthday and Anniversary information as we pleased. We could look at where our guests were coming from and were able to focus our marketing on areas where we were getting the most traffic. Sometimes we would respond simply with a great big thank you for a glowing report. Or if they raved about a server or a bartender, we sometimes offered a prize for the staff member who had gone “Above and Beyond!”. We encouraged the servers to remind the guests to enter the contest and get on our email list so they could be informed of “All of the exciting things that we have coming up!” And when someone won, and brought in their $100 dining certificate to celebrate, we’d take a picture of them and let our email list know that so and so, were our prize winners for October!

             We made our contest card colorful and attractive. Sometimes we would take them to charity functions and offer attendees a chance to sign up for the drawing. We would add 50 new names at an event of people who hadn’t necessarily been to the restaurant, but were now on our email list. At one restaurant we have over 13,000 names on the email list. Obviously, over 20 years, many of those folks are no longer active customers. But because we continue to add to those numbers, we have thousands of people view our Social media posts, every time we send something out. And all because we offered people a chance to win $100. (Which cost us a third of that in actual cost)

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Why sell Dining Certificates instead of Gift cards?

Everyone knows that gift cards are the fast and easy way to sell your business to your guests. They fit in a wallet and they look like a credit card, which of course,  is really the whole idea. They are clean, neat and easily issued on your POS system. There was a time years ago, where gift card sales where a billion dollar industry particularly around the holidays. Businesses were hawking their cards and packaging them so that the last minute shopper was eager to use it instead of spending a great deal of time shopping for that “Perfect Gift”. With the use of gift cards, of course, the way they were issued and the restrictions changed. You can no longer put an expiration date on a gift card. They are good forever. There is no way to “market” the use of the card. It’s simply the same a s cash and can be used as such. Once the card is used, if the total is not completely consumed, then there is a balance on the card. This can be problematic when a guest remembers that they thought that there was more left on the card then in fact there is. The cards are often used on discounted services or on nights when the restaurant is running a special, making it even a little more painful. And occasionally, even though everything seems to have been done properly in loading the cash and issuing the gift card, there is a glitch and it isn’t discovered until it becomes time to redeem the card. As many of you know, there is nothing like trying to redeem a gift card when the POS system goes down on a busy night and technology has you at its mercy.

             For just that reason, we switched to dining certificates. They allow for you to market what you are doing, to add restrictions, to say thanks and highlight what you do, and as a means of tracking who bought them and how to follow up marketing to those groups. They can be full size sheets or a smaller version. Ours has our logo, Web address, phone number, hours of operation and restrictions. Because we often discount our dining certificates, it allows us to place restrictions on usage. A dining certificate can have an expiration date. It can say “Congratulations on your promotion!”. By personalizing them, they have a greater perceived value. As a promotion for our local schools, we offer to give them 100 copies of a $10.00 dining certificate for free.  Generally the PTA or  the Athletic Association. They can sell them for $10.00 each and keep the money. If the buyers bring them back, we get a chance to create a new customer by doing a great job at the restaurant. If they buy them and don’t use them, it’s cost us nothing. We also get to add a comment about how we are Happy to Support the local high school. Explain that they can only use up to two at a time and that they are not good with other discounts and offers, something that cannot be done with a gift card. We can ask to add the school logo, have the school motto, in short, make it a special item. When the certificate is presented at the end of the meal, the manger knows exactly where they got it, and has a chance to go over and thank the guest for supporting the local school and makes a connection that can result in a repeat customer. Sometimes we only get a handful back. But the Dining certificate makes for a better buy than a quarter page ad in the basketball program that nobody sees.

             We can provide dining certificates in a number of formats for you to get creative with. Target your market and then utilize the certificates to create new customers. Those customers will like the attention to detail, much more than those little plastic gift cards.

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Are you “World Famous”?

             Years ago, we had a chef, we’ll call him Larry, and he made a crab dip. It was pretty good, but we decided to highlight it by always saying that we had “Chef Larry’s World Famous Crab Dip!.” The title always accompanied the dish. On Catering menus, on the restaurant menu, when we were hosting a fundraiser, it was always the same. Chef Larry’s World Famous Crab Dip. After a while, our customers picked up the mantle and began to say, “and oh yeah, I need some of that World Famous Crab Dip”. Once in an argument with Larry, he told me that he had a world famous Crab Dip. I responded that it was only world famous because I told everyone that it was! Remember, we were a local restaurant and not a National Chain and so everything is open to one person’s opinion. But Larry’s, was World Famous.

             The key here is to say it over and over again. There was a national Quick printer years ago in the Midwest. Kenny The Printer. His slogan was “Incredibly Low Prices”. Over and Over that’s what they said. When they asked customers why they used his business, they would say…”for the incredibly low prices!” They had trained their customer base to buy in to the tag line. I know a couple of young restauranters who have a Burrito Carry-out in Baltimore. Really Good food and they have a particular Burrito that really takes the prize…at least in my opinion. I told them to say that they are “Reubens, Home of Baltimore’s best burrito. They started doing it and now people say, “Where can we get a Great Burrito?” And people have started saying, “well I hear that Rueben’s has Baltimore’s Best Burrito”. I like to get coffee table books at Ollies Discount Warehouse where you get “Good Stuff Cheap” Whenever I hear the word Ollies, my mind fills in with “Good Stuff Cheap”. Is it;  I’m not sure, but I believe it anyway.

             So what do you do that is World Famous? Do you have the World’s Best Clam Chowder? Do you have the Freshest Ingredients on the Planet? Are your Burritos so good they’ll bring tears to your eyes? Do you have the best Margarita in the State? Find a superlative that sets you apart. It doesn’t have to be measurable. It is all based on what someone thinks after all. But whatever you do and say, announce it with a flourish. Come on in for the best Taco’s in the city. Have the staff wear buttons that proclaim what you already know. We have food that’s world Famous. Put up a banner out front. Home of the Worlds Spiciest Wings. People will remember it. And you will profit from it.

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I can’t remember the name, but the color looks familiar…

             More and more businesses are creating an identity through color. A certain national donut shop is about the Pink and the Orange. Those trucks that deliver packages overnight highlight the purple and the orange. The world’s largest sales and delivery company has a particular blue grey and white. All of these companies no longer even need to say who they are on their signage because we all associate them because we recognize the color scheme. Our minds automatically say, “oh that must have something to do with FEDEX” because we see the colors and fill in the blank. These massive companies spend billions developing the color  recognition because they want to evoke recognition at first glance. But what can you do to achieve the same thing, without spending millions in marketing?

             Whatever you do to market your restaurant, make sure that you are consistent. For discussions sake, let’s say that you are a farm fresh concept that delivers amazingly fresh vegetable dishes and you decide that lime green and Sunflower yellow are your colors. How do you build the brand? Your business cards and stationary feature those colors. Your menus are all about the green and yellow. The staff wears bright green shirts and sunflower yellow hats. Your packaging is either those colors or you have bright stickers on a roll that you can peel and put on to go bags and boxes. You have bright green tablecloths for when you cater, if possible with the logo in yellow. You have napkins in one of the colors and all of your service needs and brochures have the color scheme always at the fore front. Remember, you’re not trying to be recognized nationally; you just want to be identified in your local market just because people see the colors associated with your brand.

             The human mind is trained to associate colors with feelings and images. Sometimes you get only a few split seconds for people to associate you with what you do. Be consistent and look for ways to imprint your colors and your brand on the customer base you seek to grow. When people are somewhere within your community and see that green, they should immediately associate with the positive image that they have of the service that you provide. When I see that famous orange and pink, my mind immediately fills in the picture of a Boston Creme Donut. But that’s just me.

I can’t remember the name, but the color looks familiar… Read More »

What is your whale?

Everyone has seen the Food Shows where Adam Richman goes to a restaurant and eats the 12 pound hamburger or the 8 pound burrito, or some over the top challenge that a mere mortal could not achieve. And truth be told, 99% of the people who visit those restaurants on a regular basis are not there to complete the over the top challenge of a ridiculous dish. But, the restaurant doesn’t care. All they want is for people to talk about it in the community so that the word of mouth makes people come in.

             We had a Pirate bar and created a sandwich called a “Shipwreck Burger”. It was two grilled cheese sandwiches for the buns, a half pound burger, a fried egg, bacon, lettuce, tomato, barbeque sauce, onion rings and pickles, all held together with a twelve inch bamboo skewer. It was huge and we created a challenge around finishing it in a certain time limit. If they did, they got a T-shirt proclaiming their gastronomic accomplishment. And we put their time and name on a plaque. Seems rather simple. They ate a burger and had fun. And they paid for a $20.00 burger. Additionally, when we carried it through the dining room, everyone looked.

             But, they wore their shirt proudly around town. They told their friends about the adventure. They had bragging rights and it created word of mouth. In the business, it’s called having a “whale” on the menu. Something that is not intended to be ordered frequently, but something that is so over the top that people talk about it. True to form, I introduced myself one time and the person saw the restaurant name and said, “wait, you’re the guys with the crazy huge burger that’s impossible to eat”. Mission accomplished. The real secret was that we didn’t sell that many of the burger. But we didn’t have to, everyone talked about it.

             We introduced an item at one of our restaurants that features great jumbo wings. It was a “Dingy of Wings” . Ten dozen wings with sauces in a Large Plastic Dingy for like $135. And for an additional $400, you could keep the dingy! When you highlight that on the menu, it makes everything else look like a bargain. But it gets the conversation started. Don’t spend $135 for the wings, “Wow. A dozen wings is only $18.00”. What’s your whale that gets everyone talking about you and makes all the other dishes seem like a bargain?

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