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Your food? Good enough to win Top Chef. Your staff? Top tier. Your décor? Insta worthy. Your restaurant that’s been months, even years in the making is finally coming together in the way you’ve always imagined. On opening night, you wipe the sweat from your brow, give a rousing speech to your team, swing open your doors to see the mobs of hungry patrons, and…
It’s just your mom.
No dish, no cocktail, no decoration is strong enough to bring people to your restaurant on its own, especially when it comes to your first night. If you truly want your establishment to succeed, a well marketed and maintained launch is vital. A few Facebook posts to your dozens of followers won’t do it either… if you want to establish your brand, cultivate a following, and be successful for years to come, follow these four strategies to stand out from the crowd and keep your tables full.
It Takes A Village
One of the most common ways restaurants prepare for a launch is with several “soft openings”. You’ve heard about these before… friends and family of the restaurant owners and employees are invited to come before doors officially open to put your place through the ringer. While it may be a great dress rehearsal, here’s something people forget… Friends and family? They were likely going to eat there anyway. This does nothing to generate buzz or excitement. Instead, go after the people who may be a degree of separation or two away from immediate loved ones. Near a college? Pass out some coupons for a free entrée (Keep it BOGO though… you’re not running a charity). You likely got your food, decorations, and more from local vendors and builders, so show them appreciation with an event just for them. By focusing on real people you don’t already know, your reach can explode overnight, and do a great deal more for your brand than if the first person to buy your signature cocktail was Aunt Linda.
At the onset, you may not have a massive social media presence. Your email list may be nothing to brag about. So why not utilize someone who already has a larger following while improving your image to boot? Including a charitable element before your grand opening can help you in a number of ways. First, it paints your brand in a positive light from the get go, leaving you with a positive reputation from day one, generating strong word of mouth marketing. Second, by utilizing the resources of the organization you’re hosting (be it a local school, place of worship, animal shelter, or even something that can be tied back to your restaurant), you’ll have a much larger reach than you would alone, being able to attract audiences that may have otherwise gone unknowing of your brand. Finally, and most importantly, you’re giving back to the community that will (hopefully) be returning the favor in kind.
The Movers, The Shakers
We’ve had a soft opening with local members of the community, then another with a local business or charity. That’s two successful events, and we haven’t even opened out doors yet. But while our word of mouth may be solid, our marketing is lacking. Enter the influencers. Host one final pre-launch event for people with some pull in the community… Every food blogger in the area, every critic in the local paper, every in-town Instagrammer with delicious looking food in their feed and a ton of followers, every blogger, author speaker… whatever you can find! And it’s easier to discover than you may think. A simple Google search of “[Your Town] Food Instagram” or “Food Blogger in [Your Town]” will come up with a plethora of results of people you can reach out to, then host a party in their name. Don’t show your hand, either… It’s important not to ask for pictures, reviews, or anything of the sort. By their very nature, if Influencers are into your brand, they’ll have no choice but to share pictures, videos, and words of praise. It’s in their blood.
Leave Them Wanting More
As detailed by restaurateur and Bar Rescue host Jon Taffer, looking at the first visit will get you nowhere. In order to keep a consistent userbase, you need to market for at least three visits.
If you tell this to restaurant owners (or watch the above video), they’ll almost all tell you how to get return customers… Bounce Back offers. You know the type: a coupon giving during the soft opening promising a BOGO after doors open, or a free cocktail with the purchase of an entrée. And that works… once. This trick gets someone coming back to your building, but once the coupons run out, so does your audience. Not only that, but this Bounce Back offer only markets to people who have already been to your restaurant, doing nothing to spread the word. So think differently. Instead of giving a tangible coupon, have patrons take a picture of their food with the restaurant’s hashtag on Instagram. Have them show the post to the cashier, and they get the same offer. But not only do you save money on printing coupons, you’ve now got your brand out to all the followers of that individual’s social media account. Whenever you’re developing your Bounce Back program, make sure that anything you develop helps market yourself to new users, not just your most loyal.
A successful launch can help your restaurant build awareness, buzz, and excitement that can last for weeks or months. With a successful plan, you can build a following, expand your marketing, and make a name for yourself all before you ever officially open your doors.