Summer is here! For some this is a slower time, for others this is peak season. Summer brings with it a unique set of challenges that many operators either overlook or just plain ignore. The two main challenges are recruiting and marketing.
Just because you are riding the high that summer business provides, doesn’t mean you can take your eye off of the fall and the inevitable drop that is par for the season.
Summer is a fairly easy time to find staff. School is out so college and high school students are more available and flexible. Many first summer jobs are working in a restaurant.
Plan accordingly and make sure you are always recruiting to replace some of those summer "temps." There is nothing worse than having a great summer season just to watch bad reviews surface online because you are understaffed..
Just as you should always be recruiting, you should also always be marketing.
The most common error is only marketing when you need business. Big mistake. If your business is slow, chances are so is your competition. If you up your marketing efforts when the entire industry is experiencing a dip, you end up fighting for table scraps.
There is an old saying that is true for restaurant marketing: You go fishing when the fish are biting. It's summer and business might be booming for you. This is the time to make sure your brand is positioned strongly and at the top of customers’ minds.
To make sure that happens for your restaurant, here are a few creative ways to keep your marketing fresh for summer:
1. Go Crazy
Stop taking yourself so seriously. Loosen up and show your guests the fun side of your business.
Have an online scavenger hunt. Use Twitter or Snapchat to deliver clues to objects around town that guests have to gather before arriving back at your restaurant. Create a scorecard that customers pick up and return along with the items obtained on the hunt.
Create an alter ego, and let it loose. If bringing back "The Colonel" can work for KFC, then a fun character might just work for your brand, too. Do you have a pizza chain? Maybe create a pizza philosopher named P. Zaman who drops witty interpretations of popular memes like: "Tell me what kind of pizza you eat, and I will tell you what kind of person you are."
Create a mascot. Look what Travelocity has done for the lawn gnome! There is a small brewpub in Durango, Colorado that has found great success with a mascot. The owner felt like he was the "black sheep" of the breweries in his market, so he created Ewen Black. Ewen is a stuffed black sheep that has become a local celebrity. Guests have their pictures taken with Ewen and the pics posted on a "wall of fame" in the restaurant. Ewen also has misadventures around town as he is photographed in alleys and local landmarks with an empty growler of the restaurants beer. These photos then make it to the restaurant’s social media channels where fans are hungry to see where Ewen will end up next!
Jump on a hot trend like Pokemon GO! If you have not heard of this blazing hot app, you will! So how can restaurants capitalize on this trend? Two words: Lure Module. Basically, it’s like being a paid “hot spot” for people with the game. For a few dollars, you get to become a Pokemon magnet for 30 minutes (this works better if you are near a PokeStop). You can offer players prizes if they capture a rare Pokemon like the elusive Pikachu. Get the word out on Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat that you’ll be creating a Lure Module around lunch or, perhaps, in the afternoon to drive traffic during slower time periods. You might even want to get the game for yourself and see what all the hype is about.
2. Get Local
Most cities and towns have some kind of farmers market. You would be smart to tap into these local vendors and take advantage of the bounty that Mother Nature produces in your own back yard. Using locally sourced ingredients, and making it known on your menu, sends a message to your guests that you support the local economy and ecosystem. At Prohibition Supperclub & Bar in Houston they use beef from a local ranch, 44 Farms, to create their signature burger.
Some restaurants are even getting hyper-local by growing their own herbs and vegetables in gardens located on their property. Renowned Santa Fe chef Martin Rios of Restaurant Martin has a close connection to his garden and even incorporated it into the patio behind his restaurant. You cannot get any fresher than herbs harvested the same day right from your own garden.
3. Have a Heart
Find a local charity or organization to get behind this summer. There are some great causes right in your market that could use the support of a restaurant like yours. Local sports teams, youth programs, and animal shelters are just a few great ways to show the community you care. The following ideas don’t require a big budget or cash outlay to make a positive impact on the charity, the community, and your restaurant.
If you have an outdoor patio, appeal to dog lovers by offering water bowls, dog treats, and maybe even a “pet friendly” menu. If kids menus bring in families with human children, don’t miss the opportunity to reach out to those who consider their dogs as members of the family. Love their pets, and they will love you back with loyalty to your restaurant.
Donate excess food or lend a hand at your local food bank. Or, offer your skills to help local charities. You are, after all, in the food business, and this is your forte. A pool of four or five chefs could contribute their talents to creating a chef’s tasting menu for a charity dinner. Get your local food distributor to donate product and you are set. Giving back does not have to be just dollars. Your time and talent can also help those that need a helping hand.
Help grow the industry by showing kids the real restaurant business. Too many millennials get a warped ideal of the business from various restaurant/chef reality shows. Not all chefs yell, scream, and degrade their team. If you are proud of your establishment, show off what a great business you have, and introduce a new generation of future guests to your restaurant. A good place to start is your local high school to see if they have a ProStart Program.
Winter is coming. Take advantage of this brief window to build your brand and make it stronger than ever. Marketing is not something you do only when you need to drive traffic. Marketing is a year-round commitment to keep your brand “top of mind.” Do that and you’ll have an endless summer!