Engage Your Guests and Boost Your Bottom Line


Nothing says it better than the popular “Cheers” theme song: Sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name. For the food and beverage industry, this simple observation is the most powerful marketing principle of all.

Sharing all the exciting news about your restaurant – new menu items, promotions, special events, charitable involvement and more – is the foundation of solid food and beverage PR. Print, broadcast and digital media devote substantial real estate to restaurant news, since most people love to eat! However, these are all “push” tactics. If PR’s goal is to “pull” people into the restaurant, then one-way marketing alone won’t do.

Here is some food for thought:

New is not enough. Sure, most people want to hear about what’s new and enjoy sharing new products and experiences with friends and family. However, with so many dining options to choose from, guests can get their fill of “new” by going to a different restaurant every day. Your goal, of course, is to get them to come back to your client’s place, time and again. So while new items are great, you also need to engage your guests on a more personal level.

What makes you so special? I, the restaurant customer, have countless other restaurants to choose from, all of which serve great food with outstanding service at acceptable prices. Can you tell me precisely what makes your restaurant better than all the rest? Perhaps the one thing that can make your restaurant special is how special it makes me feel.

Share the love. Restaurant owners may be in love with their beautiful restaurants and wonderful food, but their most important assets are their guests, so showing customers some love needs to be part of the PR strategy. Can they count the ways they love their customers? It can take many forms, such as already having repeat customers’ phone numbers on file when they call for reservations, acknowledging their birthdays or engaging them in some small talk when they arrive. Little gestures go a long way in building relationships that last.

Rewards are powerful motivators. Guests reward restaurants by returning time and again with their friends and spreading the word. How do restaurants reciprocate and reward guests for their loyalty? Many successful restaurants leverage the power of VIP memberships and offer their most loyal customers premium service that other guests aspire to attain. This might come in the form of a surprise complimentary appetizer, dessert or after dinner drink, invitations to special events or other relationship-building tactics. The crucial thing about rewards is that they need to be genuinely enticing to customers. In the grand scheme of marketing and PR, thoughtful little gestures deliver far greater ROI than most other actions.

One size does not fit all. The cardinal rule of marketing is to know your customers, and it’s obvious that all customers are not alike. Some are jazzed by a free appetizer, others appreciate a restaurant hosting a reception for their charity of choice and still others light up simply because you know their name. Truly great PR is flexible enough to offer many different ways to engage guests, all with the same goal of building loyal relationships.

There’s lots of social in social media. Restaurants are inherently social places and traditional PR typically highlights social activity around food, drink and entertainment. Regarding online media, chances are that your restaurant client, especially if it’s well known, already is the subject of online chatter. Twitter, in particular, is the real time watering hole for all types of chatter. Other sites like Urbanspoon and Yelp have enormous influence. Joining the conversation shows that a restaurant is listening and learning from guests and potential guests. Responding to the good and the bad shows that the owner cares about what people think. Social media platforms offer many creative ways to converse with the dining public and get them actively involved with what’s going on at a restaurant.

Embrace and prepare for mobile. Speaking of conversations, with the advent of the iPhone and the mobile digital revolution, mobile marketing is here to stay. Custom applications allow restaurants to inform customers about special events, new menu items, promotions and everything that’s going on. Customers carry the restaurant’s messages with them in their pockets and purses. This only scratches the surface of the potential for staying connected through guests’ smartphones.

Is the crew on board? All the PR in the world won’t work without positive support from front-line personnel. There is no shortage of service horror stories about aloof hostesses or oblivious servers. The manager or owner may have all the best intentions in the world, but the service team has the most guest contact. While training the crew is more of an operations responsibility than a PR function, it is profoundly important to a restaurant’s relationship with the public and can sink a good PR program like the Titanic. Public relations professionals can work with restaurateurs to make sure their service teams fully understand their role as PR ambassadors.

There’s never been a more important time to engage your guests than these days. Customers have many other choices and loyalty is hard to build. Engagement should be one of the goals of every restaurant’s PR plan. After that, it’s vital to maintain those relationships in the long run.

By Jane Grant

Jane Grant is co-founder and president of Pierson Grant Public Relations and High Impact Digital, serving the restaurant industry from offices in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Raleigh, N.C.