Our job as publicists is to bring consumers to our clients’ places of business. It’s all a part of “getting the right information to the right people” and trusting that the message has enough of an impact to motivate the consumer to visit the restaurant. But sometimes it’s the business that must visit the consumer.
Off-premise marketing opportunities can be an effective way to introduce your restaurant to hungry consumers. Whether it’s an initial introduction to your brand, or your participation in an event which serves as a reminder to customers that your restaurant is still there and you recently introduced your new summer menu from which you are having people sample your mouthwatering California lobster roll with citrus mayo and avocado, the point is, you are marketing your restaurant outside of your four walls.
My foray into the world of off-premise food events that were not trade driven took place 25 years ago when I was introduced to Share Our Strength, a DC-based charity started by philanthropic entrepreneurs Billy and Debbie Shore in 1984. The SOS mantra and mission was to bring chefs together to “share their strength” and produce delicious ticketed events throughout the country in order to raise money to address the issue of food insecurity in the US. This once novel “Taste Of” event model has since been adopted by the majority of charity events found in our area. The SOS version was (and still is) aimed at a legitimate partnership between the industry and the charity’s mission and its goals. The organization’s marketing campaign was heavily based around the food service industry, its leaders and chefs, and even the beneficiary food banks, shelters, and social organizations. To this day, it is the best example of a win-win situation when it comes to cross-marketing and off-premise promotion of a restaurant.
While we all may not have the luxury of having a SOS event to participate in, there are numerous ways to engage with consumers outside of your restaurant. Charity events are numerous and can be effective, but how do you assess those that are merely looking for free food versus those who understand the value of a true partnership? Which size, format, and demographics are best for your brand, and how best to leverage these opportunities?
Feeding the Masses
Let’s be honest. Going off-premise is a lot of work and costs a lot of money. Event organizers may not view it this way, but we know food costs are high, labor is a major factor, and time out of your restaurant is costly in other ways. Depending on the size of your operation and the personal enjoyment/fulfillment you receive from these events, the size of the event and amount of people you are feeding must be considered.
I do not recommend participating in large events. When there are too many restaurants crammed into a room and a sea of attendees in their normal feeding frenzy, there is little to no value to the restaurant in this situation. The sheer ferocity of it all makes it near impossible to have a meaningful interaction with the consumer. The likelihood of a consumer remembering what food they enjoyed and from where is doubtful, and the ability to produce a standout food sample becomes challenging when you have 500+ people ascending upon your table.
Go for the smaller more manageable and targeted events. Set yourself up for success by allowing yourself the luxury of connecting with the consumer, producing a more characteristic and thought out menu sample, and putting yourself in the position of creating a stronger impact with fewer people, as opposed to little impact within the masses.
Making an Impression
If you do not enjoy doing these events, please, just say no. There is no greater waste of time and harm to your business when you go kicking and screaming to these events. Commitment is the key here. It’s all in or all out. If you are all in, then, by all means, show it.
Bringing your A-game starts with the staff you choose to have represent your brand. It is imperative that the voice of your restaurant is engaging as well as knowledgeable of your menu items and all things related to your establishment. Be sure to have enough staff there to man the table, serve the food, and interact with the guests. And it goes without saying that your staff should look the part, no different from being at the restaurant. You’ve had plenty of time to plan for this event, so schedule your staff accordingly.
A chafing dish of food doesn’t cut it and a lack-luster table display screams “I don’t care!” Transforming your 6-foot table into a version of your restaurant, while challenging, speaks volumes in the eyes of the consumer. Have fun with the table décor, be mindful of the flow and ease of service, and have promotional information at the ready. Be realistic when it comes to the dish you’d like people to experience. Your venue parameters will dictate much of this (tableside cooking, prep area, temperature gauging, etc.) so be prepared to be resourceful. Find out from the event organizers what other restaurants are featuring so as to avoid offering your ginger-soy short ribs in a sea of braised meats. Likened to your restaurant ethos, provide your guest with the best experience possible.
Leveraging Off-premise Events
Pre-event promotion is an effective way to get the collaborative marketing ball rolling. Utilize the promotional assets the event organizers provide you with or create your own. Get posting on social media to let consumers know which events you are involved in and the charities you support. It shows good will and may serve as a motivator for people to support you, purchase event tickets, and visit your restaurant.
Offer your restaurant to event organizers should they be looking to host a media event and be available for television or radio interviews should there may be a strong marketing and advertising component for pre-event promotion.
Once at the event and consumer contact is made, give them a reason to visit your restaurant. Perhaps it’s a BOGO offer or free dessert card? Maybe it’s as simple as a reserved group happy hour table that Friday after work with a complimentary appetizer sampler for the table. And don’t underestimate the power of a lunch contest giveaway or email list sign-up incentive. Incorporate offers that will offer some sort of measurement of ROI.
Use the power of social media to connect before, during, and after an off-premise event. Encourage people to photograph your food or table display and tag you in their photos so you can re-post their photos. Social media influencers love to have their worked re-posted and credited. Post a photo montage from the event to include your staff, the food you presented, other restaurants in the room with you, and consumers that were enjoying your food. Post to your social media platforms and blog page on your site and let the “sharing” begin!
Whether you are providing the appetizer course for a formal gala, performing a cooking demonstration at a seasonal farmers market, hosting a cooking class at the local Williams Sonoma, or setting up a tasting table on the sidewalk in front of your restaurant during your town’s summer sidewalk sale days, leaving the confines of your restaurant and taking your concept off-premise can be some of the best spent time and marketing dollars towards attracting a new and varied audience.