What is “Front of mind Awareness” and how will it help me keep my restaurant during this bad economy?

Before you read this article ask yourself this question. What is a loyal customer worth to me over the course of 1 year? A couple who visits your restaurant once a week and spends $50 could be worth over $2,600 to you in a year. A frequent loyal couple who visits twice a week will spend over $5,200 per year and that does not include people that they bring or recommend to your establishment. What is it worth to you to keep them happy and establish “front of mind awareness” with a customer?

Restaurant owner are struggling to keep the doors open in 2010. Are you one of them? The economy continues to lag and restaurants, as well as many other businesses are feeling the strain as people choose to eat in to save money or are spending less when they do go out. Competition for dining out dollars is fierce and “Me To” advertising in the local papers alone is not going to drive diner’s through your door or profits into your bank account.

You need to develop an effective Customer Marketing Campaign that utilizes the power of the internet and an automated email communication system to create “front of mind awareness” with your customer.

Restaurant owners and management need to combine their traditional advertising efforts to include the goal of identifying, capturing and communicating with every customer that walks through the door, so that you can establish the “front of mind awareness”, that will keep them coming back when they choose to dine out again.

The easiest and most cost effective way to establish a “front of mind awareness” restaurant marketing campaign with your customers, is to combine traditional marketing, a trained staff and a web based and automated email communication system. Below are five essential steps to establishing an effective marketing campaign that any restaurant can implement.

1. Restaurant Management Needs To Capture Every Customer

Restaurant ownership, restaurant management and staff needs to make a 100% commitment and set a goal to capture every customer that dines at your restaurant or just comes in for a drink at the bar. By “capture”, I mean get their permission to collect their contact information and communicate with them via email in the future. The type of information you are going to want to collect include:

* Full Name (must)

* Email Address (must)

* Home Address (optional but helpful)

* Birthday (month and day – optional but helpful)

* Favorite meal (make it fun and track what they like)

* Suggestions (optional)

We have all seen the pads of registration cards stained and crumpled sitting on restaurant tables saying “join our mailing list”. Alone they are a waste of paper as there is little or no motivation for the customer to respond to this type of marketing.

When I bring up this first step to success with restaurant owners, the answer I get is nearly always “we do that already, look at our tables”. Let me be clear, leaving a pad of cards flung on a table to be filled out based solely on the spontaneous motivation of your customer is a very different strategy than committing restaurant ownership, management and staff to invite every patron to become part of your restaurants family by joining your dining club.

Every member of your wait staff should be trained and tested to present the opportunity to join your “restaurants family” and they should be held accountable for their results (contests are a great motivator).

You can have the best food in town, but a poorly trained staff and fail. You can have average food, but a great and well trained staff and be successful. A guests willingness to join and share their information is an effective indicator of how your customer was treated and whether they feel compelled to return in the future.

First, you have to understand that you are not going to get something for nothing and a person’s contact information is a valuable commodity that needs to be earned. Good service and a gift is the motivation that is needed in most cases. Maybe it is a free dinner next time they come in or $10 off the next meal, you need to offer a reasonable enticement to make the connection and capture the customer.

Just prior to the waitress or waiter presenting the check for the meal they should be trained to:

* Ask if they enjoyed their meal or have any suggestions for them or ideas to pass along to the owner or management.

* Present them with an invitation card to join your “Customer Appreciation Program” and join the restaurants family.

* Take a moment to explain the program and give them a pen to fill out the card.

* Explain that members will receive periodic news, updates on special events as well as coupons for future dining by email.

* Tell the guest that for signing up tonight they will also receive a special gift certificate that will be emailed from the owner directly.

* Ask if they have any questions about the program and always add that we do not share our customers contact information with anyone.

* If they say “no’, thank them for coming and leave them with the bill as normal.

* If they start to fill out the card just tell them to leave it with the bill and you will pass it along to the owner or manager. Leave the bill

If a guest does not sign up when the waitress or waiter picks up the paid check they should inform the manager on duty who should if at all possible visit the table immediately to make sure that everything was acceptable, thank them for coming, did the server mention your “Customer Appreciation Program” and is there anything he or she can do.

Some times people will not give out private information for any reason…but you need to make every effort to make sure every guest leaves with a smile.

Track your registration results by server, manager and night of the week to see what trends develop.

2. Respond to Complete the Capture and Establish a Relationship

Remember “out of sight – out of mind”. Your goal is to get your customer to opted-in to your email list so that you can establish a relationship and begin to establish “front of mind awareness” for your restaurant. Every time they are hungry or want to go out to eat, you establishment should pop into their mind first. That is “front of mind awareness”

The next day, after they visit an email from the owner or General Manager should be sent thanking them for visiting the restaurant the night before. You also tell them that you want to make sure that their information and email address are correct so you can send them their gift (coupon or free dinner) by email and keep them up to date with specials, events and coupons in the future that only go to “Family Members”. Once they click on the respond button and opt-onto your list you can begin to communicate and cultivate them as a loyal customers.

3. Communication – Automated Email Campaign

To create “front of mind awareness” you need to keep the lines of communication open with your customer. Let me be perfectly clear that there is a distinct difference between keeping a customer informed and facilitating a dialogue with them as opposed to being a pest.

A short entertaining and value added email once every week or two is more than enough to establish a dialogue. Every email should include something of value for your customer. It may be a coupon, announce a special dining event, share a holiday recipe or wish them a seasonal or birthday greeting. A majority of these emails can be automated to send on a regular schedule once a customer becomes part of your database. Low cost, minimal time and potential big return is a recipe for success.

Remember the goal here is to add value to the customer relationship and not a pain in the butt. People who send out emails that do not offer value or send out to many emails will only motivate the customer to opt-out of your list and you have lost them.

4. Make Your Customers Feel Important!

Make sure that you are sending your list members at least one coupon of value per month to help motivate them to visit. You may want to set up a dining club card where you can offer a free meal once they buy a certain number of meals. Use your imagination and that of your managers and staff to try different promotions to see what works and what doesn’t in your community. Some will be great and some will flop. Track your results and keep trying. Let your member know that they are special and glad that they joined.

If someone uses a coupon from an email, train your waitstaff to inform a manager or owner to take a moment to stop by their table. that re-enforces the power of the program by acknowledging that they are special guests who receive special recognition.

5. Consistency is Critical – Keep It Going!

Finally, ownership and management need to commit to a program like this to make it really work. It will not show glaring results overnight, but it will work and it will create “front of mind awareness” with your customers over time. Commitment and training are the two key essentials.

As I mentioned before, challenge your staff and give out awards for those who sign up the most new members. Keep track of results and post them religiously. If the staff knows that ownership and management is committed, they will be to. If they see your interest waning they will not put the effort into it that is required for true success.

Restaurant Owner – Call To Action

Do not become a statistic in 2010. Develop a strategy and take action to stand out amongst the competition and create “front of mind awareness” with your customers. It is not hard, it is not costly, it just takes planning, training and commitment. As always let me know how I can help you achieve success.

About The Author Bill Sifflard

With over thirty years experience as an entrepreneur, an executive, an author and as a small business consultant, Bill Sifflard has a long history of experience and success establishing start-ups and bringing innovation and efficiency to small business and new expanding markets. As a premiere Social Marketing Innovator, Bill is changing how small business markets themselves using the internet and Social Networking.

To learn more about Bill and his company Bssential Small Business Solutions you can visit http://www.bssentials.com/ or follow his blog at http://newentrepreneuressentials.com/