Listen to Rob Frost, Principal of Boelter Blue, discuss the importance of customer communication specific to attracting first time guests to your restaurant, bar or coffee shop.
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What are the initial steps that [a bar or restaurant owner] should be taking to attract a first time guest?
Rob: Attracting first time guests is not an accident in any way, shape or form. It's like prepping for anything else in your restaurant, be it a service or writing a schedule. The difference is with first time guests, we're deciding what to communicate, who we're going to communicate it to.
The first thing is identifying who your customer is, what they're interested in and most importantly, how you can easily move them to action. You really want to think about people because at the end of the day, they're the ones receiving these messages. They're the ones coming into your restaurant. What's going to make them feel good or get them excited? If we know who they are, we need to think about what's going to move them emotionally and maybe what's also going to move them logically. And when you can find a plan or a way to bring them in that combines both of those, you've definitely got a chance for success.
Another key point in your plan is defining what you want that first time guest to do at your restaurant and what their ideal visit might look like. If you don't know what their ideal visit looks like, and you don't know what you want them to do there, they certainly don't have any idea. Another important thing is looking at the competition in your area and finding what they're doing well, what you do well and the things that can help you stand apart from that.
How important is it from a menu perspective to consistently update it? How important is the menu to attracting new customers?
Rob: It's incredibly important. I don't want it to sound like we're glossing over all of the things that need to happen in house to make this a success. Because you can get them in the front door as a first time guest. But if your service is subpar or your food is average, doesn't matter what you do – they're not going to come back. And they're most likely not going to put a review online. They're just going to vote with their feet.
We'll talk about, in future podcasts, how to take those first time guests and treat them the right way when they come in the front door and how to build loyalty and how to build regulars. But there are things you can do in house to affect attracting first time guests. How do I put on new menu items out there? How do I offer exciting things?
With the idea of attracting first time guests, what type of promotional efforts should you be focused on? What should you be spending time on? What shouldn't you be spending time on? What's going to drive in those first time customers?
Rob: One of the ones that we see people miss all the time is Google. It's a phrase now: "Google it," right? You can go to Google my business and you can set up your own profile. You can link your menus, your hours. You can put compelling reasons to visit on there. You can put events on there. You can do all sorts of things to add an extra layer of information.
Not a lot of people go to Twitter and Facebook to find new restaurants. I might stumble across them in my news feed on Facebook if somebody is posting a review or saying how good it was or posting a photo, but organic reach on Facebook for people that have never seen your restaurant before is non-existent unless you're paying.
Instagram's a different animal, though. That's driven by food and food photos. You can get influencers and chefs to share your content. That can be a really powerful way to attract people that have never heard about or seen your restaurant before. But that needs to be backed up with a website at the very minimum that gives people a great idea of what they can expect. It has to be mobile friendly. They have to be able to see it and view it on their phone.
And these are all things that we help our customers with at Boelter Blue. The good thing is it's not complicated stuff. Once we set it up and get it working, there's automation that can be built in. There are things that you can do on the fly or we can do for you.
All the things we're talking about are not earth shattering things; they can be found on the Internet. The difference with working with somebody like us is if you're able to spend more time on your food and your service and the less time on marketing your business, everybody wins, including you.
Nowadays, it seems like a lot of these restaurants and bar owners are going out of their way to develop and promote events to also drive in new traffic. Is it easier to engage new customers through activities first and then sell them on your latest recipe or your newest craft brewery? Is it one or the other? Does it matter?
Rob: You need to do both. There's two types of events. There's events that you run yourself as a restaurant or as a brewery that are based around your menu or your products or your beers, and those events that are already happening in the community that you're a part of, that aren't focused on you or your business. For attracting first time guests, it's really important to be a part of community events. Run promotions or deals with the local football team – "if you win on Friday, bring in your ticket stub" – or be a part of farmer's markets or other sorts of events that give you more exposure but that are also authentic to you.
Then find a way to convert the people at those events into visitors. That's a piece that is often overlooked. You spent so much time being a part of an event , but then you don't necessarily have the time to focus on, "Okay, now how do I take the next step of making sure they come in?" A traditional approach might be to hand them a coupon, right? I don't have any way of tracking that, reminding them about it. That's where we tend to use technology to help convert those people from those outside events.
And then there's the events that you host in house. So I might do a, a trivia night, a game night. I might do live music. I might do a beer and food pairing event. Those events that I do in-house helped me drive repeat business or help me attract those people that I are already saw the first time at an outside event.
These are things that you have to decide as an operator that you're going to devote your time to. And that goes back to your plan: if the person you're trying to attract into your restaurant isn't at those events, don't go to those events. That's why it all comes back to the plan and targeting and just spending your time wisely, not only with who you're targeting and where you're targeting, but then making sure you're tracking it and getting them to come back in.
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The Boelter Wire is an episodic podcast that focuses on thought-leadership conversations with industry experts and established partners, and is designed to help listeners evolve their business, stay competitive and pursue their passions.