Much has been written about how competitive the restaurant business is and how hard it is to get to the top of the heap – and to stay there. Even more than your chef’s signature dish or the investment you made in décor and ambiance, the way you market your restaurant will have a huge impact on whether your business will succeed or fail. Advertising and promoting your establishment can directly affect your bottom line, and today, the best methods are the ones that reach the greatest audience and that offer something that no one else does. Coupon applications (apps) are a great way, for instance, to promote your restaurant while increasing traffic across the threshold.
Technology is Key
You can’t expect word of mouth to be the driving force in your restaurant’s success – those days are long gone. Put simply, if you don’t actively, continuously, and creatively market and promote your restaurant you won’t make it. In today’s world, that means using technology to help you, even if it seems daunting at first. In the last few years, the dining restaurant industry has undergone a huge change, embracing technology in all forms, ranging from in-house POS systems, to online reservations and ordering systems, and on to useful Facebook features, such as check-ins, which literally put your restaurant on the map.
Coupons to the Rescue
When you think about how to market a restaurant, coupons and discounts should be one of your first priorities. Coupons (which have come a long way from those paper things our moms used to clip out of newspapers) can bring in new customers, encourage repeat business from old customers, and provide valuable insights into consumer behavior. With online coupons and digital apps, you can build your social fan base. The more fans you have on social media, the further your reach on the Internet and the wider the network of people that will recognize your brand.
Groupon: The Leading Coupon App
Groupon is an online service that offers local deals and discounts every 24 hours to restaurants in certain areas. Coupons become available to customers only if a certain number of users purchase the deal and, for restaurants, Groupon coupons are usually offers of very attractively priced meals. The truth about Groupon for restaurant owners is simple: on one hand, the coupons will bring new customers to your establishment, but, on the other hand, they may force you to work at the break-even point or possibly at a loss for those diners. Bargain shoppers don’t usually return for a regularly priced meal; however, many Groupon users are also seeking discounts for their regular restaurants, and those customers will probably return even without a coupon.
Groupon receives a commission for acting as the middleman between your restaurant and the buyers of the coupons. According to an article entitled, “How Does Groupon Work,” Groupon “provides a motivated customer base to the seller, and a promise to achieve X number of sales per day. If Groupon doesn’t meet that promised quota, there is no need for the seller to provide any discount services, nor any commission pay to Groupon.” More frequently, Groupon does surpass their pre-set quota and the customers come rushing into your restaurant (and Groupon earns its commission).
Groupon is hugely popular among a wide range of businesses and there are millions of users around the world, as the app helps to promote local establishments almost everywhere. Groupon offers are totally legitimate, and the company has staked its reputation on being trustworthy, which will ultimately impact well on your restaurant. As a restaurant owner, if you use Groupon wisely, you can find that it’s a great way to push slow-moving menu items, such as 50% off the Cauliflower-Topped Pizza, or expensive menu items, for which paying the full price may be too rich for most diners’ blood. And, it may also simply be a way to get people into your restaurant. Groupon is easy to operate and it has adapted itself to smartphone users, making printing out coupons unnecessary. Although daily deals are Goupon’s bread and butter, you can opt to run a promotion on a continuous basis, instead of only for a limited time, thus alleviating some of the administrative headaches of dealing with a new coupon every day.
Restaurant.com is another great service that combines couponing with marketing and promotion. Restaurant.com sells gift certificates to local restaurants at big discounts; a $25 gift certificate can go for as little as $5, though the usual price is more like $10 – still a significant bargain. The conditions of the coupons are set by the business owner, so you can set restrictions on the coupon to make it more palatable for you and less painful for your bottom line. For instance, you can say that the coupons are valid only on weekdays, or that alcohol is not included in the total value of the purchase. You can limit the coupon for dine-in meals (and not include takeaway), or you can exclude tax and tip from the overall amount.
Once again, with restaurant.com coupons you are offering steeply discounted meals or dishes, on which you will probably take a loss. On the other hand, these widely used coupons are great advertisement: they attract new customers (who may become regulars if your service and food are good enough) and they fill empty tables (albeit with low-profit customers, but still better than empty chairs).Coupons like these also give restaurants an online presence, which is priceless in this era of Internet dominance.
The Forks App Really Works
The Forks app, which is free for Android and Apple users, displays all of the local restaurants that offer coupons and deals in a specific area, and lets users show these coupons on their smartphones (so they don’t have to print them). By offering deals through the Forks app, depending on the location of the user, your restaurant will appear on the list of promotions, which is a great way for your restaurant to attract visitors and tourists to your area, an important part of the restaurant trade. Unlike with Groupon, users don’t have to pre-pay for their coupon, which is important for spontaneous diners or for people who don’t know where they’ll be on any given day. Plus, this app categorizes restaurants according to type, i.e., casual, fast-food, special occasion, etc., which is helpful to users looking for restaurants in a new locale and who don’t know which local establishments are pricey and which are more affordable.
How Not to Sabotage Coupon Use
Once you put your name out there, offering deals through coupon apps like Groupon and restaurant.com, you must be prepared for an onslaught of coupon-using customers who may not resemble your regular clients. Along with being bargain hunters, coupon users might also be lousy tippers because they will probably tip only on the discounted price of their meal. This may be annoying, but it should be expected, and staff members must be warned not to treat coupon customers like second-class citizens, despite the one-off aspect of their business. If the goal is to create ongoing business through coupons, staff must not view these diners as nuisances, as this attitude will be sensed and you’ll never see them again. Rather, they should be viewed as the future diners of your restaurant and treated just as well as your other patrons.
If you offer a particularly attractive Groupon (i.e., for a minimum of 25 buyers), you and your staff should expect an influx of business. This could impact on your regular customers – in the form of slower service and louder noise levels – and your staff will have to work a little harder to keep the regulars and the newbies happy. If you sell an even larger batch of coupons, particularly with a short expiration date, you should be prepared for a flood of business that may require having extra staff on hand to deal with the overflow.
Coupons: A Great Marketing Tool
The bottom line is, offering coupons and discounts for your business is a no-fail way to bring customers through the door. People love a bargain and coupon apps make it easy for you to provide them with what they’re looking for. (Another great way to offer a coupon is on your website or Facebook page.) In the restaurant industry, competition is forcing everyone to find the edge, and traditional advertising just doesn’t cut it anymore. Keep improving your online presence by posting daily on your social media pages, and offer coupons frequently to introduce new customers – and bring old ones back – to your restaurant.