• Starting Your Restaurant and Hospitality Blog

    As a follow up-from our last blog entry, let's talk a bit about easy ways to get started with a blog for your restaurant.   It can seem like a daunting task at first, but it can be a lot of fun.  Most people find that they really like it, and it's a great way to keep their guests engaged in their business.  If you haven't read our last blog article about "the point" of a blog, I suggest heading over there and reading this second.

    So, there's a few questions you should answer before getting started with your blog.  If you can get these things sorted out, things are going to be MUCH easier for you.    I'll list them first and then talk about each one of them individually:

    1) Who is your target audience?
    2) What is your target audience interested in?
    4) What are some headlines?
    5) Who will be in charge of your blog?
    6) How much time do you want your business to commit to the blog?

    Who is your target audience?

    This is the most important question for your blog.  It's likely the most important question in your business too.  Hopefully, you already know the answer to this.  It's important to your blog, because if you're not writing content geared towards your target audience, you're going to be spending time developing content that won't help drive guests to your business.

    What is your target audience interested in?

    Since you know who your target audience is, you should spend time thinking about what their interests are.  Their interests don't necessarily need to align to your business either.  By eventually blogging about things that are interesting to your audience, you will be bringing them into your website and eventually into your establishment.  Remember, you're aiming for your website to become a "hangout" for your guests, and talking about things they're interested in is the key to doing it.  Some examples may be local sports team, local events, new city policies, common interests (e.g. do you have a lot of moms and dads visiting the store after the local pre-school gets out?), etc...

    What are some headlines?

    Now starts the fun part.  For some, it can also be the most challenging.  I suggest building a list of 50 items potential blog topics (yes, 50!).  Since, you've thought about your target audience and their interests, you should have a good idea of what some of these things might be already.  When you get stumped for more ideas, stop for the day.  Come back the next day, after you've though about it and interacted with your guests, and add a few more.  This approach will give your brain time to breathe, as well as force you to think about it while you're working inside your business.  You'll be amazed at how many new things you'll come up with.  You'll also notice you'll start thinking this way once you've already started your blog.  You'll think to yourself, "Hey, I can blog about that!" 

    Who will be in charge of your blog?

    This is an interesting question to ask yourself.  Does this seem like something you don't have time for right now?  Will you ever?  The good news is that you don't need to be the one doing it.  If you've got a marketing person on staff, then they should likely be the one in charge.  If you don't have that luxury (and most of us don't!), this might be a great opportunity to give some extra responsibility to someone else on staff.  Find a person with good writing skills, that has passion about the business and ask them to write a few articles.  As a bonus, this is a great way to get the best out of a team member and encourage them to connect to the pulse of your business and your guests.

    How much time do you want your business to commit to the blog?

    You now need to decide how much time you REALLY want to spend on the blog.   There's a variety of different approaches that can be taken.  It can take different amounts of time based on the length of each blog post and how often you decide to post your blogs.  These two things are totally up to you.  But, you should stay consistent , so your readers know what to expect.    A blog post can be as small as a paragraph or can span several paragraphs.  You may also decide to post once a week or every few weeks or maybe even daily!   It's up to you.  Try a few different approaches and see what works best.  At first, I'd try to post on blog at 1-3 paragraphs once a week.  Since you have 50 ideas already, you should be set for the first year!  You'll also find lots of timely blog posts that you can't predict.  For example, you might blog about a new menu item or a new staff member.

    Finally, have fun with it.  Your blog shouldn't be a burden.  It should be a source of inspiration and conversation for you and your guests.  If it's becoming a burden, think about bringing in someone new to take over or decrease the frequency of your postings.

    Do you have any more suggestions?  We'd love to hear them!

  • Why Should My Restaurant Have A Blog?

    So, you have a great website, but it just sits there.  It doesn't change much;  it performs a few functions, but it's flat.  It's boring.  Once you've seen it, you've seen everything.  No reason to go back. No reason to become a repeat visitor.

    What if that was your business?

    But, it's not your business.  In your business, you're always looking for ways to change things up, add more value.  You're trying to attract new people in your doors.  Trying to make repeat customers.  Trying to make raving fans and give a unique experience every time someone patrons your business.

    You should be trying to do the same thing with your website.

    The answer might be to add a blog to your business's website.  A blog is an electronic form of a journal, diary, or news ticker affiliated with your business.  Right now, you're reading Referral Circle's blog.  We regularly post news, opinions, and ideas about items that are important to our target audience.  Having a blog can have some serious benefits to your website and thus your business.

    Most importantly, it gives your website viewers a reason to come back to your site after an initial visit.  Your site is now dynamic and changing periodically.  Fans of your establishment will want to check in with you over the Internet, and now they have a reason.  They can see what's happening in your restaurant and get more information about things that might be of interest to them that you blog about.  You'll see people coming back to your website over and over, building your brand with them.

    Blogs can also help you attract more customers.  Have you heard of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?  This is the art of getting your website to the top of search rankings on sites like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.  So when, someone searches "Best Chicago Pizza," you're ranked towards the top.  Blogs significantly help your chances of being ranked highly.  It gives you a way to include up to date content on search keys that are relevant to your business.  Also, having a frequently updated website gives you preference on a lot of these sites.

    Also, blog is also a great way to forecast news that you want your audience to know.  For instance, you might be having a fund raiser for a local organization.  You can use a blog posting to inform people and encourage them to participate.  Or, you may have a new menu item that you'd like to promote.  The ideas are endless, and a blog is a perfect medium to get the word out.

    So, how do you get started?   What should you write about?  How are you going to find the time to do it?  Check out our next blog entry for more details!

  • What makes your restaurant memorable? It's all about your Core Talkable Difference.

    Have you ever listened to someone else describe your business or refer it to someone else?  What do they say?  A better question... is it easy for them to explain?  It might be because you're not providing them a "core talkable difference."  A core talkable difference is something that someone can latch onto that sums up your business in one phrase.   It's usually just a sentence that helps describe why the business is different and why it's worthwhile to visit.  It tends to become the un-official purpose of the business, and you need to have one if you want to be memorable to one of your guests.  Sometimes the core talkable difference is the marketing tag line for your business, but often it's not.

    Here's some of our favorite real-life examples:

    1) La Bamba's - Their burritos are the size of your head
    2) Buffalo Wild Wings - They have almost 20 different sauces to put on your wings
    3) Benihana  - They cook the food right in front of you
    4) Algonquin Sub Shop - Their subs are huge, I can't fit my mouth around them

    Some might mistakenly call this a gimmick or a novelty, but it's much more than that.  It's how your guests remember what you do and how they are going to convey your business to others when they make recommendations.  If you don't have a core talkable difference, you will be forgotten by your guests, and any chance of a referral or recommendation will go to zero percent.

    Another benefit in identifying your core talk able difference is that it will help you define yourself.   When you understand what triggers people to think of your business and patron your store, your marketing strategy will be much more clear.  For example, if you're Benihana, you know that people are coming to your establishment for the "show" as well as the food.  Now, this self discovery helps them to understand where and how they should be marketing their restaurant.

    If you're struggling to determine what your core talkable difference is, the best place to start is to ask your guests.  Ask questions about why they're there.  Ask how they would describe your business to their friends and family.  (In doing so, ask them to refer you too).  This will give you an idea of why you are memorable to them and provide key insights to the value and entertainment value you're providing to them.  If you're not seeing any patterns after the 4th of 5th interview, then you have a problem and should focus on creating a solid core talkable difference for your business.  Do this by going back to your business plan and identifying why you started the business in the first place and what you believe would bring in your guests.  After a little digging, it will become very apparent to you.  Now focus on those concepts by providing value with that focus.  If you are hearing patterns from your guests, they might not be what you expect.  Be prepared to embrace what they're saying and roll with it!  This is an opportunity to adjust to your guest's expectations.

    Once you have your core talkable difference, think about incorporating it into your marketing if it's not already there.  Maybe even use it as a tag line for your business.  If you plant the idea, you can ensure that your core talkable difference is positive and memorable to the customer.  By taking control of embracing it, you'll see your referrals climb significantly.

    What's your core talkable difference?  We want to know!

  • Cross Marketing Your Business with Strategic Partners

    My wife and I recently sat down with a friend of ours, Sue, to discuss some ideas she had around opening a bakery.  Specifically, a bakery that specializes in cupcakes.  She's an extremely talented baker and has decided now is the right time to pursue her passion.  We talked about a lot of different aspects of her business from bootstrapping costs and marketing strategy to cupcake recipes and logos.  One of the things that impressed me most about the discussion was her thoughts about cross-marketing her business.

    What I mean by cross-marketing is the concept of teaming up with another business (often totally unrelated), to help market your business to a new customer base.  Sue had thought through this exercise well, and had some great ideas.  For instance, she was planning on approaching local hair salons because their target audience is very similar to hers.  She was planning on asking them if they'd like to offer their customers her cupcakes while at the salon.  Women visit a salon for a lot of the same reasons they would visit her cupcake bakery: to get a little time to themselves and indulge.  As a result, she thinks a salon would be a great potential partner.  I agree completely.   The bakery can offer her cupcakes while a woman waits for her hair to be done, or in-between stops in the salon.  This brings value to the salon's offering as well as allows Sue to sell her cupcakes.

    Another added benefit of this partnership is exposure.  Sure, Sue can sell some cupcakes at her partner's salon, but she's also introducing her business to a new group of customers.  She's expanding her customer base to bring in more direct sales through this connection.  In return, Sue should find a way to help the salon in her business.   She can provide marketing of the salon to her customer base and maybe even an incentive for them to visit the salon.

    So, that got us thinking, where else could Sue market her stuff?  More importantly, what should she look for in potential partners?  Here's some questions she should ask herself when doing this marketing.  You should be asking yourself the same questions:

    1) Who is my target market?
    2) What does my target market do in their day to day activity?
    3) What challenges does my target market face?
    4) What emotions does my brand invoke and what other things invoke that emotion?
    5) What would add extra value to my brand?
    6) What could I offer to potential partners?  How can we then leverage each other's businesses?

    Once you answer these, be creative.  As they say, think outside the box (or your store).  It may be something as simple as splitting an ad in your favorite paper or website.  Or you may decide to offer each other's services to your customer base.  Whatever it may be, look for ways that both of you will get added value for the relationship.  A one sided partnership will never work in the long run.

    (You can follow Sue and her journey at twitter.com/butterfloureggs.)

    What have you done with cross marketing your business?  Tell us below!

  • How A Local Coffee Shop Exceeded Our Expectations And Made Us Raving Fans

    One of my favorites places in my community is a locally-owned bagel and coffee shop, Bentley's Bagels & Brew.  They left an incredible first impression on my wife and me, and I have told numerous people about this first impression (now it's 1,000's).   When I first visited Bentley's,  I had just moved into the area and just recently married.  Somehow, the owner could tell that my wife and I were new to the area and newlyweds.  He was extremely friendly, and pointed out this observation.  I'm not sure if it was the fresh paint splatters on my shirt or my new habit of adjusting my shiny new wedding ring, but he was absolutely correct.  He introduced himself and asked us to call him by his first name, Henry.  My wife and I knew we had found our new breakfast place before we had ordered by his attentiveness and true interest in us as part of the community, not just customers.

    So, we ordered some breakfast bagel sandwiches, sat down, and began to eat.  It's not a big dining room, and the owner called us across the room and asked us if we liked cinnamon.  We replied that we did and he brought over one of his famous cinnamon muffins for us.  How told us it was on him and welcomed us to the neighborhood.  Wow!   Great food and even better service.

    Henry understood a basic concept of customer service and creating a fantastic experience for his guests:  "Over Deliver and Exceed Expectations."  As always, it's easier said than done, but think about where some small things in your business can really create an emotional impact on your guests.  In Henry's case, it was as simple as a fresh muffin to a new customer. 

    In The Referral Engine by John Jantsch, Jantsch gives us the following piece of advice: "When you make this unexpected gift to your client, you create a great opportunity to communicate the value of all of the services you provide, including this add-on.... In some instances companies have created a simple way to exceed expectations, and that simple thing became a key point of differentiation.... This point of difference exceeded people's expectations so significantly that it's now been the basis of [their] advertising."  Truth be told, Henry's breakfast  was good, but not enough for me to write a blog about.  But, he totally surpassed my expectations, and that truly differentiated him.  For that, I'm a raving fan.

    So, what are you doing in your business?  You don't necessarily need to give anything away for free, just add more value or over-deliver to each guest situation every time (or almost every time).  This could be as simple as smile on a rainy day or a hand-written thank you card as the end of your services.  You'll find this is a great way to create buzz around your business and get your guests referring others.  (Remember, now is also a great time to ask your guests to refer others as well!)

    So, what are you doing to exceed expectations at your restaurant and hospitality business?  Or, when is an example of a business exceeding your expectations?  Share your ideas!