• What is a QR Code and How to Use It in Your Business

    You may be asking yourself, what the heck is a QR code?  A QR code is funny looking square barcode such as the one in this article.  You've probably seen one before, and you're going to start seeing it in a lot of different places.   It's essentially a barcode, and I believe it's going to change the way your guests interact with your business (as well as a lot of other things). 

    With the rise of social media, smart phones, and the importance of "right now" with your guests,  there is going to be a huge opportunity for you to interact with your guests in new ways.

    Here's a great example:

    After finishing her meal at your restaurant, you present your guest with a bill.  With the bill, you include a postcard with a QR code (that funny barcode) and a message that says something like "Did you like our meal?  Send your friends a coupon for a free desert right now.  Just scan this code!"  Your guest then picks up hey iPhone, scans the code and is brought to your Facebook page.  She tags 20 of her friends in Facebook with a promotion right there before they've paid the bill.   Now, when one of her friends redeems the promotion, you send a Thank You email (and maybe another promotion) to the person who did the referring.

    Pretty powerful stuff, huh?  You've unlocked the ability for your guests to act upon their experience as it occurs.  A big part of this is the interface is the method in which the your guest can tie their smart phone into the process easily and the QR code is becoming increasingly popular.  Today's smart phones allow a user to take a "scan" of the barcode using their built in camera.  When the scan registers, it opens an application (usually just a web URL) for the user to interact with your business. 

    Look around, I bet you'll see a lot of QR codes once you start looking.  I've seen them on magazine advertisements, restaurant signage, retail packaging, and even wine bottles.  These are all functionally different, but serve the same purpose: engage the customer in the moment.

    So, where can you use QR codes?  Here's some ideas:

    1) In store signage
    2) Your menu
    3) Table toppers
    4) In the waiting room
    5) On the bill
    6) Many more!

    You can then use this real time engagement to do all sort of different things:

    1) Ask for a referral
    2) Dish out a promotion
    3) Provide more information about a product
    4) Take a survey
    5) Entertain the user
    6) Any sort of real time marketing

    Here is a YouTube video of a QR code in action:

    (For the interested, if you have a mobile device, QR code scanners are often built in or you can do a search on "QR Code" to find a reader.  If you'd like to generate QR codes and real-time applications, Referral Circle would be happy to help.)

    Where have you seen QR codes in use?  In what creative ways have you seen it used?

  • Is Your Restaurant and Hospitality Marketing Sincere?

    Are you being sincere in your messaging?  Think about the last time you said "Thank You" to a guest.  Did you really mean it, or was it the habit of being polite?  Or, was it the habit of social norm, not even politeness? 

    Here's a concrete example of something ran into recently.  I have an associate that I work with over email quite a bit (don't worry, I got his permission before writing about him).  In his email signature (you know, the blurb of text people put at the bottom of every email they send), he puts "Thank you, Dan."  He saw it as a way around having to type it each time he wrote an email, and it "seemed polite."  Well, as I worked more with Dan, it became glaringly obvious that he was not writing this each time and it started to show up in emails where it was not appropriate.  His Thank You's then started falling on deaf ears, and he was missing any way to make an emotional impact on me by saying Thank You.

    So, are you doing the same?  There's a good chance that you have a "Thank You" sign on the back of your door.  In Dan's words, this probably "seems" polite but you're missing a great opportunity to leave a real impression on your guest.  Take that sign down and focus on giving your  guest a sincere thank you.  Now, you've also got their attention, take the time to ask them to come back, ask about their experience, ask them to refer you, etc....  A good example is my local Jimmy John's.  Every time a guest leaves, the entire staff stops to thank them for coming in.  When they capture a positive reaction from the guest, they often remind them that they'll see them next week.

    This concept extends to all of your marketing.  Are you taking the time to really appreciate your guests.  You can do this is a variety of ways.  Here are some suggestions:

    1) Thank them with a referral program
    2) Customized messaging in marketing
    3) Engaging with them in your establishment and with social media
    4) Get to know your guests and their interests
    5) Taking the time give a sincere thank you and inviting them back

    What are you doing?

  • What A Local Painter Can Teach Us About Growing Our Restaurant Business

    I recently did business with a local painter.  He was a local handyman, who did a lot of different types of jobs in the community.  I was very impressed with him.  As a painter, he was average.  The work he did was OK, but what really impressed me with was his marketing.  He did just about all of his marketing through referrals, and it was clearly working for him.

    First, I found him through a referral.  I was working with a real estate agent at the time, and she advised that I had my property painted in order to help me sell my property.  Then, she introduced me to Warren, a local painter that she had worked with in the past and could personally vouch for on price and quality.  At that point, I didn't need to go perform my own search, I took her word for it and moved forward.

    At first introduction with Warren, he talked to me about his business and how he worked only on referrals.  He also set the precedence up front in that conversation that he would like me to refer him after he has finished my job.  He was so sure I'd be happy, he had no problems asking for this up front.

    It took Warren a few days to complete the job, and when he was done, I stopped by the property to inspect it.  It needed work, as there were several places that I noticed needing to be touched up.  I called Warren, who thought the job was done, and explained to him my concerns.  He didn't flinch, and immediately apologized.  He told me that we wanted my recommendation to my peers, and that he would be at the property the next day to fix things.  Warren also explained to me that he took a lot of pride in doing great work and did not want to let down my real estate agent who referred me. 

    After the job was done, it came time for payment and Warren did exactly what he told me he would do.  He asked for my referrals.  He also offered to reward me with a discount next time if I successfully referred a customer to him.  Now, next time I have a neighbor who needs some paint done, guess who I'm going to refer?

    How does this pertain to your restaurant and hospitality business?   Here's some ideas:


    Create partnerships with local influencers, such as real estate agents.


    Reach out to local influencers in your community and in your current clientele.  

    Some influencers in your community may be local concierge, tourist hot spots, event managers, etc....  Think about all of the people in your community that act as guides to others.  You should do your best to develop a relationship with those people.  When they ask where the best sandwiches in town are, your business's name should be on the top of their mind.

    You can also identify the local influencers that are in your base of guests who frequently patron your business.  You can do this by building referral programs that your guests can use and then identifying who the top referrers are.  Now, go out of your way to welcome them and encourage their referrals.


    Ask for referrals before doing business with a new customer


    Ask for referrals before or immediately after doing business with a customer.

    If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you'll know one of the most common pieces of advice we give is to ask for what you want.  This absolutely includes referrals.  You should be asking your customers to refer your business.  Most of your happy customers don't just want to help your business be successful, but they want to share their great experience with their peers.  You should be giving them a way to easily refer you (perhaps through an automated referral program?).


    When a customer is unhappy, go back to the job and make it right.


    When a guest is unhappy, go out of your way to make it right.

    In my opinion, this is the core of bad customer service in the United States today.  Too often, employees who are out of touch with their customer base will use the" easy path out" when they encounter a disgruntled customer; they let the customer go away angry.  You should be doing the opposite, and be training your employees that as well.  You should respond to an unhappy customer with an apology and the opportunity for you to remedy the situation.  Follow this plan, and watch a bad experience for the customer often turn them into a raving fan of your establishment.


    Ask for actual referrals when the project is complete


    Follow up with your guests after the sale, and ask for their referral.

    After you have a satisfied customer, ask them again for a referral.  Also, now is the time to collect actual details about their referrals and act upon them.  Treat the guests that were referred to you with a little extra care, as the you don't want to break the trust of the guest that referred to you. 

    You can continue to ask for referrals from your guests in every interaction of your communication with them: over social media, email news-letters, and in your establishment.  Be creative.


    Reward customers when they refer him


    Create a referral program that lets you track who's referring others, and reward your guests for referrals.

    A big part of a great referral program is rewarding your guests that are referring others.  This reward can be a lot of different things, from coupons to VIP events to public acknowledgment.  Think about what motivates your guests and do a little more than that.  You now have guests marketing your business for you through their own personal recommendations.    This is the MOST POWERFUL marketing you'll have for your business.  Make sure you say thank you properly and genuinely.

    What else works for your business?  Let us know

  • Social Media Interview with Hospitality Magazine: Part 2 of 2

    Hospitality Magazine recently interviewed us about some best practices for restaurant and hospitality to use social media.  Here's the second half  of the interview.  You can read the first half here.

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE: Do you agree that people nowadays are more likely to become a Facebook fan and read your posts than read your e-newsletter?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: I'm not sure if I agree or disagree.  Once again, it comes down to what will resonate best with your guests.  If you want to send small blurbs in just a few sentences, Facebook might be a nice choice. If you want to send a few paragraphs, then an e-newsletter might be a better choice.

    A third option would be to do both.  Why not write your e-newsletter and send it to your email club and share the same content on Facebook?  After you send your e-newsletter, ask your users to refer that newsletter to their friends and family through their common social media channels such as Facebook or Twitter.  Also, take your newsletter and break into 4 or 5 smaller blurbs that are just a sentence or two.  Post these blurbs daily on your Facebook/Twitter/etc.. page to draw people to your website or an electronic copy of your newsletter.  Now, you're working on both channels and reusing your work!

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE: How can restaurants and cafes turn their Facebook fans into dollars?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: This is a very common question.  The reality is that Facebook Fans do not directly translate to dollars.  Instead, your fans are an audience that have told you they want to know more about your business.  (The same goes for the recipients of your email marketing, Twitter followers, etc...).This is extremely powerful!  You should be using this audience to your full advantage to increase their loyalty to your business and hopefully drive new revenue to your establishment.  By engaging with them, keeping them updated, and delivering content that they care about, you are doing just that.  Think about what you would say to them if they were all physically in a room with you.  What would you tell them?

    A more concrete idea is to put together a referral program for your fans, followers, and email club members.  These audience members want to know more about you, and they usually want to help you out.   Encourage them to help you by putting together a referral program that can engage these guests by asking them to refer your business using social media and email.  Then, when they do refer new business to you, you can go back and thank them, again driving up their loyalty to your establishment.

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE: How are restaurants marketing themselves using these tools overseas(Hospitality Magazine is based in New Zealand)?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: We are based in the United States.  Here, we're seeing some of the more savvy restaurateurs using social media to engage their guests and push content to them in ways I have described above.  However, it's not something that everyone is doing yet.  The restaurants that are doing it correctly are seeing a good return on their investment. In the US, the social media places we see the most focus on are blogging, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.   These services are often coupled with email marketing, loyalty programs and referral programs such as Referral Circle to round out the entire experience.

    What other suggestions do you have?

  • Social Media Interview with Hospitality Magazine: Part 1 of 2

    Hospitality Magazine recently interviewed us about some best practices for restaurant and hospitality to use social media.  Here's the first part of the interview.  Check out next week's blog for the remaining part of the interview.

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE:  What should cafes/ restaurants/ bars do at the very least to attract and retain more customers with social media?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: At the very least, you should be talking to and engaging with your guests.  You're likely already developing a relationship by interacting with them in store.  Social media is simply an extension of this relationship.  Before anything with social media is conducted, you need to learn about your guests and understand where they want you to interact with them.  When it comes to social media, this may include things like email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or even a blog about your business.  Once you learn where your guests are and how they'd like to interact with you, it'll allow your social media marketing to be as successful as possible.  So, the bottom line is... "at the very least, learn how they want you to engage them."

    Once you do learn where your guests are lurking on the Internet, there's two sides to social media: "Creating Content" and "Monitoring Social Media."  Let's start with monitoring your guests.  Depending on the size of your establishment and your type of guests, you may or may not already have "buzz" in the social media community about your restaurant.  When you do come across chatter about your establishment, interact with the people talking and add value to their conversations.  You should be building a relationship with your guests and gathering their trust.  If you do come across any negative comments, ALWAYS remain positive and take the opportunity to apologize and resolve the situation.  The comments you make to this guest might be seen by hundreds more, so this is an opportunity to make things right and gain trust with your guests.

    The other aspect is to create content for your guests.  This can be done in many ways, from Twitter to Facebook to blogging to email marketing.  All of these work, it's just a matter of finding what mediums work best for YOUR business.  A good start is to collect email addresses from your guests and engage them over email.  From here, you can encourage them to interact with you on your Facebook or Twitter page or even refer their friends to your establishment.

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE:  What should restaurants especially tweet or Facebook about?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: This will mostly depend on what you're trying to promote and in what context you're engaging with your customer.  Here's a couple of suggestions that might help:

     - Responding to a guest who is already talking about you
     - Thanking guests for referrals and visiting your establishment
     - Posting specific promotions you may be running
     - Posting special events you're hosting
     - Posting any news that may be of interest to your guests

    Another good tip is to express your brand personality in this communication to your guests.  Social media is often a more casual way to interact with your guests. Take advantage of that.  Think about how you'd like your friend or another establishment to talk to you on these channels, and use that to guide you.  Be creative, stand out, have fun!

    HOSPITALITY MAGAZINE:  Should hospitality businesses embrace Twitter and Facebook over other forms of marketing such as having an e-newsletter, website and online booking systems or should they try and cover everything?

    REFERRAL CIRCLE: Trying to cover everything is bound to be expensive, time consuming and wasteful.  Before any new marketing is started, you should be talking to your current guests and find out what services they are using.  Pick the most popular one, and focus your efforts there.  This will get you the biggest return on your investment.

    Also, social media may not cost anything, but it has a hefty price on your time.  Consider hiring a consultant to help you get started.  They can likely do things more quickly, and a good consultant will teach you how to maintain things after the initial set up.

    Overall, hospitality businesses have shown that social media has been helpful for their marketing.  It can offer a very good return on investment if the proper time is put into it.

    Tune in next week, so read to read rest of the interview!  What other suggestions do you have?