Restaurant Marketing – Does Yours Suck too?

“YOUR Restaurant Marketing Really Sucks!”

(And What You Can Do About It!)

By Tom Larsen

   It simply amazes me how many businesses are still using techniques from the 1980’s and 1990’s in today’s world. I see so much sloppy marketing (or non-marketing, really) that it sickens me, so I had to write about it. This report will be filled with examples from dentist to car dealers to insurance agents to restaurants. All still either playing following the leader in their industry or doing the same things they were doing 20 years ago.

  I’ll start with a few recent experiences I had encountered – very real, current stuff going on out there! Incredibly how each one either drops the ball or fails to see me for future sales!


Auto Dealers (and Their Sales People) Are Awful Marketers!

  Let me start with auto dealers and what recently happened to me – some of the worst marketers out there! I recently leased a car for my wife, through a dealer I did not know and had no prior contact with. I went there because they are the largest dealer of Chevrolet’s in the US and she had settled on a Chevy Cruze to lease for 2 years. This dealer is on TV constantly with ad after ad of the deals they have and then do full page ads in the daily newspaper. To me, it is like fishing where the fish aren’t and hoping you land 1 for the time & energy (and money) you’ve spent.

  We leased the Cruze because it was a good deal, after doing my search online and figuring out what was best for us. It is what happened after the sale that confuses me……….NOTHING! No Thank You note, no “welcome to our family” package, no note from the sales girl – nothing. And what do these sales people do after a sale? Wait around for their “turn” and the next prospect or sit around shooting the bull (with other salespeople) until a “hopeful” referral or family member walks in the door.

  First off, they had me at the sale and could have tried to sell me more (Isn’t the easiest sale to make, is the one to who just bought?). I’m not talking about the extended warranty, seal coating, etc. the F&I person tries to sell you. What about 5 oil changes for $95? Get me back into the dealership 5 more times in the next year. Or how about a discounted interior cleaning for $10 at the 6 month mark? When does my inspection expire – they know that, what about pre-pay your next inspection, or free tire rotation? I’m not in the dealership business but I am sure there is a lot more they could upsell after the initial sale!

   How come the sales woman isn’t on Facebook or other social media, showing a picture of us by the car and saying something like “another satisfied customer of Jessica’s!” And the other thing is it is a 2 year lease, so why wouldn’t you send me monthly or bi-monthly tips on how to drive in winter or how important tire pressure is and keep in front of me for the next 24 months? Instead, you go back to your TV ads, huge newspaper ads, spending money with “if comes” (if they come when I advertise), instead of with your current clients?

  I personally use a system called Allclients to send tips, e-blasts and monthly newsletters to clients, prospects and centers of influence. For tips, I can pre-set 15 or 24 or 30 tips to go out at certain day intervals and be done with it! Each new customer/client would be entered into the system and then automatically receive my emails, every 10 days or 14 days, however I pre-program the system (you can even personalize them – %firstname% – so your emails would more likely be opened).

 If I don’t hear anything from this dealer in next 2 years, do you think I will go back there again?

Dentists Know How to Fix Teeth, Not to Market

 Another example I can give you is from a professional like Dentists. What do you see in their waiting rooms? Magazines, ton of magazines on all different things, from health to women’s to kid’s activities. Why aren’t they using their own newsletter to publish teeth & gum tips, family issues and even personal life stuff. The aforementioned Allclients has a done-for-you newsletter built into their system that is easily customizable for every dentist.

  In your newsletter, why wouldn’t you upsell teeth whitening or bonding or selling electronic toothbrushes? Tell them the benefits of each service, so 2 out of 5 might ask for this service. Why are you letting them read about “how to lose 15 lbs. in 30 days”, when you can sell them more of your services?

 I would also use an auto-responder, like I mentioned for the car dealer to use, to send monthly or bi-monthly tips on the best way to care for your teeth. Anytime you can stay in contact with a current client, the better the bonding experience and the more likely they won’t go elsewhere. They also need to put in personal stuff, like about their dog, their kids, the softball team they play on. PEOPLE WANT TO DEAL WITH PEOPLE, NOT A CORPORATION OR SANITIZED ORGANIZATION!

 I write about my daughter in just about every issue of the newsletter I write for my insurance agency and it is BY FAR the most talked about thing in the newsletter.


Restaurant Marketing



So what do you do – golf, coach soccer, run, build bird houses….write about it! Make your newsletter more human by letting people know you are a real person, just like them! I take the done-for-you newsletter and make it my own this way!

  Plus, in my insurance agency, we have a referral reward program, where we thank the referral party in the newsletter, mail them a $10 Target or Paula’s Donut & Coffee gift card and then enter them in our annual 42” flat screen TV giveaway. People love seeing their name in print, love being acknowledged for giving your name out and love getting something for FREE!

  This is how we change up our newsletter and don’t just use it as it is written. We personalize it with the referral reward, my daughter’s article or even my dog writing an article. Make it fun and people will love to take it home with them! So use some sort of stock newsletter but personalize it to make you & your business more “human”.

Gym’s Don’t Get it Either

  Another business where I see a total lack of communication is in the gym. I belonged to one for 30 years and when I left for a closer & less costly gym, no “sorry to see you leave” letter. No “hey, long term customer, won’t you come back letter” – NOTHING. And in my 30 years of being there, nothing but a bill once a year! No communication, no free trial of an individual training session, no free sample of their energy drinks – nothing.

  Now my new gym does nothing special for me either. No newsletter, no training tips via email, no follow up with how they are doing – nothing.

  They also have a new trainer, who I don’t know as he never introduced himself, who just walks around the gym, waiting for people to approach him. As I was on the treadmill working out, I was observing this idle waste of time and thought, “What would I do if I were him?”

  Well, I would see the people doing an exercise wrong and teach them how to do it correctly. Just be helpful instead of selling your services all the time. I would also write up training tip of the week on 3 x 5 cards (so you need 52 of them) and go around handing them out to people in the gym. I would also tweet on twitter these training tips every day – Tom’s Training Tip of the week! I would sign up for a source like Allclients or any other one you choose and spend the $19 per month to send the newsletter via email.

  Collecting email addresses is critical to any follow up system you may use. It is very easy to set up and use, plus once you have the tips (or helpful hints) posted in your auto-responder, they automatically go out! You already have followers on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn, so use that to your advantage!

  I would also get a radius of, say 3-5 miles around the gym and send out 50 postcards a week announcing a “Free Session with Sam with this card”. This is going to generate some response from the people that were thinking, “I need to work out more” or “I should join a gym”. Now you just gave them a reason to stop in and see a friendly face! And I would put my face on all the communication I was doing too. Going back to an earlier statement – people want to do business with people – not with a building, a business, a gym, whatever.

So instead of standing around and waiting for business to come to you – be pro-active and seek out those who want and will value your advice.

Restaurant Marketing

Your Restaurant – Another Marketing Nightmare!

  Since this report is about you – your restaurant, let’s be honest – your marketing sucks. Restaurant owners are the typical “follow-the-leader” group, who go in the dining books (buy 1, get 1 free) or use a site like Groupon. Why are you giving a total stranger 50% off their food bill, when you don’t give your returning customers anything? I get it – “try our restaurant and you’ll be back”. But I say not so fast.

  What is the best way a new restaurant grows? Word of mouth-right? There is no better advertising you can do, than to get other’s to spread the word for you. So why isn’t Mr. or Mrs. Restaurant Owner sending out (via the email you now collected!) free glass of wine coupons or come on Tuesday for a free appetizer or this Thursday you get a free dessert. Know why they cannot control “word of mouth”? Because none of them are collecting email addresses!

  My wife and I go out to eat a lot (dear daughter previously mentioned is now in Chicago) and exactly 1 restaurant has us on an email list – ONE. I already mentioned how other businesses can use auto-responders or e-blasts to email to their list, restaurants can’t because they have NO LIST! What about asking your customer’s to forward that email to 5 friends? Isn’t that a form of word of mouth?

  Collecting and using email addresses is the fastest way for any restaurant to grow their business! Having a contest amoungst the servers is the easiest way to get this going too. $100 cash to the server winner over a month period or free gift card to the mall. And yet they keep pushing the 50% off or buy 1 entrée get 1 free garbage!

  The other thing is to give away the recipes you use in the restaurant. If you make a mean French Onion Soup, tell them how to make it. Giving stuff away is sometimes the best way to force word of mouth, as they will definitely tell others (especially women, who like to trade recipes). I can just see restaurant owners saying “why would I do that?” Well do you think they will make it as good as you do or with the same brand of stock that you do? Of course not, so they’ll be back to try yours again and again.

  One restaurant we like always seems busy on a Friday night – big fish fry night. (In big, catholic cities, a Friday fish fry is still popular). I hear the owner turn people away, telling them they are all filled with reservations tonight. Well he doesn’t know if that party of 5 he just turned away is their 1st attempt to try his restaurant. By turning them away, he may never, ever see them again. I said “Why not hand them a coupon to come back (not on a Friday, though). Something like a free drink on your next visit, a free soup, free dessert – anything to want them to return again. Give that party of 5 some reason to want to come back again. He never took me up on my suggestion!

  If they have email addresses and a typical Tuesday is always slow, they could e-blast a special for this Tuesday, $xx off any pizza or free glass of wine with any dinner. The ONE restaurant who’s list I am on, used to do this on a regular bases (new management now) but not so much anymore. They once had bought too much vodka of a certain brand, which wasn’t moving. So they did an e-blast that said – the next 3 Monday’s, all club card holder’s it is $2.00 vodka Mondays. Crowded on the one Monday I went.

Brilliant – then they stopped. (Maybe it worked too well).

Stop giving away 50% of your meals! You know you are losing money by doing this, so why continue? Concentrate on your core current customers and grow from there! It really isn’t that hard to do. Takes some effort and a little time, but the returns will be well worth it for you!


Insurance Agents Don’t Do Much Better Either.

  Name, rank & serial number is how insurance agents advertise. Like – In business since 1949 or no on refused insurance or worse, put their business card in an ad in the local Pennysaver: Dave Smith, Smith Insurance 123 main St Any town, NY 111-1111 – “one call does it all”. Who cares if they have been in business since 1949 – what does that mean to the consumer? Does that save me money on my insurance? Insurance agencies are like the other businesses mentioned here – they follow what others in their profession have done for the last 40 or 50 years. But doing this in 2013 does not work anymore.

  I have previously mentioned some of what we do at Larsen Insurance including a monthly newsletter, Referral Reward Program, Tom’s Tuesday Tip, Realtor Reward Program, e-blast on current topics, blog each week, posts on LinkedIn, Posts on our Facebook page. We also have individual niche websites, like for landlords, for restaurants, one for personal umbrella insurance and one for contractors.

 So we do a lot of things that a typical insurance agency doesn’t. If we advertise it is directly to the restaurant industry or landlords or contractors. We don’t blanket ad like, “Call us to shop your insurance for you – in business since 1968.” Nobody will respond or call on an ad like that. So when an advertising sales person comes in, we typically don’t take an ad out with them. Their mindset is also stuck like its 1998, where they think they know how to advertise my insurance agency. Guess what – they don’t.

  So my industry is no better that a restaurant or a dentist or a car dealer. All of them keep doing what others in their industry have done – which doesn’t work anymore. So when I say how terrible it is in the auto industry, for example, it is really no better in my industry.

Not Much Better for Contractors

  Here is another industry that does a “follow-the-leader” type marketing. They see Joe’s Plumbing advertise “Free Estimates” or “No Service Call Charge” and then do the same. Right now, there are 3 heating outfits in Buffalo advertising either $79 or $99 furnace tune ups. How about being different – being punctual instead of having people wait around all day. Something like: “$15 off if we aren’t there within 1 hour of said schedule!” Isn’t time money?

  Or maybe wear a doctor’s smock and also booties like they wear in ER rooms. Maybe- “The Cleanest Plumber in Town” or “The Doctor of Plumbing”. What consumer wouldn’t appreciate their rugs not being messed up by the plumber or HVAC guy? Your actions would spread like wildfire and the word-of-mouth would be unbelievable. Who wouldn’t tell their neighbor, co-workers, friends & family about this plumbing guy?

  Instead, they listen to the ad person from the Pennysaver newspaper and do the same or similar thing the other guys in town are doing. And when you ask them how business is, they say terrible! No wonder it is, when you aren’t doing anything different than anybody else in town. How about sending a postcard a month to all your past clients with a Joe’s Tip of the Month, giving them good, useful information.

  Everything in this report would cost any of these businesses less than $100 a month. And what does an ad in the newspaper usually cost – $45-$65? And they’ll tell you that you need to run it 2-3 times per month to be effective, so it really costs you $90-$195 per month. Not very cost effective, when you could be using some of the techniques pointed out here.

Restaurant Marketing

So Who is Ready to Take Action?

  I used to belong to a marketing group of insurance agents and always finished in the top 10 for marketer-of-the-year. But out of 350+ members, it really wasn’t that hard because MANY OF THEM NEVER DID ANY MARKETING! They came to the conferences, took pages of notes but then asked on the community boards – ‘How do I start a newsletter?” and “What program do you use for your auto-responders?” “Do you send out birthday cards?”

 I knew 1 guy in there who actually wrote his 1st newsletter 4 years after joining! So the people who really take action aren’t that many. So if 12 or 15 of your competitors are getting this same report – not to worry. Most of them won’t do anything at all – it takes some work & some action to get results!

 Action is where the challenge is because I’ve given you enough idea’s to get started. I am sure if you brainstormed with your wife, husband, partner or business associate, you can come up with 7-10 more idea’s for your industry. There is so much room for improvement in your field that you would stand above the crowd. It’s simple but takes WORK.

  I’ve given you lots of industry specific examples because I want you to think outside your own industry. Think of how you can customize this for yourself. There is lots more ideas than I have written here, so take some time AWAY from your business to think about ways to market your restaurant.

   Panera is a good example of a national chain that gets this (and where I am writing this report). They have a swipe card they use, tied to your phone number (if you don’t have your card) where they reward your loyalty – free coffee, free bagel, $1.00 off sandwich. People love this stuff and come back again and again!

   You can try a service like or a similar loyalty reward program. Or do a Google search for other companies like them. I cannot do this in insurance, as it is illegal to rebate clients. I can reward them for referring their neighbor, friend, co-worker but I cannot reward them for buying insurance directly from me. You don’t have that same legality in the restaurant business.

 If you want to hang out some, I’m on Google+ a lot, chatting and sharing ideas. Or you can shoot me an email:

 I also do phone consulting by appointment (716) 684-3203

 Do yourself a favor and take some ACTION for your business.

 Take Care,


  Tom Larsen,

Speaker, Author, Adviser, Insurance Consultant

  8665 Sheridan Dr. Williamsville, NY 14221

P.S.- We insure lots of restaurants, so we can help you here too. This is one of specialties at Larsen Insurance Agency (Only in New York though – not licensed in other states). Give us a call (716) 684-3203


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