Monday, March 30, 2009

Getting the word out

Once upon a time, all you had to do to succeed in the restaurant business was to promise good food, open the door, and get out of the way. But, in a town like Denver, with thousands of restaurants, it's easy to simply go unnoticed. If you're one of the handful of big-name restaurateurs in town, your opening will probably be picked up by the media. The rest of you, sooner or later, will have to consider marketing and advertising to get the word out. And, if you're like most new marketers, you're likely to get a rude lesson in just how much money you can burn through in the process. There are newspapers, magazines, billboards, phone books, radio, TV, internet, direct mail, and probably a few new ones that were just created in the short time since I started writing this blog.

We'll talk about this more in the future but, for now, the important thing to understand is what advertising IS. The answer is deceptively simple--advertising is a message you put before your potential customers that is going to convince them to come to your restaurant. In the short term that can be a coupon or a gimmick that lures them in with the expectation of getting something for nothing. Keep in mind, though, that customers who will come to you because you're offering a special deal, will leave you as quickly when your competitor offers their special deal. You may fool yourself into thinking that these people will fall so in love with your food that they'll become regulars but, unless you're serving something that can't be found somewhere else, I suggest that dealing with coupon nomads is not going to produce good long term results.

Winning in the long run has to do with consistently telling your prospective customers, in a convincing way, that you're the person they should be dealing with. There's a reason why Denverites know who their "friend" is in the diamond business. And there's a reason for the success of a certain furniture "warehouse." If the identity of these two advertisers immediately popped into your head, then you already understand the value of long-term, consistent advertising.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

What are we doing here?

I've been on the radio talking about the restaurant business in Denver for over thirty years, from the viewpoint of both the restaurateur and the diner. The one thing I've taken away from all this is that I would never want to own a restaurant. It is the nastiest, most unforgiving business ever devised.

Restaurateurs work long hours. They work holidays when the rest of us are home with family and friends. I've seen owners lose their wives, their families, their health, their homes and even their lives. I've seen them surrender to the siren lure of drugs and alcohol. For every one that succeeds there are dozens who fail. And yet, ask any one of them if there's something they'd rather be doing with their lives, and they'll answer no. For, when everything is going right in the restaurant business, it is one of the most gratifying professions there is.

On the flip side of this are the people who go out to eat. People who, this year, will spend half of their entire food budget on meals eaten at restaurants. Some are diners who seek out new culinary adventures. Some consider spaghetti and meatballs exotic. Some will blow $200 on dinner, while some can't understand how a restaurant meal can cost $20. Put the wrong type person in the wrong type restaurant, and they're sure to be displeased.

And there are the uncontrollable situations. Take a man and woman on a first date at a restaurant, and they won't even notice that the waiter ignored them for forty five minutes. A couple who's just had a blazing fight in the car on the way over can be in such a bad mood that nothing the restaurateur can do will be acceptable.

So the restaurant business is a dance. A lunge and parry. An interface among personalities that, when it goes well, is a win-win situation and, when it doesn't, can be a total disaster.

For nearly thirty one years, I've listened to both sides. I've talked to restaurateurs who haven't got a clue what customer service is, and I've talked to diners who have no idea what goes on in a restaurant kitchen when the place is packed and two waitresses and a line cook failed to show up.

In future entries in this blog, I hope to share some of this with you. Also, in this tough economic time, I hope to help restaurateur understand that they are not powerless. There are restaurants that are doing quite well in spite of the economy. And they will emerge stronger than ever when the good times return, and I hope to share thoughts on how to make this happen.

Please feel free to contribute to what I'm doing here. As with the past three decades on the air, I intend this site to be a place where you can air your frustrations as well as your satisfactions.