Food marketer’s challenge: Get butts into seats

Successful restaurateurs really don’t care too much about your new food product, dishware or non-toxic cleaner, I’m sorry to say.

They’re worried about getting butts in the seats tonight.  I was reminded of this a few days ago when talking to an operator as he was scrambling between the lunch and dinner shifts.

I could tell his mind was swirling about all the things he needed to finish before the next rush came — if the rush came — more than our conversation about an upcoming video shoot we were doing.  The good news is he saw the video as a way to help build business.  But the warm thought of video lights didn’t relieve the immediate pressure of whether he was going to have a busy evening.

It’s this typical worry about filling the seats that often gets Jon Taffer screaming on his Bar Rescue television show.  Taffer’s mantra is any moment that goes by with an empty seat is lost forever in terms of sales for a bar or restaurant.

Great food, an awesome location and superior service isn’t good enough for most markets anymore.  There are simply too many great places from which to choose.

Nowadays, we marketers need to vet our plans based on, ultimately, how will we help our customers fill the seats at their locations?

  • Beyond the product. The small local burger chain I frequent has (in my humble opinion) the best fries anywhere.  The manager tells me the fries are nothing more than a well-known frozen potato brand — with a difference.  The corporate rep helped standardize a couple twists in the frying and seasoning process that creates the special crunch and taste.  Uncovering these sorts of little secrets that reps can use is a huge value-add that marketers can bring to the table.
  • Starting fires. Several enterprising brokers and DSRs I know have become experts on Yelp and other review sites that now contribute heavily to the image of and traffic to restaurants.   Helping key customers manage the review process is a major differentiator so these reps can lock in business for the otherwise me-too products they represent.
  • Fill the niche. Most operators see gaps in any given local market.  Maybe nobody is serving authentic fish and chips.  Or vegan dishes are hard to find.  The challenge for an already-busy operator is to carve out the time to seize the opportunity.  Niche-filling is the perfect place for marketers to help develop actionable concepts that will drive traffic — an opportunity more valuable than probably any trade ad will generate.

So, what’s your litmus test for getting butts in seats with your marketing?