Filling your Restaurant on your Slow Nights

Every restaurant has one: a night when you’re ready to go, a full staff on hand, fresh foods loaded in the refrigerators, tables set with clean linens and sparkling cutlery. You open the doors, expecting a busy night, ready to provide customers with a dining experience that will have them raving to their friends and eager to return. Instead, you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and, with each hour, you see your bottom line shrink. It’s the ‘slow night’, and it’s one of the most daunting challenges restaurant owners face from week-to-week. Many restaurants close their doors when faced with a consistent slow night, and there’s some sense to it: if every Tuesday is slow, maybe it’s best to shut down and cut your losses. On the other hand, a closed door is a lost opportunity to find new customers and bring back old ones.

Text messaging campaigns are an efficient and cost-effective strategy for eliminating slow nights. The infrastructure for a text messaging program is affordable, and requires the following: mobilized web site or page; text message short code and keyword; a scannable QR code; a mobile-friendly opt-in mechanism; and participation in a messaging program. Once these mechanisms are in place, you can begin to promote your program and build your list of customers.

To build your list quickly, place a QR Code in your window, on table placards or coasters, and in your print ads. Use them to offer an immediate discount or special as a thank you for those who opt-into your program.  These are customers who are giving you access to them through their mobile devices, which they carry with them all the time.  Statistically, 94% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of receipt (compare this to a national average of email campaigns where a 35% open rate is considered successful). Keep people in your program by designing a monthly give-away campaign that randomly selects one customer from your list to receive something for free.

Once you have begun building your list of subscribers, you can market directly to this exclusive group.  Perhaps you send them a message: “Prix-fixe dinner complete with appetizer, dinner, dessert & coffee: $XX.00 per person – Wednesday night only.”  and give them the opportunity to click through to your reservation link “Reserve My Table”.  Another example might be “Tonight Only: Buy 1 entree at regular price and receive 50% off 2nd.”

Creativity in your messaging is important.  You want your offers to have real value to the customer in order to bring them in to fill those seats.  You want them to come with friends and family and bring revenue to your business that did not exist before.  As a rule, don’t discount bar drinks and keep in mind the difference in revenue between waiting for patrons to walk in and filling those tables, even at a discount.

Tracking your results is a critical part of evaluating your return on investment.  When someone responds to your messages, ask to see the information displayed on their phone for verification, or you can develop coupons that are coded for each individual recipient and enter redemption data (cellphone number) to track the effectiveness of specific campaigns.  There is minimal management needed for list maintenance (opt-ins and -outs are recorded and implemented automatically), but keeping an eye on statistics can help you determine what development and updates are needed.  What offers receive the greatest response? What percentage of your messaging audience takes advantage of your offers?  Are there certain customers who redeem offers more frequently, and is there a way to recognize them for this?  Other questions to address as you continue to grow your program include: How are your offers changing the dynamics of your business on those formerly slow nights?  What can you do to keep people coming back?  What can you do to get new customers in?

Messaging programs can also promote and offer specials for carry out and delivery services. There are programs available that enable customers to easily place their orders directly through either regular or mobile websites. Smart businesses use these services and technologies to set their establishment apart from their competition. A customer-friendly and forward-thinking business plan keeps your business a step ahead.

Reaching out to customers with real value can hold benefits for both the restaurant owner and their patrons.  Using non-traditional marketing through current technologies is the most effective avenue for this as it offers a maximum potential return for a minimal investment.  Don’t wait for customers to fill your seats during slow nights – give them a reason to walk in the door and before you know it, your slow nights will be a distant memory.

Central NY Mobile Marketing provides services to support your business needs using today’s technologies.  For a free one-hour consultation, please contact Susan at 607-643-5680 or by email at susan@cnymobilemarketing.com .