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It ain't about the food

Marketing is one of the least understood disciplines in foodservice. Your brand image and brand integrity are delicate, fragile images in the mind of your customer.

They are a reflection of what is unique about you. Blending brand and marketing is challenging and critical for success. Take a look around. The most complex marketing programs are within the QSR segment. There are all kinds of games, drawings, discounts, bundles, and mascots used to market and differentiate a concept's brand. But as check averages go up, the complexity of marketing programs must come down.

As your average check increases, so does the importance of your brand. With high average checks, your food must be outstanding, the service must be great, the atmosphere must be impeccable. These are the basics, and they are expected. You've got to get beyond the clutter to a personal, relationship-based connection with the customer.

If you're in the fine dining segment, almost any kind of modern marketing gimmicks will diminish your position in the mind of the consumer. When you start giving your customers coupons, discounts, or two-for-one deals…they smell beer. Marketing programs in the fine dining segment must be elegant, simple and consistent with your brand.

The goal should be to drive frequency, not new trial. This requires making a personal, emotional connection with your existing customers — in other words — make them feel recognized, important, and special. After all, ninety percent of the positioning of your brand comes from that emotional connection. The simplest and most effective way to create this emotional connection is to talk with your customers face to face.

The most successful fine dining marketing programs aren't marketing programs per se. They're good old-fashioned hospitality. And it can be the most difficult to execute well because you can't fake it (we've all experienced the off-putting fixed smile and mechanical greeting of an introvert working the front door). Five star restaurants don't use two-for-one coupons. Five star restaurants have an owner who greets you at the door and remembers your name.

Keep reading for some suggestions for how you and your staff can begin making that emotional connection with your guests.

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