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Bold marketing moves to outsmart the competition

What will I do if a huge, highly successful restaurant from a national chain moves nearby? In many cities across the nation, restaurants have had to close their doors simply because they could not compete with the new neighborhood Goliath. The following are exciting promotional tactics that operators can use to instantly boost business. These strategies are designed for smaller businesses to continually outmaneuver their larger competitors.

These ideas have worked wonders for many of my clients over the years. They are all easy-to-implement, cost-effective, neighborhood marketing tactics that don’t rely on mass media marketing that the giant chains are using on a regular basis.

Employee Challenge
On the bottom of a copy of your menu create a gift certificate. Give 200 menus to each employee and instruct them to write their names on the back of each gift certificate. The employee earns $2 for every customer who comes into the restaurant bearing a certificate with that employee’s name. The employees go out into the local trading area to hand out the gift certificate menus to businesses. This promotion gets employees heavily involved as your marketing ambassadors and gets buy-in with the financial incentive.

Diamond Days
This forges a powerful partnership with a nearby jewelry store that benefits both businesses. Ask the jewelry store to supply a diamond, along with 200 or so synthetic diamonds. Place them in a big barrel in your restaurant. Allow each customer who makes a purchase to take one stone. In order to find out if they are genuine, they will take them to the jewelry store to have them validated. As added incentive that they choose your partner jewelry store over a competitor, you give them a 10 percent discount on any purchase at the jewelry store. You won’t believe how much excitement this promotion generates.

Destroying Your Competitor’s Grand Opening
This is a dynamite way to overstress the competing restaurant just moving into the neighborhood while positioning you as the beacon of generosity. Let’s say your new neighbor, “Burger Emporium,” is planning its grand opening a block away from your fast food restaurant. You take out a full page ad, inviting all the customers who share the same trading area to go to the “Burger Emporium” grand opening. In the ad you state that out of respect to your competitor, you are closing your doors during their grand opening. Also run a direct mail campaign conveying the same message to 10,000 people in the zip codes you share with your competitor. The store running the grand opening will be so overstressed by the mad crush of customers that they will not be able to serve them efficiently and will run out of product long before the end of the day. A store that used this incredibly powerful tactic ran its competitor right out of business shortly after its grand opening.

Roll the Dice Discount
A sure bet for attracting customers that rival the lines to purchase Powerball tickets—advertise that the customer gets to roll the dice to determine the discount he or she will receive. The only gamble involved is how much the customer will save!

Platter Program
A can’t-miss promotion. Have your general manager call a different business five days a week and tell them you are giving all their employees a free lunch. Take their orders and deliver it to their offices. A client that launched this program reported a 30 percent increase in business in just a few weeks. It’s an astonishingly effective way to introduce the people who work in your neighborhood to your product and establish customer loyalty.

Half Price to Repeat Customers
During the course of this promotion, any customer who makes a purchase at your restaurant today and returns within 24 hours, will get 50 percent off any item he or she then orders. Clients who have implemented this promotion have registered up to 13 percent increases in sales.

Parking Tickets
You can’t be subtle if you want your coupons to get noticed. And everyone notices a parking ticket! Have your “cops” place “tickets” on every windshield. Instead of ordering your customers to pay a fine, the tickets tell the vehicle owners that they are “summoned to appear” at your restaurant for a half-price lunch.

Bingo Cards
Here’s a frequency program that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg and is quite effective. The bingo game cards list different menu items in rows and columns of five, with a few “free spaces” sprinkled among them. Each time a customer buys an item on the bingo card, the corresponding space on the card is stamped. When guests fill a line across, down or diagonally, they get a free item of their choice.

MVP Reward
Send $20 gift certificates to 300 households in your immediate trading neighborhood. The customers who come into your restaurant can apply $10 to purchases and $10 to the employee of their choice who provides the best service. You will have your employees bending over backwards to cater to every whim of their customers. And you will generate incredible customer interest. Most importantly, you will generate sales and profits.

Tape it and They Will Come
A homerun tactic for turning softball and bowling leagues and others into regulars of your restaurant is to collect video tapes of their games and replay highlights in the restaurant. Players will come, and they’ll bring their friends, to celebrate their big plays and to laugh at their blunders, all while they eat and drink. This high scoring promotional idea also helps build your image as a business that is heavily involved in your community.

The Check’s on Me
This is a fun way to build bar sales and boost traffic. “The Check’s on Me” promo encourages customers to buy drinks for friends—even those who aren’t present at the time. On a chalkboard behind the bar, the bartender keeps track of the name of the drink buyer, the type of drink and the recipient. A dedication or message can also be included. The drink buyer gets to take advantage of your Happy Hour prices, and the recipient can redeem the beverage on any visit.


Tijuana Toss
This promotion will fill your restaurant with customers and excitement. Once the customer makes a selection, the server flips a coin—the loser (the store or the customer) pays for the purchase or part of the purchase. Every time you run this promotion the excitement it generates will be incredible.


Mystery Night
One day a week, for a specific hour, all meals are free. The catch? No one but you knows which night and which hour.

$100 Bill
Giveaways build traffic, but none work better than those that encourage customers to visit the restaurant to determine if they have won. One simple variation on this promotion uses photocopied $100 bills which you distribute to potential customers via direct mail or as handouts (don’t make them too realistic, unless your target consumers are treasury agents). Customers will visit your restaurant to see if the serial number on their copy matches that on the genuine bill. Use special markings on the winning bill to prevent guests from claiming altered bills as winners.

Anniversary Week “Thank You” Promotion
This promotion, which builds community awareness and goodwill, celebrates the anniversary of the date when you first opened your doors. Display a list of 100 names on a bulletin board or poster inside the restaurant the night before your anniversary promotion begins. Anyone who comes into the restaurant for dinner during your anniversary week promotion and finds his or her name on the list gets a free dinner. You might wish to offer a free soft-drink or dessert to the other members of the winner’s party. Use this opportunity to give loyal customers a “thank you for your patronage” card with a “bounce back” coupon attached to generate future business.

Autograph Contest
Take advantage of the popularity of your area’s major league sports franchises by providing families who dine at your restaurant with autographed photos of a popular team member. If possible, arrange special days when team members are available to personally sign autographs. You should also give your customers a chance to win a team autographed football, basketball or baseball at the end of the promotion by filling out their names and addresses on a card which is deposited in a drop box in your restaurant. Again, you’ve found a creative way to capture more names for your database.

Benefit Minithon Night
Another great pick-me-up for a slow night, the Benefit Minithon pumps 20 percent of your sales that evening into the coffers of a charity or cause du jour. Charity groups will work overtime—doing everything from passing out fliers to parking cars—to make sure the night is a smashing success. And you get the local press.

One Dollar Off
Give every person who visits your restaurant during a specified time one dollar off their checks, and multiply the discount by the number of people in the party. You may vary the hours for the special to suit your own needs. However, I recommend 5 pm to 6:30 pm as the best time frame. If your area has a large concentration of senior citizens you might want to back the start hour to 4 pm or 4:30 pm as seniors like to dine early. This program also appeals to moviegoers and other people who have time commitments to meetings, sporting events, etc. Support the program with newspaper ads, direct mail, table tents or posters and menu inserts.

Dining Gift Certificate/Cookbook Holiday Promo
This tactic encourages your customers to purchase gift certificates by offering a cookbook of your restaurant’s cuisine. Give the cookbook away to any customer who purchases a gift certificate of $50 or more. Or sell it at half-price to a customer who purchases gift certificates worth $25 to $50. Promote this giveaway with table tents and inserts that you place into check folders. Be sure to display the cookbooks in your restaurant—possibly at the cashier’s station or near the entrance. Include inserts with any other mailings to your customer list during the 90 days prior to the promotion.

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