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Take-home advertising

Why operators say coasters and other swag are worth the paper they’re printed on.

Even as digital menu boards outshine paper menus and smoking bans snuff out requests for matchbooks, restaurateurs are finding that the need for printed materials never fully goes away. On the contrary, operators are putting dollars toward making sure business cards, coasters, stickers and other printed materials work harder to speak for the brand once they go out the door—and to get guests to return.

Business cards go beyond. At DMK Restaurants in Chicago, the most expensive printed items are business cards. “We were getting them printed for every bartender and server, specifically with their names on them,” says Lindsey Becker, director of marketing. “Now that we’re seven restaurants large, we decided that wasn’t a feasible way to continue.”

To save money, DMK sought quotes from local printers but chose an online supplier that was cheaper. It also switched to a “more generic” design, that allowed the company to print the cards in bulk, reducing the cost. “We worked hard on making it not feel generic,” says Becker. Now, instead of 500 different designs (one for every staffer), there are seven—one for each DMK concept. To not sacrifice that personal touch, the back of the cards are printed with “Hello, my name is [blank],” so staff can write in their names before handing it to a guest.

The cards, which the DMK team sometimes hands out at off-site events and uses to extend special promotions, such as a free second drink at its Henry’s Swing Club concept, have been an effective tool for driving traffic, says Becker. “People will come by immediately afterwards.”

Coasters are the new matchbooks. Bon Appetit named branded coasters among its top 25 restaurant trends of 2014. More than just slapping on a logo, some operators are building full marketing programs around their coasters. At Leawood, Kan.-based Houlihan’s, for instance,  coasters display clever, even edgy sayings (“Check out the glass on that coaster!”) that guests are sharing via social media.

The in-house creative team comes up with and releases new designs every few months. “We want [a mix of] different messages at the table,” says Jen Gulvik, SVP of marketing and creative director at the 77-unit chain. “That’s what creates conversation.”

To fuel the buzz, Houlihan’s occasionally posts coaster contests on its social media pages. A post this past Halloween that asked followers to help “dress up” its coaster with costume suggestions garnered more than 16,500 impressions on Twitter.

Printing only in black and white saves costs, Gulvik says, and Houlihan’s franchisees (60 percent of the system) see the value. “We’re building the marketing into the product,” Gulvik says. “The point is having messaging that entertains the guest while they’re with us. The ideal is that they like them enough to take pictures and share them.”

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