And one to grow on

One of the easiest and most successful marketing promotions is to invite guests to celebrate their birthday with you. It works whether you have a customer list of ten or ten thousand. It works with a marketing budget of $100 or $100,000. You can offer a free dessert, a discount, or a gift certificate. You can do it entirely in-house or outsource it completely. Invitations can be sent via e-mail or snail mail. They can be printed in a letter, on a postcard or included in a Hallmark card.

With so many choices, where do you begin?

To decide how to execute this marketing program for your restaurant, you need to analyze which of these options will work best for you.

Customer list

If you're just beginning to gather customer names and information, the in-house approach will probably work because you have a manageable data base. If you have a little experience creating attractive e-mails, you can send them out to individual customers. You can also order bulk birthday cards and have employees hand-address and sign them as part of their shift work.

If your list is large, outsourcing is probably the best option. Many companies specialize in managing large databases and marketing campaigns. This limits your responsibilities to being the creative force behind the messages.

If you have a relatively small budget, the in-house options described above will work. You can also use web sites that let you create personalized, four-color, high-quality postcards. They take care of the mailing and you can even purchase and send postcards one at a time. The per piece rate ($1 each) is higher than e-mail, but it is a great looking piece and it doesn't require an up-front investment.

If you've budgeted for a marketing campaign, you can look into companies like BlueHornet, and FishBowl. There is a higher up-front and monthly fee to generate custom marketing pieces, purchase printed materials, and manage a monthly campaign for you. Every company has slightly different levels and types of services, so again, some research is necessary to determine the best fit for you.

The offer
Get rid of the fine print. The idea is to entice your guests to celebrate with you. If you offer a generous gift that makes the trip worthwhile you're sure to succeed — a  slice of cake for every entree ordered, a discount off of the entire guest check, a bottle of champagne for the table, are good examples. Since few people like to celebrate alone, they'll bring friends and family, who help boost the check size and offset the small investment you've made.

The invitation
Opinions varying on whether e-mail is more effective than direct mail, or an oversize postcard is more effective than a letter. But no matter which you choose, make sure the invitation is personalized, has only one offer to eliminate confusion, and is branded to you. You may want to experiment with the type of invitation you send to determine which one (or combination) gets the highest response rate within your customer base.

We've provided information on some of our favorite marketing companies that can help you implement a birthday promotion. Also check out our product catalog for The Birthday Club System. It's a great tool to help build a guest database and start your own loyalty marketing program.

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