Reel 'em in

I haven't found an operator yet who wouldn't like to boost incremental sales. Retail sales are a great way to do this, and more and more restaurants are dedicating space to feature unique clothing, food products, souvenirs, etc. The trick is often getting guests to pause long enough to notice...and hopefully purchase. On the way into the restaurant, they're hungry and want to get to the table. One the out, they're full, coats are on, and it's time to get on the road. How do you capture a few valuable seconds of their attention?

Use kids as bait.

I know it's a bit down and dirty. I know the challenge of saying "No" to desperate faces (my own triplets are expert negotiators). I know that the last thing I need to do is spend more money on junk that will hold a kid's interest for no more than 20 minutes.

So here's what you do. You know the fishing booths at fairs? The ones where kids drop a fishing line behind a wall and reel in a grab bag of goodies? A simple set up like this in your restaurant will draw kids to where your retail items are featured. And where the kids go, an adult will follow.

Put together some simple bags filled with toys, crayons, games, etc. There are lots of sources for very inexpensive novelty toys, such as Planning Showcase or Oriental Trading Company. They can be holiday themed, all-purpose goodies like a deck of cards, or include branded items specific to your restaurant or concept (Planning Showcase is great in this department).

When a party is being seated, have the hostess give each child a ticket to redeem for the grab bag, and explain that an adult can bring them over to "go fishing" for a special treat. Have them fish behind the counter in the retail area, or pick from a box at the hostess station, or in front of where your retail items are located.

Remember, you'll have the adult's attention for a precious few seconds. Take advantage of that time with some effective merchandising, great displays, and even a low-key selling script delivered by whoever is leading the fishing expedition.

And while you're at it, bring these guests back again with a couple of loyalty building ideas. For example, include a cross-promotion gift certificate in the grab bag, giving the parents $3 off of a lunchtime meal. Or hold a drawing for a free meal to be given to the kids. Let the child fill out the ticket they're given with their name, address, etc., then drop their ticket into a big jar. Once a month draw a ticket, and mail the child their prize. Kids love getting mail, they love getting to choose where to dine, and they'll love winning something they can share with mom and dad, or a friend. Plus, you'll be able to add mom and dad to your guest database for ongoing marketing.

We've created a ready-to-use fishing ticket that you can download, print, and hand out to the kids once your fishing hole is stocked. Use just the front, or print the back, too, and collect info for a drawing and your guest database.

Hope the fish are bitin'!

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