Article: “TV ads on the cheap for small biz” (Jul.2006)

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excerpt:
“Findley’s meat market in suburban Atlanta had always relied on newspaper ads, direct mailings and quick radio spots to reach consumers. But after discovering Spot Runner’s do-it-yourself commercial tool for small businesses, the butcher shop ran a commercial on local cable TV ahead of Easter and again before Mother’s Day.

The commercials cost Findley’s $349 and $499 and the shop spent about $2,100 in March and $1,100 in May to air the spots on ESPN, Food TV, Fox News Channel and Fox Sports.

“We found out that it was very affordable and they help you work with a small budget,” said Findley’s owner Dolores Barr.”

source: “TV ads on the cheap for small biz” by Jessica Seid (CNNMoney.com, Jul.14,2006)

“At Spot Runner we make it easy, simple and affordable for everyone to take advantage of local TV advertising. We started Spot Runner because we saw three important opportunities:

  • Small and medium-sized business people want to advertise on TV but the costs of creating ads are prohibitive.
  • Choosing a media plan, negotiating the price, and tracking your advertising can be time consuming and difficult.
  • Great TV advertising could be made more quickly and at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising agencies.

We put these elements together and Spot Runner was born.”

link: SpotRunner.com

Article: “Do Restaurants With No Web Sites Have Something To Hide?” (May 2006)

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excerpt:
"Think what a Web site could do for a restaurant: It could inform potential customers, like myself, of the restaurant's dress code, wine list, opening hours, ambience, reservation policies and menu (with prices … though we know most chefs think their culinary creations are priceless and talking about money is pedestrian, I’d like to know in advance how much a meal is going to set me back).

I could put my e-mail address on a mailing list via the Web site, and the restaurant could send me an e-mail update periodically: “Chef’s Special Today: Sea Scallops!” “Every Tuesday Night: A Complimentary Glass Of Wine With Every Entrée.” “We Have Added New Low-Carb Menu Items!” A more sophisticated restaurant Web site could even allow diners to book their own reservations and automatically e-mail reminders the morning of the reservation date.

The restaurant could post coupons for slow, early-midweek nights to tempt diners: “Every Monday And Tuesday: 15 Percent Off All Entrées.”

source: "Do Restaurants With No Web Sites Have Something To Hide?" by Tracey E. Schelmetic (May 18,2006)

You want a web site, but you don't have the programming skills or the money for software, web designer, and a hosting service, no problem. The one thing that will cost you money is your domain name (e.g. http://www.your-name.com) which can cost you as little as $10 a year.

There are many ways to put an acceptable restaurant web site for $10 in less than 24 hours. While web design may impress some customers, many times people are looking for general information about your web site.

For restaurant owners who would like to test the web waters before making a bigger investment, or for those stretching dollars, we will be posting a small guide to get your restaurant online with a fast, cheap (in cost, not look), and effective web site.

Article: “Buzz works: hiring newsmakers can keep a restaurant business humming steadily” (Feb.2005)

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excerpt:
"An effective restaurant public-relations campaign that generates favorable exposure through newspapers, magazines, TV stations, radio stations and the Internet has a wider reach than does word-of-mouth awareness alone. And the public lends more credibility to articles they read and stories they hear about your restaurant than to advertisements they read and see.

A carefully crafted restaurant public-relations campaign will raise both media and consumer awareness of your business. Simply put, the "buzz" about your restaurant begins with and is reinforced by the media. By cultivating positive relationships with the media and creating publicity via the media, restaurant operators enhance their chances for continued prosperity.

So what exactly is restaurant public relations, and why is it the best route for you to create positive awareness? People often confuse PR with advertising, but the two are dramatically different."

source: "Buzz works: hiring newsmakers can keep a restaurant business humming steadily" by Aaron Allen (Nation's Restaurant News, Feb.21,2005)

The first challenge is learning how to write a press release. This is a useful skill that is worthy of learning and will pay off for years to come. Here are some sites with tips and advice on writing a press release:

PR Resource Center (Entrpreneur.com)
"How to Write a Great Press Release" (PublicityInsider.com)
"Guide to Writing Successful Press Releases" by Dr. Randall Hansen

Submitting and distributing press releases have been a staple of the media industry, however now there are online services that will distribute your press release for free. As in most cases, the free services are meant to entice users to subscribe for fee services, however for a budget-concious restaurant owner the free services should handle the job for now.

Here are sites offering free press release distribution services:

Media Syndicate
PRFree
PRWeb
OpenPress

I-Newswire

Tool: Restaurant Newsletter/Email Marketing Services

 

excerpt:
"Strong industry growth has increased competitive pressures among restaurants, making it more important than ever to step-up marketing efforts that attract customers and keep them coming back. When asked about the biggest business challenges they face, U.S. restaurant owners cited filling seats during slower days or seasons (50 percent) and building their establishment's brand and reputation (27 percent) as the top two difficulties.

According to the survey, 90 percent of restaurateurs said they maintain a website, and 84 percent said they use email as part of their marketing strategy. In fact, nearly half of those surveyed (45 percent) said email marketing is their most effective marketing tool. Direct mail was a distant second at 18 percent, followed by print advertising at 16 percent."

source: "93% of U.S. Restaurants Anticipate Strong Sales In 2006, According To Constant Contact Survey" (Constant Contact, May 4,2006) (Press Release)

published study: Constant Contact's 2006 Restaurant Survey

 There are some important things to note about this survey:

"The survey was conducted through targeted online distribution to U.S. restaurant owners, who are current customers of Constant Contact, recording results from nearly 300. The majority of respondents are owner/operators of single-location, small business establishments that have been in business for five years or more."

This is significant because the results skew towards favoring email marketing, which is expected when the survey participants are customers of an email marketing company. However that being said, there is valuable information in the research report regarding how restaurants use the internet to gain a competitive edge, strengthen their brand, and increase customer loyalty. The survey results also show the various benefits of using permission-based email marketing.

Another significant aspect of the survey is that the respondents are "owner/operators of single-location, small business establishments that have been in business for five years or more". Being in business for 5 years or more is often a sign of a successful restaurant, and if successful restaurants are using email marketing and utilizing technology to remain competitive, it is probably worth considering for your operations.

The company who surveyed its own customers for this research, Constant Contact, offers a basic plan for $15 a month with a 60 day free trial. There are also free services available on the web which have their limits and conditions (e.g. small advertising included), but may be a good alternative for small restaurants.

Here are some free and low cost alternatives:
SparkLit
Zinester
Constant Contact
GraphicMail
Your Mailing List Provider

Article: “Text Messaging and Customer Service” (May 2006)

 

excerpt: 
"Restaurants – In Sydney, restaurants don't take down your name or give you a pager … they just take your mobile number and send you an SMS when your table is ready.  Surely this is cheaper than getting all those nifty pagers?"

source: "Text Messaging and Customer Service" by Rohit Bhargava (Influential Interactive Marketing, May 3,2006)

This is an example of using an existing, popular technology and leveraging it, in this case, for the restaurant industry. If you believe that most, if not all, of your customers carry cell phones, then provide them the option of writing their number down to receive a text message when their table is ready (and giving them a few minutes after the text to check in with the hostess).

Advantages:
– Your customers can leave the restaurant to stroll around nearby shops (and not worry about the range of the coaster/pager). They will not be anxious from waiting, but relaxed and ready to enjoy the meal.

– The restaurant does not have to worry about the loss of equipment (pagers are often mistakenly taken from restaurants, requiring replacement costs) or the maintenance/training for the pager system.

For restaurants considering a paging system, this might be a low cost, yet effective alternative. For those already with a paging system, this can be an additional convenience for your guests.

Note: This blog is designed to find free or low cost ways for restaurants to use technology to benefit their operations. Many times this blog will feature web tools, but there are also creative ways to leverage non-web technology to enhance restaurant operations.

This blog is not meant to be a source for the latest, greatest (and often times most expensive) restaurant technology and services that hit the scene. If you are interested in such a blog, please let me know.