Mother’s Day is around the corner, start marketing now.

As a restaurant operator you know Mother’s Day is the most popular holiday of the year for dining out. It brings nearly half of Americans to dine out, or order restaurant takeout or delivery, on May 7, according to the National Restaurant Association, six in 10 will choose a casual dining establishment. So, if you’re a casual dining chain what are your plans for capturing more than your share of traffic and sales that day. Here are several strategies to capitalize on this enormous opportunity..

Casual and fine dining establishments are the big winners on this day. And restaurants that are kid friendly are very desirable. But don’t completely ignore take out, it’s estimated 13% of families with kids under 13 will order take out. Keep this in mind as seek to optimize sales on this robust dining day.

Begin your marketing efforts at least a month in advance. You’re not marketing the day, you need to market the planning of the day. This year, 83 percent of those who plan to celebrate Mother’s Day at a restaurant made their plans to do so less than one month ahead of time. Seventeen percent made their plans well in advance, longer than one month prior.

Mothers typically enjoy going to a place that does something to make them feel special, and recognize the special day, outside of just giving mother’s free food. Mother’s Day themed decorations, banners, flowers when you come in, etc., are all examples of things that bring attention to the special day for mothers without just involving paying for their food.

When it comes to how moms find restaurants, they are proactive online with regard to restaurants:
84% use the Internet to seek restaurant coupons or special deals
43% look at menus and operating hours
40% seek directions
30% actually order takeout or delivery food
25% research nutritional information or buy gift cards

Social media should play a key role in your strategy. Moms are very social and look to each other for recommendations and ideas. Feed them with messaging early to capture share of mind. Don’t ignore the dads though. While the ladies make a lot of the decisions they also like it when they are given options by their husbands and significant others.

Now let’s talk about the best way to message to moms. It is important to stay away from stereotypes, and pigeonholing your audience into a specific category (soccer moms, etc) Be short and concise, moms are busy and like getting things done quickly. Keep your marketing the same way towards them, let them get their info quickly and effectively, allowing them to get on with other things. They will typically respond well to advertisements that recognize this.

Tug on their heartstrings as much as possible, but in a simple, mellow way. Referencing moms’ children and growing up with them is always full of positive feedback. Especially around Mother’s Day. Moms love thinking about their parenting journey and how incredible it can be. Restaurants that use this to show the value in spending a Mother’s Day meal with those kids they watched grow up could be a very successful play.

Mothers are looking for something that was made from scratch with fresh ingredients and cooked at that location, so Mother’s Day restaurant selections will likely follow this same trend. Always emphasize fresh, like mentioned above. Even if you make the “fresh” promise a crazy amount of times, it will still come off as reassuring and settling for mothers.

Moms are always on the go, so try and make majority of your content mobile optimized. Easy to stream or download and easy to watch and share.

Don’t fall into the trap of repetition for this Mother’s Day because it’s worked in the past. Just as millennials have redefined the state of the marketing industry, so must we, too, adapt to meet them where they are receptive — on mobile devices, for example, with messaging targeted directly to their lifestyles and preferences.

Create the type of content that will answer moms’ questions, validate her decisions and convince her of the value you bring. Use behavioral data and social insights to stay on top of what’s important to her now. But remember to respect her boundaries. Be mindful and contextual in your media placement and messaging frequency.

Follow these important strategies with your marketing to Mom for Mother’s Day and you’ll be sure to win her heart and mind and therefore her dining dollars, actually it will be Dad’s and Son’s dollars! Happy Mother’s Day hunting.

The demise or success of Casual Dining.

Is your brand going to just give in to the prognosticators or fight like hell?

Everyday there’s another article about the demise of casual dining. Denny’s CEO stated, “ongoing and pervasive challenges” in the restaurant industry. We recognize that the environment will most likely remain challenged for the foreseeable future and we are committed to delivering profitable system sales growth as the industry and consumer expectations evolve.” No one said success would be easy.

In addition to competing with fast-casual chains, casual-dining chains have to win over consumers who will be increasingly choosing to eat at home in 2017, as grocery prices plummeted in 2016. In 2017, fast- casual restaurants will continue to be seen as trendier places to eat that typically beat casual-dining chains when it comes to convenience and pricing. The head winds are strong and new competitors enter the market daily. But what you have in recognition A locations and traffic coming in daily.

How to create success

The key to success is leveraging those things to your advantage. So if you’re a fighter and believe in your concept and plan to steal share, here are the five fundamentals to success. The competition in casual dining is fierce and brands struggle everyday to drive traffic into store. Never before has marketing been more important to the category. First you must focus on the core items that your customers love and consume regularly. If you’ve gone off trying to match Fast Casual brands and been changing up your menu it creates confusion. The key is to simplify your menu offerings. Use ordering data to create a streamlined menu strategy. We call it focusing on the craveable core offerings. Second, is to leverage limited time offerings on those core items to drive traffic.

It doesn’t mean discounting either. Many brands find success in reminding core guests and lapsed gusts about the items they’ve been enjoying for sometime. It acts as a reminder that you’re here and implies a discount when you show the price as limited time. In addition, LTO’s are great ways to give new customers a reason for trying your brand. Of course if you really want to be aggressive offering your LTO at a discount never hurts and can actually drive considerable traffic. Ok so now you’ve streamlined the menu to focus on your core offering. and put in some near term traffic driver offers, what next.

Now it’s time to think about the long-term success of your marketing program. In this third step to success conduct a media audit of all your spending and it’s efficacy at driving traffic and sales. Are you spending in the right places and getting an effective reach and frequency with your messages? The bottom line is without awareness you can’t build sales. We know through our years of research there is a direct correlation between awareness and trial. Share of voice equal share of stomach, as we like to say.

Analyze and optimize

When examining the digital components of the plan use advanced, precision targeting to grow your audience. What you will be doing is targeting the type of people who have shown a liking to your offering. It’s all about finding lookalike audiences to grow your base of customers. Look at geographic, demographic and interest based data of your core audience to date. Finally, deploy your new plan with a test and optimize mind set. The beauty of today’s media landscape is our ability to continuously analyze the performance of each channel.

As you examine the information make revisions based on the data collected. Within each channel you can optimize for ad types, audiences messaging and so much more. The test and optimize approach gives you flexibility to react not to ad performance but also market conditions. Perhaps you have a weak day part. Perfect opportunity to test and optimize ad units promoting that period.

The fact remains not every casual dining concept can survive these challenging times for the industry. As in all industries the strong survive. But so do those that pivot and change and don’t let the chaotic times control their destiny. Having the right tools and concepts and discipline to deploy them will push to success. Because, success depends more on what we do than what the world does to us.

Listen to the companion episode of the F&RM Podcast for this article.

Another Challenging Year for Restaurants

If you thought 2016 was challenging you better hold on. 2017 is not poised to get better. Even with Republicans controlling both the Congress and White House and the opportunity for reduced regulatory burden on businesses, the outlook is tough for a host of competitive reasons and a continued over supply of eateries.

Chicago-based NPD expects restaurant industry traffic to remain stalled in 2017. Traffic to dine-in brands AKA casual dining, will continue to fall at a rate of 2%. They do however bode slightly better for quick serve brands with traffic projected to grow 1%, hardly a panacea in light of the expanded competition from grocery. And to further cloud the traffic picture, gas prices are projected to continue to rise again.

Innovation is critical to continued success and a way to stay competitive.

Consumers’ apetites for dining out continue to be stymied by the prepared foods industry. And the competition is not just coming from traditional grocery stores. Increased options and improved quality at C-Stores will continue to provide viable options for consumers. Take into consideration the attractive value proposition of better quality, more options, less expensive and convenience and you have a cadre of tough competitors for share of stomach.

So what’s a quick serve and any dine-in brand to do? First and foremost make sure to deliver on the basics. Create superior dining experiences. Immaculate restaurants and food quality are ways to win consumers for that next dining out occasion. Our research shows how important the customers the last visit plays into future decisions on a return visit to the same brand. Training or retraining staff to surprise and delight the customer is an inexpensive way to deliver that superior dining experience.

Innovation is critical to continued success and a way to stay competitive in a challenging environment. And I’m not talking about building an app. App downloads are down significantly as people are demanding apps that provide utility and it’s unlikely a restaurant brand can provide the kind of utility Uber provides, which is the standard by which most apps are judged. Instead, consider innovation on your menu with flavors from the season or capitalize on popular flavor profiles that consumers crave. Millennial customers are fond of bold interesting flavors you can’t find just anywhere.

Test different options in a few units before rolling out to the entire system. Our research show customers love the opportunity to weigh in on what their favorite brand is testing. Utilize a high performing store with a strong manager, this guarantees a meaningful test that can be replicated over and over. It also helps refine the preparation and presentation for a highly effective roll out.

We are also seeing technology playing a key role in innovation. Although probably the more expensive route it’s necessary to stay ahead of the curve on collecting critical data to analyze and leverage to better understand your customer’s habits and behavior. Once you know who your best customer is and what they like you can leverage that information to go get more of them.

Mobile ordering is growing exponentially and if having that feature makes sense for your brand make the investment. We are seeing many brands generating significant incremental sales and ROI on mobile ordering by leveraging intelligent upsell opportunities.

It’s not the apocalypse but these are challenging times for restaurant brands and prepared food in general. You’ve been in business a while now and you know it’s cyclical. Stay focused on the fundamentals of delivering great hospitality. Innovation is critical to staying competitive and technology will keep you ahead of the change curve.