Five common restaurant marketing mistakes. And how to avoid them.

The world of restaurant marketing is full of varying strategies and ideas, as well as new and improved platforms to help drive traffic to your restaurant. With each of these opportunities comes a lot of room for marketing successes, but also plenty of spaces where restaurants can make mistakes. Over the past 20+ years as consultants to the industry, we’ve seen a lot. Here are five common and recurring mistakes we see most often.

1. Continuous discounting

We believe, on a selective basis, discounting can be an effective strategy to generate trial and LTO’s drive additional traffic at critical times. What many marketers fail to understand, though, is that discounting can actually become a restaurant’s worst enemy. However, when overdone, discounting becomes a bad habit fraught with long term problems. When restaurants abuse the power of discounting, it slowly becomes the only reason customers visit. You have trained your customers to wait to come in until you feed them the discount. Use discounts as a selective strategy to generate trial, sell against specific competitors or to help comp over a strong period.

Read more of our thoughts on discounting.

2. Shifting focus/strategy too often

Far too often, restaurant marketers set strategy for their marketing efforts, and decide to shift directions without really giving the original strategy much of a chance to develop. It is far more valuable to see a campaign out and allow it to grow into the great campaign idea you expected it to be from the beginning. We approach new strategy by adopting a test and optimize approach. The key: knowing what the important measurements are for your strategy. We set the tactics in motion then continuously test the performance or each element. We stop low performing actions and reallocate dollars to best performing assets. This allows your original overarching strategy time to optimize and drive sales.

3. Anecdotal reporting on what works or doesn’t work

A common mistake in restaurant marketing involves the way that decision makers measure and don’t measure success. Too often we see marketers look at the immediate result of their campaigns without really digging deeper into the “why”. As above, knowing which pieces are data are meaningful is not always obvious. All decisions today should be validated with quantifiable data. I hear people say “that doesn’t work” but without providing supporting details as to why. Again, using the test and optimize approach we can identify both successful and unsuccessful message and channels. Be honest and specific with real supporting data to determine what’s working and know why something has underperformed.

4. Going to the next bright shiny object

Unfortunately, many restaurants have become consumed by the next new platform or technology and it has taken their focus away from their best performing platforms. Contrary to popular belief, websites still have a very valuable presence in the eyes of the consumer. In a survey conducted by Angelsmith, results showed that 80% of respondents mentioned that they use the restaurant’s website as a source of research and additional information. Losing track of those reliable, owned platforms, and focusing exclusively on the next shiny object in the marketing world can be very dangerous. Keep those reliable platforms fresh, up-to-date, and unique to ensure customers are getting exactly what they want.

5. Ignore the data provided by their Loyalty Program

Restaurants can never have too much information about their consumer. All demographic information and purchasing behaviors about the consumers can be marketing gold, and too often restaurant operators are neglecting to have the discipline to review that data on a regular basis. Missing the opportunity to fine tune your marketing programs. Loyalty programs help to gather significant amounts of customer info and demographic data that can help you understand your target audience’s behavior. Take advantage of loyalty programs, and use them to get the most out of your marketing efforts.

Use these mistakes as rules to help you stay focused and on strategy versus continuously changing directions. Let your campaigns evolve using the data to make better decisions in real time as well as for future efforts. Accepting mistakes for what they are, and turning them into a positive is what separates those thriving brands from the average ones. The thriving restaurants get tripped up, but the way they overcome these challenges it what differentiates themselves from others.

Automats: restaurants and food with the absence of service

Eatsa is a restaurant concept from San Fransisco that offers a new take on service. Healthy bowls served without interacting with another human. The food is described as surprisingly good. But behind the high tech facade of Eatsa, people do take the orders and prepare the meals.

This is part of a trend in food towards automats. Burritobox, 24/7 Pizza and a wave of other brands are vying to become the Redbox of food. Each brand cites the success of technology and delivery services which eschew the traditional service of a restaurant and have seen big success. It’s true, Seamless is a success with younger consumers. Casual Dining concepts like Chili’s and The Olive Garden have added table side tablets to reduce server interaction and friction from dining experiences. McDonald’s and Panera are following suit.

There is certainly a novelty factor involved for many of these automated restaurants. Having your quinoa bowl delivered at the pushing a button or sushi prepared by a machine is a curiosity.

When a customer has a bad experience at an automated restaurant, brands will have to hope that they take to their app or to social media to complain if only so they can try to make it up to them.

And there’s no doubt that convenience is as important as ever. Consumers comfortable with ordering from apps and spoiled with choices have indicated in research and with their wallets that they avoid restaurants that are overly complex for some meal occasions. Have people become so eager to avoid interaction with other humans that they would choose a box restaurant concept?

There is an optimal time and place for any successful food concept. Rubio’s and Chipotle don’t have to close for Burritobox to find its customer base. They’re be indirect competitors. Consumers will choose the option that is appropriate for the time and place. Have an hour? Stop at a casual dining concept. Have a half-hour? Stop at Qdoba. Getting on a train? Burritobox.

Fears of Commoditization

While there may be a time and place for everything, too much availability makes anything less special. Especially food from what appears to be a vending machine. There is a reason the original Automats disappeared. Burritobox emphasizes that it is supplied with hand-made food that is checked for freshness and quality every day.

Removing the service element puts a lot of focus on the remaining experiential elements. For Eatsa, that means the user experience of pushing buttons to order, which people seem to enjoy so far. Even grocery which has stepped up prepared food offerings have some level of service. But in an automat environment, there is no service, and that puts a lot of pressure on the meal itself.

Let’s not forget that consumers can get pizza almost anywhere, and pretty high quality instant gratification products at c-stores thanks to concepts like Hunt Brothers. A pizza from a vending machine will still have to be cooked or heated; customers will still have to like it enough to come back or recommend it to anyone. Brands will have to convince consumers that a slice from the box is more than the microwave pizza they make at home.

In the case of Burritobox, there is no shortage of options up and down the experience chain. From Taco Bell at the mass-QSR level all the way up to Casual Dining and a host of stand-alone concepts. Burritobox will have to work very hard to earn trial and must really deliver on food experience to earn a second visit.

Sometimes a mistake is made in a restaurant that can be made up for by service staff with a smile, or an apology. When a customer has a bad experience at an automated restaurant, brands will have to hope that they take to their app or to social media to complain if only so they can try to make it up to them.

Not just demand-side benefits

Looking more closely at the automation that has taken off so far though, it may not be these trends that will drive growth. In fact, it might have more to do with real estate cost and site selection. A look at the Eatsa footprint shows that they cut out a lot of expensive square footage along with the front-of-house service area and counter holding those cash registers. In San Fransisco and New York where the brand is opening first, that’s a huge savings.

24/7 Pizza looks for local pizza brands to make the inventory for their boxes and displays their name. This gives a pizza brand an opportunity to expand without opening new storefronts or even investing in a real estate search. Redbox, the physical DVD rental vending machines popped up everywhere (even as Netflix beat Blockbuster Video into closing location after location). Growing restaurants can look at that model and borrow ideas.

Brands can also use this outlet to put their best foot forward. Restaurants using automated tech to expand beyond their existing locations can test the output of boxes and offer only their top menu items that are best executed in that environment. This way a consumer not familiar with their brand will have higher odds of an experience they want to repeat.