One of the ways restaurants can attract a loyal customer base is through unique promotions that set them apart from the competition. These events can also be effective tools to cement the restaurant’s brand while increasing sales volume.
DeNicola Restaurant Group’s Joe DeNicola, co-owner and executive chef at Del Fuego, La Tavola and Ruvo, noted that he uses different types of promotions in each of his restaurants.
“We try to use promotions as both entertainment and fun as well as trying to show our culinary experience and knowledge of food, wines, beers and spirits. Promotions in general are trial and error and the feedback by the successfulness is how you determine which to continue and which ones to flop.”
For example, Del Fuego, a Tex-Mex concept, hosts an annual Taco Eating Contest each year on the first day of football season with door prizes, giveaways, and food and drink specials. The event showcases the restaurant’s most popular menu item and positions it as a place to come during NFL games all season. La Tavola hosts a special “Psychic Night” approximately six times a year. On those evenings, guests may have a personal psychic reading while enjoying a three-course, prix fixe dinner. The dates are strategically chosen to fill the restaurant during off-peak months and days of the week. The family-friendly Ruvo Restaurant holds cooking classes, such as “Sauce Making 101” on weeknights, periodically throughout the year. Attendees learn the fundamentals and enjoy the finished products with a five-course pasta dinner served with the restaurant’s private label wines.
Jen Cantin, director of marketing and development for Lessing’s Inc., owners of Library Café, Mirabelle Tavern and VIEW, said promotions are tied to the character of each Lessing property and that feedback from diners and the opinions of waitstaff helps determine what events will be held at the establishments.
“Success comes down to numbers,” she said. “As the restaurant matures you learn what your guests like and dislike, and develop promotions accordingly.”
VIEW capitalizes on its waterfront views throughout the winter months by hosting prime rib night in conjunction with a regular ‘Wine Down Wednesday’ promotion. Every fall the Library Cafe hosts an Oktoberfest Celebration including the restaurant’s annual German-themed beer pairing dinner. Three years ago, Mirabelle Restaurant and Tavern executive chef Guy Reuge began hosting an annual All-American pig roast as a celebration celebration of summer in a normally slower time for the restaurant.
Other promotions involve creating unique partnerships with the community or local businesses or creating value-driven menu offerings.
Pair Wine & Cheese teamed up with a local vineyard for a special pairing event. The vineyard’s winemaker came to the restaurant to offer information on each wine and restaurant owner and cheese monger, Chung Park, served up a cheese course for each wine creating perfect pairings.
Almond Restaurant & Bar hosts an Artists & Writers communal dinner once a month featuring a local artist or writer as the host. The dinner features a family style three-course menu created by executive chef Jason Weiner.
Christy Cober, director of operations for Honest Management which operates Rowdy Hall, Nick & Toni’s, Townline BBQ and La Fondita, said promotions are designed to represent each restaurant’s identity and vision.
“We try to utilize our strengths to promote growth and always take into consideration what the consumer is looking for,” she said. “We don’t try to change their drinking or dining habits, we try to create what they feel is a value added experience. In the off-season, there are many dining options with a small population of diners. Sometimes the promotions are not solely about driving the bottom line, which is easy to measure. Sometimes they are about creating an atmosphere or doing something for the community or doing something nice for our loyal customers.”
Located in the heart of East Hampton village the English style pub/French bistro Rowdy Hall is steps from the local movie theater and offers a dinner and a movie promotion Sunday through Thursdays. The Hamptons hotspot, Nick & Toni’s is a tough table to get in the summer season. The eatery offers several price-driven promotions in the off season including a tiered prix fixe menu and Sunday brunch September through May with sought-after items such as the famous do-it-yourself bloody Mary “board,” a buffet featuring several liquors and accompanying condiments so guests can tailor the drink to their liking.
Cober and DeNicola agree that learning how to do promotions well involves a process of trial and error and keeping true to your brand.
“People come to restaurants for many reasons, but if they leave happy there is a pretty good chance they will choose to come back again and again,” said Cober. “Gear your promotion around something that you feel is integral to the vision of your restaurant. In my opinion it is not good to have a successful promotion if it ultimately steers your business in a different direction than who you want to be – you sacrifice your brand identity and may never be able to pull back.”
“Every promotion isn’t perfect but a lot of them do very well and usually tweak those and expand on those but we make a commitment to all promotions even though one may not do well at one location and do better at another location,” said DeNicola. “It will only work well if you come up with a big idea, communicate that idea to get the clientele there and to execute the idea well enough to have the clientele want to come back again.”
Cantin advises other restaurateurs to be strategically creative and willing to take risks to find opportunities.
“I would recommend offering something that you know your clientele will enjoy and know will drive traffic to your restaurant, but be sure to offer it during a typically slow time. And don’t be afraid to fail.”