Restaurant Marketing

How to Transition Your Menu for Fall

The weather is just beginning to cool, and already people are yearning for cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, and that crisp nip in the air. While we still have a few weeks before the weather turns, it’s time to start thinking about revamping your menu for the fall. 

The general theme? Heartier dishes. When people are cold, their bodies have to burn more calories to keep their temperature up. As a result, many people feel hungrier during the fall and winter than spring and summer. 

Plus, without trips to the beach on the horizon, people tend to be a little more lax with their meal choices. 

So bid a fond farewell to perfect peaches and crispy asparagus, and say hello to gourds and squash, fall apples, and the wonderful world of root vegetables. 

Appetizers

Let go of the cool, light apps like spring rolls, gazpacho, and hummus. Instead, set the stage with a warm, cozy starter. Gulf oysters are in season year ‘round, so a grilled oyster app is a good option. Or gooey baked brie with a warm baguette. If you do want to keep a cold starter on the menu, try to stick to seasonal fall ingredients. Eggplant is available all year, so baba ganoush might be a hearty dip to consider.

And the soups! Who doesn’t love a warm bowl of soup or chowder on a cool day, served with a warm slice of crusty, homemade bread? French onion with savory beef broth, thick baked potato soup, and classic minestrone all make wonderful starters. Just keep portions small, or no one will want to order entrees. 

Salads

Just because the summer salad season is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for salads on your menu throughout the colder months. Just bring a heartier approach. 

Swap out the watery greens for more fibrous options, like kale or spinach. These greens will hold up well to heavier toppings and dressings. 

Instead of only raw veggies, add some warming roasted root vegetables to your salads. Roasted beets, butternut squash, and sweet potato will add a filling bulk. You can also beef up your fall salads with hearty grains like farro, quinoa, and couscous. Pearl couscous does particularly well in salads, because of the larger grains. 

For sweetness, look for fruits that are in season in the cooler months, like Asian pears. Certain apple varieties like Braeburn, Fuji or Pink Lady are also at their peak in the fall. Dried cranberries are another popular fall fruit that will provide little pops of sugar. And they all go well with some crunchy fall nuts, like walnuts, pecans and pine nuts.

Sides

With so many delicious root vegetables in season, fall sides are abundant. Half of a roasted acorn squash drizzled with maple butter is hard to beat. Pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy, salty pancetta are another favorite. Or you can sauté fall greens like Swiss chard or spinach for a light side option.

Any roasted root vegetable will create a good base for a fall side, from basic potatoes and carrots to parsnips, turnips, beets, and squash. 

But fall sides aren’t limited to veggies. A gooey pasta side-dish will stick to the ribs as well. Bring a fall flavor into the mix by making a pumpkin sauce. Or update gnocchi for the season by substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes. 

Entrees

Any protein can be turned into a fall dish with the right preparation and accouterments. 

When cooking, think long slow-roasting and braising for the richness of flavor that we’re craving in cooler weather. Duck confit, roast chicken, lamb shanks braised in red wine — all great fall options. 

Pork stuffed with apple and walnuts is a classic fall combination that you can play with. Mushrooms are most plentiful in the fall, and they are a great addition to pan sauces for steak and pork. 

For seafood, cioppino (a warm and hearty seafood stew) is a lighter option that guests may appreciate. Cod, salmon, grouper, and flounder are all fish that are widely available in the fall as well. Fish is a great addition to your menu all year, as it can easily be tweaked to fit the season with the right sides and herbs.

Warming spices and flavors

Pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg aren’t the only fall flavors out there. Mint, parsley, and rosemary are all fall herbs that you can work with on your menu.

And there’s no need to stay away from citrus on your fall menu. While we often think of citrus as a summer fruit, some varieties are actually best in the fall. Valencia oranges are in season from April to December, while Navel oranges don’t ripen until November. Lemons are in season year-round, and Mexican limes ripen between August and December. 

Spicy food may be a good addition to your fall menu. It can be too much to eat a spicy dish on a hot day, but when the weather is chilly that capsaicin can provide a welcome flush. And consider warming spice blends from around the world. Curries and Indian spices like garam masala have a little heat that will warm your guests up from the inside out.

Desserts

It’s time to retire the ice creams and sorbets and instead get baking. Fall is the perfect time for pies, cakes, and crumbles. 

Apple, sweet potato, pumpkin, pecan and buttermilk pie are all fall pie staples. Other fall flavors like cranberry, ginger, and carrot can be used in desserts like cookies and cakes. 

You can also skip the fruits and veggies and go heavy on the chocolate. Cakes, bars, and trifles with chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter are the kind of dense fare that does well in the fall.

If you do want a cold option, you could try to incorporate a fall flavor. Orange or lemon sorbets are light but include fall-appropriate citrus.

Cocktails and Coffee

While some wine drinkers are purists following strict rules about what to drink based on their food selections, many others are seasonal drinkers. These types tend to prefer chilled whites and rosés in the summer, and room temperature reds in the winter — regardless of what they’re eating. So make sure the red wine selection is up to snuff. You’ll want plenty of merlots, cabernets, and pinot noirs to keep the chill off. 

If you have the space for it, consider adding some warm drinks to your cocktail menu. Irish coffees are simple, and just require a coffee pot within easy reach of the bar. If you want to get a little more involved, you can make hot spiked cider, or mulled wine. These can be put in an air pot for easy service. 

Bourbon and whiskey are also popular when the weather gets cold. So consider adding fall-inspired whiskey drinks like a Cranberry Old-Fashioned or an Apple Cider Manhattan.

Experiment with fall spices in your drinks like nutmeg and cinnamon. There are even pumpkin-flavored liqueurs that you could use for a boozy take on the famous coffee drink. 

For non-alcoholic options, try to add some herbal teas, hot cider, and even hot chocolate to the menu. 

Descriptions

Since you’re updating the menu anyway, spend a little time thinking about your descriptions. Menu seasonality is important to a lot of people. So if you’re using lots of seasonal fall ingredients, play that up on your menu. Even better if you are able to use some local ingredients! 

People are looking for comfort and coziness when the weather gets cool. Can you bring that feeling to your menu? Emphasize rich and creamy textures. Try peppering in snuggly words like “warm” and “toasty”. Try to position your food as the perfect cap to a chilly day. 

Conclusion

Since fall is the most popular season with Americans, it’s worth it to try to capitalize on these short-term flavors!

Transitioning your menu from summer to fall is a shift, but it doesn’t have to mean you start from scratch. With the editing of some of your sides and flavor profiles, you should be able to pivot much of your menu to one more appropriate for cool weather. 

Swap out some apps and desserts, and you’ll be all set for fall!

5 Experiences to Add to Your Restaurant and Shake Up Your Customer Traffic

Experiences are key to engaging customers. Sure, sometimes customers will want to just sit down and have a meal, have a tasting, eat dessert, or whatever your specialty is. But in other instances, they want to be entertained. By hosting different experiences throughout the year at your restaurant, you can bring excitement to their week. Offering these events can shake up your customer traffic and show your offerings in a new light. For example, going out for tacos just doesn’t have the same ring as heading to a Tex-Mex Taco Tuesday Fiesta. It’s all how you market it!

With any experience, there are a few must-do’s that come with planning a successful event at your restaurant.

  • Plan in advance! There’s a sweet spot between giving customers too much notice and not enough. Have your events scheduled at least a month in advance.
  • You have to advertise! No matter what kind of event you’re hosting for your restaurant, be sure to publicize it. Fliers, Facebook events, and staff advertising to customers are all great ways to let the public know about your big plans. If they don’t know, they can’t come! 

Let’s take a look at some ideas you can put into action at your business:

Throw a Theme Party

This is a great way to show off the versatility and skills of your kitchen! There are so many themes out there, you may want to try and incorporate one into your regular monthly (or weekly) agenda. Themes could be food-based, TV show-inspired, sport-centered, and decade-focused- the options are endless! Having a theme in place can help dictate the menu, decor, music, and overall ambiance for the event. This is a great event to use sparingly to intrigue new customers and bring regulars through the door that might have been coming anyway.

Craft an Art Class

There are many different ways you can incorporate an arts and crafts night for your establishment. From crafting wood signs to painting a masterpiece, let your customers’ creativity run wild, all at your restaurant. This kind of experience works particularly well if you are a tasting room or winery where you serve alcohol (versus patrons spending their dollars elsewhere BYOB-style). 

Not crafty yourself? No problem! Get in contact with a local crafter to supervise the project. Discuss how many they can oversee and the space you’re willing to dedicate. For this event, we recommend creating a limited number of tickets to not only pay for the crafter, but also have a “deposit” on the event. Include light appetizers and refreshments as part of the ticket, while also offering a special drink menu made for the event. Touches like this really elevates the event from an art class to a full experience, leading up to when your customer walks away with their latest craft creation. 

Create a Contest

Bring out a little healthy competition between your customers with a fun contest! Contests can be as simple as karaoke, darts, or trivia. Show off your outdoor space with contests like cornhole, canjam, darts, or any other yard games that encourage customers to pal around and imbibe in the evening’s offerings. 

Host a Yappy Hour

Dog-friendly patios may be the regular at your restaurant or bar, so why not make an event out of it! Many dog owners jump at the chance to have their dogs socializing while enjoying a night out for themselves. Host food or drink specials for the owners but don’t forget to have water and dog-friendly treats for the pups of honor. 

Before you get too far in the planning process, check your local jurisdiction and codes to make sure you can comply with the laws surrounding dogs in restaurants or food-areas

Help a Local Cause

Get old and new customers alike to rally around a cause at your restaurant. Having a fundraiser can be spectacular for business, employee morale, and most importantly, the cause! Working with a local school, team, or group promotes local partnerships and bring many new customers into your establishment. You may even gain a new crop of regulars!

If there’s not a specific event or cause you want to host at your restaurant, take a poll of your employees’ favorite causes. This can spark some ideas and even create a calendar of giving to get everyone on board. 

What kind of experiences does your restaurant have to engage customers throughout the year? Let us know here or on Facebook. We’d love to hear your thoughts!

Promoting Nutrition on Your Restaurant’s Menu

The average American eats out between 4 and 5 times per week. That is a lot of food consumed in restaurants. And most of that food is probably not low-cal. 

As restauranteurs, what is your obligation to provide healthier menu options? None at all, really. You’re in the business of providing delicious food and a good time, not babysitting other people’s food choices. 

Still, promoting more balanced nutrition may be a good move. More people are concerned about their health than ever before. Providing some healthier choices and more dietary information could make it easier for them to fit your food into a balanced diet. 

If this sounds like something you’d like to explore, here are some tips for promoting nutrition on your restaurant’s menu.

Provide Nutrition Information

Providing calorie counts for menu items has been a requirement for chain restaurants with 20 or more locations since mid-2018. But for the small chains and independent restaurants, there is no such requirement. 

Still, some restaurants may choose to add calorie counts to their menus. Research shows that when calories are listed, diners order meals with about 3% fewer calories. While that’s not a massive decrease, that reduction could show positive benefits over time. 

If you’d like to add nutrition information, you can send food items to a lab for analysis. Be prepared to spend between $200 and $800 per sample for high-tech testing! 

A much more affordable option would be to use online databases to estimate calories for your dishes. Resources like the USDA Food Composition Database or apps like My Fitness Pal can help you to easily calculate calories as well as carbs, protein, and fiber content.

In the wake of the new calorie-disclosure regulation for chain restaurants, there has been some concern expressed by doctors and therapists who treat disordered eating. People who are preoccupied with calories can take a step backward on their road to recovery if they’re unable to avoid calorie counts on menus.  It discourages them from making intuitive choices about their food intake and instead encourages a focus on the numbers — a behavior that treatment tries to curb.

A solution to this problem could be to have nutrition information available, but not immediately present. Add a note at the bottom of the menu stating “Nutrition information available upon request”. This would inform those concerned with calories and macronutrients that they can access the information without potentially derailing the recovery efforts of someone battling an eating disorder.

Highlight Healthy Options

Drawing attention to a high-profit menu item with a decorative frame is an old (but effective) menu trick. Why not try it for your healthier menu options as well?

You could use a frame, contrasting color, or extra white space to feature lighter menu options, positioning them as special and desirable choices. Use the same approach with a healthy seasonal special. Create a limited-time dish using in-season local produce. Display it on a table tent or menu insert to create buzz.

You’ll get the opportunity to be creative in the kitchen while also encouraging your customers to choose this healthy option.

Have A “Lighter” Menu Section

Rather than sprinkling your healthier offerings throughout the menu, consider gathering them all together in a “lighter” section. By dedicating menu real estate to some healthy options, you’ll position your restaurant as a place that caters to the health-conscious. 

A good example: Maudie’s Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex food is notoriously heavy, with cheese, sour cream, beans, and rice galore. So Maudie’s has a “Skinny Tex-Mex” section on their menu, where all options are below 500 calories. 

People looking for a healthy entree will know exactly where to look, and people looking for a high-cal extravaganza will know what to avoid!

Make “Healthy” the Default

There is no rule that says cheeseburgers have to come with fries. No requirement that pasta must come with a side of bread. No law decreeing that steak should be served with mashed potatoes.

By making healthy sides the default instead, diners will have to actively select the less healthy option, instead of receiving it automatically. Of course, if a customer wants fries with their burger, they can have them. But what if the burger came with a side salad instead, and the customer had to request the fries? 

The Blue Zones Project, a non-profit dedicated to making healthy choices easier, advocates making the healthy choice the convenient choice. And there’s some science to back them up on the efficacy of such a policy. A study of nearly 1,200 children aged 8 to 18 indicated that two-thirds would not object to receiving fruit and vegetable sides instead of french fries. 

Some fast food restaurants have started to move in this direction. For example, McDonald’s now offers a choice of side with their Happy Meals — apple slices, fries, or yogurt. But it’s still a choice, and some locations still default to french fries. A better move would be to serve all Happy Meals with apple slices and only provide french fries by request.

Add Symbols to Identify Safe Foods

Make your menu easy to navigate for people with certain dietary restrictions. A simple V (vegan), VG (vegetarian) or GF (gluten-free) can help people to quickly find the menu options that they can eat.

If those symbols will clutter your menu too much, consider having supplemental menus by request. A Gluten Free, Dairy Free, or Nut Free menu will be much appreciated by people with potentially dangerous allergies. And it will take some of the pressure off of your service staff who may not have memorized every ingredient in every dish.

Of course, they should still communicate allergies to the kitchen so the cooks can be sure to prevent any cross-contamination! But customers with allergies will be happy to avoid the minefield of hidden ingredients that they face every time they dine out.

Support your Neighborhood

Your restaurant is part of a larger community, so consider that community’s interests when adding healthy menu options. For example, the largest percentage of Weight Watchers users are over the age of 65. So if you live in an area with a lot of retirees, you could consider adding Weight Watchers point values to your menu.

If the keto craze has caught on like wildfire in your area, you may want to consider some high-fat menu items with very limited carbs. Do you have a big Crossfit gym just down the road? Make sure you have some high-protein options on the menu!

And once you’ve updated your menu, let people know! Online message boards or physical bulletin boards at gyms and fitness centers can be great places to get the word out. 

Consider the Kids

Far too many kid’s menus look like this:

  • Chicken Fingers
  • Macaroni & Cheese
  • Spaghetti
  • The End

Nary a vegetable in sight! Kid’s menus are treated as an afterthought. And it’s a shame because this is such an easy fix! You probably have the making of a healthy and tasty kid’s menu in your restaurant kitchen right now. 

Chicken doesn’t have to be fried. Lightly breaded and baked chicken will make most kids happy. Serve it with a side of steamed carrots or broccoli. Mom and Dad will know if their little ones won’t eat the veggies, and they’ll make a substitution if necessary.

A peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread provides fiber, protein, and natural carbohydrates. And it could not be easier to make. Fresh fruit, yogurt, and applesauce are simple sides that are low in fat and sodium.

Providing healthy options for the kids makes sense. The parents will feel good about feeding them at your restaurant, and you’ll be high on the list of places to visit again.

Not every restaurant needs to be a monument to health and wellness. After all, no one wants to live in a world without pizza! But keeping nutrition in mind makes good sense. You’ll increase the likelihood of the health-conscious considering your restaurant as an option. And you may be able to help some customers to live a healthier, longer life at the same time. 

If it’s good for your business and good for your patrons! 

How Restaurants Can Use Pinterest Effectively

Pinterest may not have the eye-watering user numbers as Facebook (2.4 billion/month) or Instagram (1 billion/month).

But at 250 million monthly users, there is still a robust (and growing) base of dedicated Pinners out there.

And the people who do use Pinterest are the people you want to reach! Half of millennials use Pinterest — the generation that eats out more than any other. And a full 7 in 10 moms report using it as well. When you consider that 90% of women control their household spending, it becomes clear that your customers are on Pinterest!

If you’re not familiar with the platform, here’s how it works:

Pinterest is a way to save images from across the internet in one place. Users create “boards” with whatever themes they want and then save and organize “pins” to each board. Just about any image on the internet can be saved to Pinterest. And each pin links back to the original source. For you, that could be your restaurant website or Facebook page.

So how can you, a restauranteur, use Pinterest as a helpful marketing tool?

Set up a Business Account

The first thing you’ll need is a business account. A business account (rather than a personal account) will provide analytics and allow you to use Pinterest’s advertising features.

After you’ve created your account, you can complete your business profile. Add your website, logo, and some information about your restaurant. 

You’ll also want to follow the instructions to confirm your website. By using this feature, you’ll get additional helpful analytics. It will also add your logo to any pins that come from your website. There’s a tutorial here to help link your Pinterest account to several different types of websites.

Create Boards

Once your account is set up and linked to your website, you can start posting your own content to Pinterest. 

To start, create a Board. A Board is simply a place to organize pins with a similar theme.

You can create as many boards as you like. For example, Chipotle has 21 different boards on Pinterest. Some examples: 

  • Grow — A board focused on gardening. This makes sense for Chipotle, since one of their core values is a focus on fresh ingredients and responsible farming.
  • Cook — Inspiring recipes that they’ve saved from other blogs and websites.
  • Build — Highlights new stores going up around the world.
  • Wear — Dedicated to Chipotle merchandise.

You could do one focused on your menu and recipes. Another could be pictures of charitable events that your staff participates in. 

You could also have a board highlighting interesting things to do in your city. Or if your restaurant is in a historic area, you could set up a board to share pictures of the neighborhood as it’s changed through the years. 

One helpful feature of Pinterest — you can add collaborators to your board. If you have a photographer or marketing person on staff, you may want to add them as collaborators so they can make their own pins.

Start Pinning

After you have your first board set up, you can start adding pins. A pin is simply an image card (along with a caption and website link) that you will save to your board. Pins can be added from other sites across the web, or you can upload images directly to Pinterest. 

Keep in mind that Pinterest is a tool of discovery. You want your images to be interesting and helpful. People look to Pinterest for inspiration and recommendations. So pins like recipes, table layouts, cooking tips, or wine pairings could all do well. 

Also, think beyond the food. Pin pictures of picturesque areas of your restaurant. Not only will this attract potential diners, but your pins may get re-pinned by interior designers or branding firms. The result will be more exposure for your restaurant.

Don’t think you have to create 100% unique content to add to Pinterest. Different social platforms have different users. So it’s okay to re-purpose some of your Instagram posts for your Pinterest audience!

After you’ve been pinning for a while, look at your analytics to see which pins get the most engagement and which drive the most traffic to your website. Repeat their success by adding more pins with similar themes.

Encourage Other Pinners

Many Pinterest fans download the “Pin It” button to their browsers. This lets them easily capture images from other websites as they’re exploring the web. 

But you should also add a Pinterest button to your own website, just like a Facebook or Twitter button. This will encourage users to share your content on their own Pinterest boards for free, user-generated promotion of your restaurant.

Just like any other social media site, one of the goals is engagement. But Pinterest users don’t do as much commenting as users on some other social sites. Re-pins and likes are more common than comments. 

So encourage re-pins of your content. Maggiano’s Little Italy did a “Pin it to Win It” promotion with huge success. Each week, they would award a $100 gift card to a Pinterest user who had re-pinned one of their images. The result was a huge increase in Pinterest engagement.

Remember, the door swings both ways. So when a user shares one of your pins, leave them a comment to say thank you. 

Also, search Pinterest for content that is relevant to your restaurant. If you serve Italian food, search for pins related to home-made pasta, popular Continental classics, or even images of the Italian countryside. Give this relevant content a like or re-pin it to one of your own boards.

By engaging with other users, you’ll encourage them to engage back.

When to Pin

Pin regularly. Spread out your pins across the week, rather than saving them up and pinning them all at once.

Some stats say that you should be pinning at least 5 times per day. While more pins will maximize your engagement, don’t get too caught up in the numbers when you’re just starting out. Commit to pinning a few times per week, and increase your frequency from there.

Research indicates that the best times to pin on Pinterest are:

  • 2 pm — 4 pm
  • 8 pm — 11 pm
  • 2 am — 4 am 

Pinterest makes it easy for you to post during these peak times. After you create your pin, you can schedule it to post anytime in the next two weeks. You can create and schedule up to 30 posts at a time through your Pinterest business account.

Request Rich Pins

Rich Pins provide a little more oomph to your posts. The purpose of Rich Pins is to add extra information to your pin without requiring the user to click through to the source site. And the information stays with the pin, even if it’s re-pinned and the caption is changed. One study suggests they can increase website traffic by 36%!  

Rich Pins are limited to four specific types: Recipe, Article, Product, and App.

Product Pins include pricing and where to buy. You could use this type of Rich Pin if you sell merchandise or pre-packaged food items online. 

Recipe Pins list ingredients, cook time, and serving sizes. You can use this pin to share a popular restaurant recipe with your followers.

Article Pins include a headline, author, and article description. Post an Article Pin to share your good press with the world.

And App Pins allow users to install an app directly from the pin, without visiting an app store. You can use this type of pin if your restaurant has its own app.

You’ll have to request Rich Pins be added to your account before you can use them on Pinterest. Make sure your website is confirmed (see Set up Your Business Account above) before you request Rich Pins. But it’s worth the extra step to gain access to this valuable tool.

Consider Paid Advertising

The low cost of social media is one of its great selling points. But if you want to boost your reach, consider using Pinterest’s Promoted Pins. 

Pinterest estimates that it provides a $4.30 gross return for every advertising dollar spent. That’s a pretty good ROI! 

And unlike Instagram or Facebook ads, where there is no way to save the ad for future use, Pinterest ads are all pinnable! So if a bride-to-be sees your Promoted Pin for catering, she can easily save it to her wedding board as a reminder to inquire about pricing!

And when someone saves your Promoted Pin, their followers can see it as well. Even after the paid promotion ends, that pin will still be on the users’ boards.

Wrapping Up

55% of Pinterest’s users say they log on to find products, vs. only 12% for Facebook and Instagram! So it’s clear that Pinterest is where the buyers are.

While the platform isn’t quite as straightforward as Facebook or Instagram as a marketing tool, users are still highly engaged and represent a large portion of restaurant customers. Adding it to your roster of social media platforms can expand your reach, earn more brand awareness, and bring bodies through the door! 

With such a powerful tool at your disposal, it’s time to start pinning!


Engaging “Generation Y” to Grow Your Restaurant

Generation Y (aka millennials) are expected to outnumber baby boomers sometime this year making them the largest generation in the country. At 73 million strong, it’s vital to know how to reach these 22- to 37-year-olds.

Marketing to millennials should look more like engaging with your friends than traditional advertising. They want entertaining content, fun experiences, and authentic interactions with real people. They’re suspicious of marketing, and if it feels too much like a sales pitch, they won’t respond to it. But there are still ways to reach them! Read on for some helpful tips.

Get Social

You know that “kids these days” are always on their smartphones. But did you know that 95% of Generation Y follows at least one brand on social media? Every additional follower on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter is one more person that you can market to directly — without spending a dime.

Luckily for the restaurant industry, food-related content is incredibly popular across social media. High-quality photo and video content are what the people want! So don’t let them down. A DSLR camera is a great tool, but a newer smartphone camera can still do the trick. It never hurts to have some photo editing skills as well to make the colors really pop.

While food content is a great start, also think beyond the plate. Go behind-the-scenes and introduce your followers to the people behind the product. Take a short video of the chef talking about some of his favorite ingredients, or making one of his signature dishes. Introduce your fans to one of your bartenders. Post a photo from your last staff party. Remember, you’re treating your followers like friends. They need to know who you are if they’re going to feel personally connected to your brand.

Engage!

Keep in mind that social media is a platform for two-way communication. It’s not enough to just post a killer video and trust that the rest will happen on its own. Make sure to engage with the people who are reacting to your content. Respond to comments, thank new followers, and follow them back. And when they post their own photos from their time at your establishment, make sure to like and comment.

And don’t forget to check out the analytics! All social media platforms have reports that business pages can access. You’ll be able to learn about activity on your feed, how each post is performing, and gain insight into your audience — who they are, and when they are active on social media. This information will help you determine what content is getting results so you can tailor your posts accordingly.

If this all sounds like a lot of work — it can be. But there are ways to make it easier. Apps like Buffer and Hootsuite let you schedule all of your social media content — pictures, copy, and hashtags — in advance. Then, the software will post to your social accounts for you based on the schedule you set.

You can plan out the whole week’s worth of content at once. Using scheduling software will ensure that social media isn’t forgotten in the hustle and bustle of running your restaurant. Just make sure that you’re checking in and interacting with your followers daily.

Remember — consistency is key. It takes time to build an online community, but with perseverance, you’ll see those follow numbers start to increase.

#experiences

More good news for the restaurant industry — millennials prefer experiences to goods. In fact, all generations are shifting away from buying “stuff” and towards participation in events.

Restaurants already have a leg up, since dining out is an easily accessible experience for many. But let’s go beyond anniversary dinners and birthday parties, shall we? How can you bring the capital e “Experience” to your restaurant and customers?

Bring in a guest chef for a special tasting. Host a beer dinner with a local brewery. Teach a cooking class, culminating in a tasty meal and a glass of wine. Have a seasonal farm-to-table dinner. The key is for it to be unique and one-time-only. You want to throw an event that will create valuable memories — and great pictures for the participants’ social media feeds.

When the time comes to get the word out about your event, your social channels will be invaluable. Make sure to do regular posts leading up to the big day.

But millennials love recommendations from people they trust. So try going a step further by enlisting the help of local micro-influencers — bloggers and social media personalities with follows from 10,000 up to 100,000 people. Find out who your local food bloggers and event curators are, and see if they’d be willing to do a post about your event.

There may be a cost associated with their post, or you may be able to exchange the post for free tickets to the event. But since these influencers have devoted fans who want to know what’s going on around town, it may be worth the cost to get their shout out.

Finally, try to get outside the four walls of your restaurant. Food festivals are an incredibly popular experience with Generation Y. They attract a huge amount of social media engagement, and they get your name and your food in front of people who may be outside your normal demographic. They can be challenging logistically, but the payoff for a successful festival can be well worth it.

Miserly Millennials

Many millennials graduated from college just as the economy was taking a huge downturn. Their careers were stalled right out of the gate, and they’re still feeling the effects over 10 years later. Add student loan debt to the tune of $1.3 trillion, and it’s no wonder Gen Y is incredibly cost-conscious.

This doesn’t mean that you have to destroy your cost of goods in order to keep prices low enough to attract these penny pinchers. But consider offerings that could attract a group that may normally not be able to afford your restaurant.

For example, a very high-end sushi restaurant offers happy hour from 5:00 to 6:30 pm on weekdays. They provide smaller portions of select menu items at reduced prices; $18 appetizers are served as small plates on the happy hour menu for only $9. This deal is routinely included in lists of the best happy hours in town.

These reduced prices give the less affluent an opportunity to try high-end food at a price they can afford while keeping the restaurant’s cost of goods under control. And remember, today’s entry-level marketing assistant is tomorrow’s VP of Marketing — with a lot more disposable income.

Cooking for a Cause

Many millennials participate in causes and social activism regularly. They sign petitions, make donations, and vote with their dollars by boycotting brands that they feel have transgressed. They want to do good.

Give them the opportunity to give back while having fun. Charity events build brand goodwill while also supporting a cause.

Get customers involved by:

  • Hosting a toy or food drive. Offer a small discount off their meal as thanks for their donation.
  • Donating a percentage of sales to a cause that’s important to you.
  • Raffling off a gift basket, prize, or a dinner for two to your restaurant. Sell tickets to customers, and donate the proceeds to a charity.

Local charities are a good choice, as they may be more transparent than huge national organizations. Plus, many people like the idea of keeping their donations in their own communities. Before selecting a charity, do some research on CharityWatch.org to verify their credentials. You can also see how much of their money goes to aid vs. administration.

Let Them Participate

Millennials like to be active participants with the brands they support. They expect companies to engage with them, ask their opinions, and respond to their feedback. So actively encourage that interaction, and watch engagement increase.

Debating between two new menu items? Let your customers vote on it. Adding a cocktail to the menu? Host a naming contest on social media, and give a prize to the winner. Ask people to share the photos they’ve taken at your restaurant, and send a gift card to whoever took your favorite.

Encouraging your followers to get involved will show that you value your customer’s input and build a deeper connection between them and your brand.

They’re Not Getting Any Younger…

With the oldest millennials approaching their late-30s, many of them are now parents. In fact, 40% of millennials have kids. So being kid-friendly can be an important selling point when they’re considering where to go out to eat. Clean high chairs, plastic cups with straws, and a kids menu will all help parents feel comfortable bringing the kiddos.

Include pictures of families and kids on your social media (with the parent’s permission, of course!) to show your followers that their little ones are not only allowed but welcome.

And with both parents sharing childcare duties more evenly than ever before, make sure there is a changing station in every restroom!
At the end of the day, marketing to Generation Y is really about building relationships. Share what excites you, ask them what they think, and give a little back. If you treat your Generation Y customers as pals instead of prospects, you’ll be well on your way to securing a group of loyal and profitable patrons.

Engaging Gen Y

March Tradeshows 2019, We’ll See You There!

The start of a new year means it’s the start of tradeshow season at East Coast Chair & Barstool. It’s always exciting to get out in the field and meet old customers and connect with new customers face to face. 

We will be exhibiting at the New England Food Show in Boston and at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas this March. Tradeshows are a great way for your business to experience the latest technology, business practices, and network with vendors to find exciting new products. For us, tradeshows are a great time to showcase our newest furniture.

Both are can’t miss tradeshows for the restaurant industry but here’s a little more information about each show, so you can choose which is the best for you to attend.

New England Food Show (March 3-5, 2019)

New England Food Show - East Coast Chair & Barstool Tradeshows

Location: Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (Boston, Massachusetts)

We are headed back to Boston for our second time exhibiting at the New England Food Show (NEFS). This show is a great fit for any restaurateur looking to find new ways to get customers in the door, food trends, and ways of interacting with customers that will inspire loyalty.

Keynote speakers for this year’s NEFS include Aman Narang (president and co-founder of Toast), Anne Burrell (chef and Food Network personality), and Jim Koch (founder and brewer of Samuel Adams).

In addition to the exhibitors (stop and say hi to us in booth #543!), the show floor has culinary demonstrations (Center Stage), tech talks (Tech Theater), innovations to improve business efficiency (Tech Pavilion), complimentary social media consultations (Social Media Hub), and beverage pairing (Beverage Alcohol Pavilion).

There are various educational seminars being offered in the show’s ‘Ed-Quarters’ including sessions like “Appealing to the (Digital) Senses: How Video Moves Us Along the Path to Purchase”, “Own the Experience, Own the Results! The 4 Pillars of Success to Drive Guest Frequency”, and “Consumers Want Transparency, Not Greenwashing: How to Give It to Them”.

Nightclub & Bar Show (March 25-27, 2019)

Nightclub & Bar Show - East Coast Chair & Barstool Tradeshows

Location: Las Vegas Convention Center (Las Vegas, Nevada)

Calling all bar and nightclub owners, the Nightclub & Bar Show (NCB) is right around the corner in Las Vegas. This will be our sixth time exhibiting at this tradeshow since 2013 and we’re excited to go back! There’s no better location for the NCB show to take place than in the epicenter of nightlife that is Las Vegas. Enjoy learning about mixology, bartending systems, and tricks of the trade.

Listen to heads of industry like Jon Taffer of Bar Rescue and Jim Meehan, James Beard Award winner and bartender, speak about promoting your bar or restaurant in revolutionary ways. You can divulge new information with sessions like “The Food Delivery Challenge – Making Profits with Third Party Fees”, “How to Herd Cats: 7 Secrets to Get the Restaurant or Bar You Want”, “Service in America Sucks”, and “The Magic of Building a Beverage Program”.

You can also attend hands-on workshops, demonstrations, and trainings to teach your staff the latest skills and techniques. But definitely don’t miss East Coast Chair & Barstool in both #610!

At both of these shows, you’ll get to check out the additions to our product line up, like new rustic booths, distressed pine table tops, and even seating styles that can be used indoor or outdoor at your restaurant. No matter which coast you are on, come out and meet us at NEFS or NCB!

What Other Restaurants Can Learn from “Build Your Own Meal” Concepts

There is no restaurant concept more creative than being one step away from literally putting customers behind a prep table or oven. We’re talking about “build your own meal” restaurant concepts and why they flourish. Popular examples of restaurants that use this concept include Blaze Pizza, Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Burgatory. These restaurants put the creativity in customers hands as they select the ingredients and toppings that are going into their entrée, with endless possibilities.

See how this concept works and how you can shake up your restaurant’s processes with these tips!

Smooth Ordering

Long gone are the days of ‘can you put the tomatoes on the side?’ and ‘can I substitute kale for lettuce?’ Commonly these restaurants use an assembly line system where the meal and customer move down the line or, at sit-down establishments, customers fill out a check list of everything they want on their entrée.

This should also reduce the margin for error with a server taking down an order. It’s easier for something to be misheard and written down incorrectly at a bustling restaurant versus a customer putting a tick mark next to jalapenos.

The typical ordering process for these restaurants allows customers to order comfortably and not have to communicate their likes and dislikes to a waiter- picky eaters unite! It can also save the staff time going through each option with the customer.

What you can do in your restaurant: Streamline the order process for customers by breaking it down, step by step. Start with the base meal and work your way up with options. For example, start with the different kinds of meat they can choose for their burger. Then, work to buns, cheese, toppings, and sauces to finish their order.

Transparency

With “build your own meal” concepts, restaurants are forced to be upfront and honest about their ingredients. It’s likely you’ve been to eateries where you can see their ingredients behind a sneeze guard and they aren’t really looking as “fresh” as they say (here’s looking at you, Subway).

When customers are building their meals down the line or even from a notepad, they want to see basic options, as well as some places they can get a little creative. These ingredients need to look and sound (if written) appetizing to invite customers to have a little fun with their food.

Restaurants offering truly fresh ingredients can make customers can feel good about what they’re choosing to put into their bodies. So, try partnering with local farms to get fresh produce or meat. This is not only a mutually beneficial partnership but will promote local sustainability and sourced foods as well.

What you can do in your restaurant: Label, label, label! If ingredients are gluten-free, vegetarian/vegan-friendly, or soy-based, let customers know. The more detailed you can be with your ingredients, the better.

Experience

The modern restaurant is moving toward these customized experiences, like “build your own meal”, because it integrates the customers into the theatrics. Dinner becomes much more like a production than just ordering tacos a specific way, it’s a curated food adventure. 

With the possibilities of “build your own meal” concepts, customers could come ten times to your pizza place but have a different experience every single time based on their choices.

There is just a little ego-building that goes into “build your own meal” concepts. Customers are being asked to take the reins, so it’s up to them what they create. If they create something they love or is just not quite what they were hoping, there’s a possibility they’ll be back to tweak it so it’s perfection.

Try also featuring a combination of the month. This could spark a customer’s creativity while also enticing people to stop by!

What you can do in your restaurant: When you make your list of ingredient choices, make sure to not offer flavors that will ruin a customer’s meal. For example, if a customer has decided to float their burger in a marmalade and they’re not satisfied with their meal, technically, that was their choice, but you don’t want that to impact their possibility of a return visit.

The trend of putting the customer in control works seamlessly with “build your own meal” concepts because of their smooth ordering process, transparency, and experience value. Putting the customer in charge really changes the whole dynamic of a restaurant’s traditional business model.  

Would you ever try adding “build your own meal” aspects to your menu offerings? Let us know in the comments below.

Food Photography Tips for Restaurants

How many times have you heard the phrase a picture is worth a thousand words? In today’s world of constant social media interaction, that saying is truer than ever. Photos, especially photos of food, have become a major part of all social media interactions, especially on Instagram.  Now it isn’t like you can just slap up any old photo on your profile and call it a day. The higher quality and more interesting the photos, the more likely they are to be shared and bring customers in your door. But food photography can be challenging, so we’ve put together some helpful tips to have your business putting its best foot forward.

Ideal Lighting

Lighting is probably one of the most important aspects of taking a good photo. If you are able, try to use natural light with indirect sun. This will have your food looking its best, showing off its natural colors, and avoiding harsh shadows. Placing food on a table next to the window is a great way to achieve natural but indirect light. Food placed under fluorescent lighting tends to change tones and colors.

While natural light is best for photos, it isn’t always realistic in restaurants where ambiance and mood lighting are important, and probably dimmer than what you would like. If your restaurant doesn’t have access to natural lighting, you can purchase some equipment to get you closer to achieving great lighting. The Wescott 43” Apollo Orb is a relatively inexpensive option that will get the job done.

Tip: Many commercial table tops will be reflective. Watch out for this when lighting your photos, you don’t want it to distract from the food.

The Perfect Angles

Different angles capture the distinctive components of varying types of food. For example, a plate of grilled chicken and sides might be best shot from above. This will showcase the entire plate and let customers know exactly what they are getting. Items that stack, like burgers and pancakes, are better shot at a 45-degree angle. This showcases the layers and all the goodness in-between. Having photos that vary the angle also help to create variety and interest when you post them to your social accounts or use them in your menu.

Tip: Try to work in triangles. Items shot in groups of three, creating triangles helps to create structure and simplicity.

Staging Your Food

Staging your photos allows you to put your very best foot forward. That being said, staging should complement your food rather than overwhelm it. There are a few things that you can do to present your food in the best possible way. First thing is to make sure that the area you are taking the photo in is clean. Nothing is worse than having great looking food surrounded by crumbs or other unsightly things. It can really ruin the vibe of the photo and distract from the focal point.

The second thing is to switch up your props and backgrounds. Keeping it the same all the time is going to make your photos become boring after a while. If you find yourself in a slump, you can go to the nearest hardware store for some materials with different textures that you can place your plates on.

Finally, take a moment to make sure your food is looking its best is crucial. Adding a little garnish can go a long way. If you find your food looking a little lackluster, you can brush a bit of oil or water to make things look fresh. Don’t overdo it though.

Tip: For inspiration on staging, find a few Instagram accounts that you love and try to emulate their work.

Benefits of Action Shots

Actions shots are a great way to diversify photos and add some interest. A creative way to get these is with a few behind the scenes photos. Your chef stirring up a batch of soup or about to slice some ingredients for your signature dish is an engaging way to let your customers see what goes on in the back and get them craving your food.

Tip: Action shots are also great for adding a human element. It helps to tell your story so don’t be afraid to include hands in some of your food photos.

Editing

The amount of editing you do is entirely up to you. If you choose to edit your photos, there are plenty of free or low-cost editing apps that you can utilize. Depending on the amount of time you spend taking photos and editing, you might want to consider installing Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. These programs have long been recognized as the top editing software.

Tip: Try not to over edit your photos. To much editing will look fake and potentially tacky.

Branding

Just like everything else in your restaurant, your photos should work within your overall brand design. If your restaurant is a bright breakfast spot it wouldn’t make sense for all of your photos to be dark and dreary. However if you are a romantic little bistro with mood lighting, darker photos might feel just right. Before posting any photo be sure to ask yourself if it is sending the message that you want.

Terms & Concepts

If you are an inexperienced photographer or a pro who needs a refresher here are some photography terms and concepts to keep in mind when shooting. While following some of these concepts might elevate your photos, that doesn’t mean you have to stick to them. Use your own creativity and see what you come up with!

Depth of Field: The distance between the nearest and furthest objects where objects appear acceptably sharp in an image and in focus. By adjusting your depth of field, you can really make it clear to the viewer what you want to be the focal point of the picture.

Rule of Thirds: A guideline that proposes an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts and that compositional elements should be placed along the lines for a more balanced photo.

Bokeh: The out of focus blurred parts in a background.

Exposure: How light or dark an image is.

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens. The larger the opening the more light allowed into the lens.

Photos are a universal language that doesn’t need a translator. They are an effective way to communicate to customers and entice them to come to your restaurant. Food photography might seem intimidating, but by ensuring that you have good lighting, interesting content, and some creative thinking, you’ll be well on your way to showcasing your food and your restaurant in the best way possible.

Do you have any food photography tips for us? Let us know in the comments!

Don’t Drop the Ball on Your Restaurant’s New Year’s Eve Events

Confetti

The beginning of a new year is an exciting time! People use it as a clean slate and a way to start over. Have your customers end their year and turn over a new leaf in your restaurant with New Year’s Eve promotions that will let them have the time of their life (*cues up Dirty Dancing theme*).

Choose Your Atmosphere

When you think of New Year’s Eve, sounds of champagne bottles popping and glasses clinking may come to your mind in a more adult setting. But the beauty of a New Year’s Eve party is that it can be geared toward whatever audience you want! While it obviously works well in bars, there are other establishments that can still get in on the holiday festivities. Are most of your customers families with younger children? Have a New Year’s Eve early dinner with kids’ activities and crafts so everyone can be entertained. Even breakfast joints can get in on the celebration by hosting a New Year’s Day brunch and catch the crowd the morning after, bonus points if you have a build your own Bloody Mary bar.

Choose Your Theme

New Year's Eve Hat and Champagne

A theme is very important for creating hype and interest. It’s easy for customers to justify popping a bottle of champagne and watching the ball drop from the comfort of their homes, but a good theme can entice them to see the value in the experience (around 9% of Americans go out for New Year’s). Pick one that you think would be the most fun and memorable for your guests to enjoy. Some popular themes over the years include reality TV, roaring 20’s, beach, New Orleans, and 90’s throwback. Although a theme isn’t necessary (even just New Year’s Eve could be your theme!), it can really lend itself when you’re decorating your space and creating a memorable menu.

Choose Your Promotion Method

Tickets

The key to get people to show up? Make sure they know about it! With so many other holiday gatherings happening, all around a few weeks span, it’s important to promote your New Year’s Eve party around the beginning of December.

Try some of these methods to advertise your party and keep it marked on their social calendar.

  • Flyers in your restaurant, on community boards, and on customer receipts
  • Email blasts
  • Mentioned by staff
  • Menu inserts
  • Text alerts
  • Social media advertisement (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)

If you’ve had prior New Year’s events, be sure to send out notices to past attendees that they are not going to want to miss this year!

After you have their attention, consider selling ticket packages to the event. This can help lay out what guests can expect from the event and people are more likely to follow through if they have already paid the money upfront to attend an event. For example, packages could include appetizers, dinner, drink tokens, or even a champagne toast. Having these preset packages can help you order food/drinks appropriately for your crowd and prevent overcapacity. You could even incentivize your staff with who can sell the most tickets for a prize to keep them engaged and customers informed!

Choose Your Entertainment

Live Music Performance

Music or some sort of entertainment is a must for your New Year’s Eve party! Having entertainment completely transforms the whole feel for the evening. Whether it’s a DJ, live band, magician, or any kind of performer, give your attendees some sort of show they can enjoy while they wait for midnight. You can factor this into the cost of a ticket to your event.

But don’t forget to make a countdown announcement or put the ball drop on a few minutes before midnight so guests can officially ring in the new year as it happens.

Choose Your Staff

Bartenders at Bar

It may seem obvious that since your doors are open, you’ll need to schedule your staff. Customer service needs to be at its highest since your restaurant has transitioned to more of an event center than its normal eatery operations.

Bartenders should pay careful attention to how much guests are being served, since overserving is a big issue with the holiday. In fact, DUI arrests are at their highest between Thanksgiving and the end of New Year’s weekend. Having the right staff members on hand to make sure guests have a good and safe experience is crucial to helping everyone have a great time.

Planning a New Year’s Eve party for your restaurant may seem overwhelming but it’s a great way to bring your customers (and maybe some new faces) in for the holiday. A successful New Year’s event, especially those that are ticketed, can be a lucrative start to what may be a slower month in business.

Does your restaurant host an event for New Year’s Eve? What do you found that has worked for your business in the past? Tell us below!

Ways To Make Your Restaurant More Instagram-Worthy

There is no denying that social media is a powerhouse. Every day new accounts are being created at a rate of one new social media user every 15 seconds. There are 3.03 billion active social media users, with the average number of social media accounts being 5.54. The average daily time spent on social is 116 minutes a day.

Instagram is right at the top with over 800 million monthly active users and over 95 million photos uploaded every day. That is a huge market and a fantastic tool that you can use to reach current and potential customers. Instagram can be a powerful promotional tool if used the right way. Yelp data shows that more users are looking up restaurants based upon how “Insta-worthy” they are. There are a few things that you can do to up your game, get those double taps, and use Instagram to fill your seats.

Beautiful Food

As a restaurant, your top priority is the food and the way that it tastes, but nothing says that food can’t be both delicious and photo worthy. Many restaurants are seeing success with creating a novelty food item that brings people in just for the photo opportunity. Bloggers compile lists of the most
Instagrammable food in each city. Readers then flock to these locations to get that next great picture. By offering an item that is a little over the top, you can bring in a lot of business. Hybrid foods such as the Cronut, are also very popular.

Don’t rework your entire menu just to make it Instagram worthy but consider creating a monthly special that is fun to photograph. It will get people in the door and it’s a great creative exercise for your staff.

Presentation of food is always important, but there are a few easy ways to up you game. Investing in some white plates is a great way to show off your food. It helps to accentuate the colors of the food and has a nice minimalistic feel, perfect for photographing.

Many of us can agree that greasy foods are delicious, though packaging with giant grease stains aren’t the most appetizing looking. To avoid grease ruining a Kodak moment, invest is some grease proof paper. It allows fried foods to look their best all the time.

Lighting

As any photographer will tell you, lighting is crucial to the perfect photo. Take a moment to evaluate the lighting in your restaurant to make sure it fits the image you want to create. Are you a dark and moody bar looking to reach college students or a light and airy bakery catering to families? If you are trying to go for a darker vibe, try having a few areas that are well lit enough for a good photo op. Neon signs can be great for this. They also create a signature piece to identify your location.  Photographers love spaces with good natural lighting, it makes taking the photo easier and allows your food to look its best.

Décor

You don’t need to completely redesign your restaurant just for Instagram opportunities. A few small adjustments can be made to encourage guests to take photos. A wall with a quote that embodies your brand, unique wallpapers, and furniture can all enhance the experience offered at your restaurant and promote customers sharing on their account.

You can help set the tone with what part of your décor you would like featured in photos. Do you have a fancy tiled floor? Or perhaps you spent hours obsessing over the perfect counters, feature them as a consistent backdrop on your feed and customers will follow suit.

Murals

Finding a mural and posting a picture with it is a new trend to hit Instagram. If your building has a beautiful blank wall indoor or out, consider pairing up with a local artist to create something unique to your area or restaurant. Brainstorm a signature hashtag and a location tag and you’ll have people traveling from all over to come take pictures. In some cases, people stand in lines down the block to take pictures with certain murals. If foot traffic is an issue this is a sure-fire way to increase passersby.

Hashtags

Share your Instagram account name everywhere. On your menu, on a chalkboard sidewalk sign, or on a receipt. Make sure that your customers know where to find you online. They can’t follow if they don’t know where you are posting. Create a custom hashtag that either references the name of your restaurant or a fun aspect of your brand. This will encourage any Insta-lovers to start snapping and tagging your restaurant.

Hosting a photo contest with a signature hashtag is a great way to improve engagement or get the momentum going on a new account. To encourage participation, offer customers a percentage off if they come in to eat and post.

Your Feed

Most importantly, don’t forget to include a human element to your posts. Gorgeous photos of your food are great and can create craveability ideal for generating new customers. That being said, a huge part of the industry is the people and their stories. Integrate photos of people enjoying themselves on your feed, it’ll inspire other to come and join the food party.

Just be yourself. Share photos of your customers enjoying the food or photos that illustrate the story of your business and what makes you unique. In a world of cultivated content people often crave realness.

Social media is a great marketing tool and Instagram is at the forefront of the social media game. Instagram is an excellent tool for meeting your customers where they are at. By making a few adjustments to your current design or marketing plan you can increase your customer base exponentially.

Have you seen results by using Instagram? Let us know in the comments below!