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Getting people in the door


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I recently opened my first restaurant. It is a cafe/sandwich place offering great sandwiches with made in house ingredients (I make my own sausage, pulled pork 24hrs, use AAA striploin for steak etc.). The customers that have walked in come back a large % of the time, are very happy and some dine with me 3-4 times a week. I am in a great location in that there are thousands of business people working in the area who eat out every day. There is certainly competition but I don't see that as a major challenge (currently) to the success of my business.

What I really need to do is get new people in the door. I am in the process of sending out free samples. I am doing this with the 6-7 hotels within walking distance and I this has been met with good success--the staff came to eat and have also sent me some of their guests. I also handed out sandwiches outside the door which was also a great success. I had many people walk in on those days still chewing the sample. I cant really continue this with the cold weather however (I'm in Montreal).

The question is: Should I just keep going along these lines offering free samples to local businesses? I think this is better than a flyer that no one will look at and seems like a better way to connect than giving out coupons.

Other options? Thoughts? Thanks.

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Ciao and best of luck with the shop!!

Are you dialed into the local community via Twitter? It's a powerful connector if you use it well.

What about local food events in Montreal? Get involved in that scene and get your name out there.

Create an event.. a Kids make Sandwiches Saturday.

Get the bloggers in your area to love you.

These days there are a zillion ways to spread the love!

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I agree with Hathor on the twitter and bloggers, those things seem to work really well these days, i think having a Facebook page won't hurt either.

Honestly i think samples are the best, flyers for me are never a draw to a product, too me they give off a sense that their cheap or there's something wrong especially if it goes "DOUBLE THE MEAT!!!!!!".

How about a loyalty program though? You said that you already have returns which is great but that might entice newer people to try you out just because if they work in the area and are deciding between Subway or yours (not that Subway has a thing on the quality of their sandwiches compared to yours, but you know how it is with loyalty programs), the loyalty thing might be another incentive.

good luck!

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You might think about less than free, but a good deal for a good reason. Currently, I'm working in an office that is flyer friendly. Stacks of flyers often appear in the break rooms. Some have gotten my attention. We've also had a couple of food trucks show up. Again, their presence was announced over the company e-mail. I think that companies (especially HR folks) view these types of things as contributing to the overall quality of life for their employees.

You might try to learn about the companies based around you and offer specials catered to them. (e.g. Acme Sprocket Tuesday). Again, the HR folks will be keen to 'improve the quality of work life' if they just have to send out an e-mail. And if that's a success, see if you can cater their charity golf outing.

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In my humble experience, giving stuff way for free never works out.

Flyers are pretty much a waste of money.

Coupons and deals (2 for 1, 25% off on second purchase etc) attract coupon and deal hunters: Once they get their deal, they don't come back unless there's another deal.

Remember this about human nature: Whatever is free, or grossly underpriced will be abused and treated with contempt. Think clean water, clean air, good manners, public libraries, etc..

It sounds like your main thing is quality, and you'r making me drool with aaa striploins and pulled pork. Sell quality. It takes much longer and much more effort to sell quality, but a customer who knows what quality is and is willing to pay for it, is a loyal customer.

If you're looking for a shot in the arm without ruining your reputation, do catering. Sounds like you've got offices around the area interested. You are one step away from putting together bulk orders and delivering them.

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Does a particular blogger or news outlet cover your area/neighborhood? Invite 'em not only into your restaurant, but into your kitchen. Pitch a story on sausage-making to the local daily newspaper (a concise email to the food section editor will suffice). Offer a sausage-making workshop at a day/time you're typically closed. In short, identify what makes you different from your competitors, and tell that story as often as possible. Can you do a sandwich board on the sidewalk or signage in your front windows? If you've got lots of walking-by traffic, you need to give them a reason to come inside: touting your kitchen's made-from-scratch wares, the pedigree of your cooks, the provenance of your ingredients, etc.

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  • 1 month later...

we had a corporate catering business/cafe serving upmarket sandwiches, salads and pastas in NYC for over 10 years. It was before twitter and facebook and early days of internet.

We used daily broadcast faxes to send our daily specials to the various offices we regularly delivered to.

Ok that doesn't sound like anything special but the trick was that we named the daily specials with amusing titles such as

Marylyn Monroe meets Krushev - a grilled turkey breast sandwich with russian dressing...

Finally democratic broccoli soup - after Bush Sr. stepped down and Clinton was elected.


KGB TURKEY Sandwich - it's our secret why it's so good - turkey, chipotle mayo + thinly sliced red onions on Semolina Hero.

enchanted broccoli forest pasta

bullwinkle's salmon burger

yabba dabba do filet mignon sandwich

Anyway, many times the clients told me that they had no intention of ordering that day but they always loved to read the daily menus and pass them around as they were quite funny. and in the process the description of the food sounded so good they just had to order it.

Constant contact - not neccessarily the program with that name - but keeping your brand out and center in the customers minds is key.

Also call and ask if you can send platters of food or cookies to the office manager and come in with it to give a presentation about your food. You need to get through the gatekeeper eg the receptionist to find out who orders for corporate catering but even a cookie platter with a bunch of cards and menus

and then a facebook contest or something would help.

Stop Tofu Abuse...Eat Foie Gras...




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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm not a food professional by any means, but as an average Joe on the street, here's some things that draw me into a restaurant.

First off, make sure you're listed on websites like Yelp, and things like Foursquare if they're available in your area. When I'm craving something different from my usual, or looking for something nearby in an area that I'm not terribly familiar with, I search using yelp or foursquare.

Also consider local news blogs too. For example, I found my favorite taqueria through a local news blog (claycord.com) when they were discussing where to get the best burrito in the area. Another local news source, Patch.com, occasionally runs articles on restaurants.

When I'm walking out walking or shopping, things that catch my attention are things like good smells, attractive photos of some of the products being offered, or even take out/paper menus by the door. Being able to take a menu with me without having to commit immediately has helped me find some of my favorite places, and I also have a small stack of menus of places I want to try in the future sitting in the car.

Specials and loyalty programs are attractive too.


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I dunno about specials and loyalty programs.

Twice a year I have a "special sale" when I ofer my chocolates/pastries at heavily discounted prices--boxing day, before I close down for a week, and early August, before I close down for a week. I find that many of the people show up for specials only come on those two days. In other words, I am training my customers to wait 6 mths for a special to come into the store.

Loyalty programs often get abused. Cards/credit is often transfered onto other people, long expired cards are presented and disccount demanded.

These are just my humble opinions from my side of the cash register....

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Also not a food pro here, but a serial entrepreneur. From a business standpoint it sounds like you are giving away a lot of product. The math for handing out food to random strangers on the street just doesn't add up. Sure they will be happy to take it and will undoubtedly compliment you, but you have NO way of knowing if that person works next door or if they will never walk by your shop again. It's not a well targeted marketing strategy.

Besides, a successful business never gives away anything people are willing to pay for. If you want to "give" something to offices in the area give them a card good for $5 off any lunch (for example). Printing up cards like that is dirt cheap. Make a spot on the back where they have to fill out their name, company name and email to take advantage of the deal so you can track where customers are coming from. There is no way to overemphasize how important it is to know that. From the standpoint of your new business the difference between giving product away and recouping your raw costs is HUGE. Its ok to forgo your profit on the one time transaction to get a new customer in the door. In your business model that is actually a pretty cheap way to do it. It is NOT ok to go in the hole trying to draw people in. Plus, do you really want to draw in people just looking for freebies (and who probably brown bag most of the time) or would you rather bring in people that are already willing to pay for lunch?

Your idea of targeting the hotel staffs is a lot more valid. My wife actually worked for many years as a concierge at a high end ski resort. The restaurants in town would host dinners for her group and the concierge staff at all the larger hotels. The theory is obviously to get the people who can/will send customers to you on your team. If you give away sandwiches to 100 people that all have the potential to send you hundreds of customers a year (and assuming they like your food) you should be overflowing. The idea, as you already know, is to concentrate very specifically on people who can refer customers. You also have to follow up and develop a relationship with those people to get the maximum benefit from it. Invite as many concierge, hotel managers, office managers, etc. as you can legally hold and throw them a party. Use all the old caterer's tricks; keep the booze flowing and make sure everyone wishes they could have had just one more bite of whatever their favorite was.

I don't have statistics on how productive they are, but from a customer POV loyalty cards are a pain in the ass. The last thing I want to do is carry more crap than necessary in my wallet. I know offices that keep a file of those cards for whoever is going to the restaurant on any given day, but don't know anyone, including myself, who heads to a restaurant because of the loyalty program.

Good luck!!!

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Collect business cards and email your customers each Monday morning with your weekly specials. Let them know that for each special, the first X number of sandwiches sell for $2 off and once that is sold out they sell for regular price. You have to make that number high enough so people think they have a shot at getting the deal (i.e. 20 not 5).

Also start a social media account where you talk about your specials, what you're doing in the kitchen at any given moment, etc. Will connect your customers to your brand. Some accounts I love are

Luke's Lobster Truck in NYC: https://twitter.com/#!/LukesLobsterny

Jack @ Square on Instagram: http://instagram.heroku.com/users/jack#p378422814

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Here's a few thoughts I have on the subject:

1. Groupon doesn't work. At all. In any way.

How do I know this? I use Groupon frequently, and don't go back. Admittedly, it's because the restaurants in question are often bad or remote enough I'd never go without the discount. Same applies to restaurant.com.

2. Target your advertising.

Distributing free samples is an interesting idea, and in my opinion, not one without merit. The local cheesemongers' shop charges hideously inflated prices, but they provide so many tantalizing samples it's hard to walk out without buying.

The trick is to ensure samples are only given to potential customers. Hosting a dinner for representatives of the hospitality industry is a good idea, and consider that the Chamber of Commerce in many cities meets at a restaurant meets monthly or weekly . Another option is to associate yourself with a local winery or brewery by creating a special tasting menu to accompany their products - I see a lot of successful restaurants in my area doing this.

3. Don't make your guests feel slighted.

$2 off a sandwich is the sort of thing you clip out of the newspaper for Subway. Offerring a bottle of wine or chocolates will make your guests feel appreciated, but tiny discounts - especially with some degree of risk, as per the "First XXX sandwiches sold" above - gives your establishment an air of desperation.

On the other hand, "Surprise and Delight" doesn't have to be expensive. Sending customers a flyer for a a couple of gratis chocolate truffles not on the regular menu every few months will cost you the same $2, but without making your customers feel slighted and ensures that your e-mails are read before being deleted.

4. Associate yourself with local favorites.

My city is full of microbreweries and has a strong "local food" scene. Restaurants frequently work to associate themselves with popular brands, such as advertising a specific local cheddar on their burgers or offering an uncommon beer from a local brewery. Find what people are passionate about in your area, and latch on.

Edited by jrshaul (log)
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1. Groupon doesn't work. At all. In any way.

A big "Thank You!! for that statement.

Owners have been telling Groupon and clones the same thing (3 e-mail requests and 2 followup phone calls since Jan 3 for me--and counting), but if customers tell 'em the same thing, maybe this (deleted) stuff will finally go away for good.

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