Get Ready for Location-Based Marketing

GPS-based technology enters the hospitality industry

Clutching their mobile devices, millions of gamers scoured their cities for roving virtual critters when Pokemon Go debuted last summer, boosting sales at thousands of restaurants located near the action. Some operators jumped on the trend’s marketing potential just as fast as the location-based app caught fire, but most were left scratching their heads.

For those who missed out, now’s the time to get ready for the opportunities that GPS-based technology creates. In real time, they can entice new and regular customers to come in on the fly, build your restaurant’s brand, and keep the business front and center. While it’s impossible to predict the next craze, you can be ready to jump on it. Here’s how:

1. Consider Your Environment
No matter what gaming app fires up the masses, pay attention to your surroundings and prepare to react quickly. When Pokemon Go was trending, the team at Chicago’s Yusho noticed people milling about outside and realized the restaurant had become a virtual meeting place where Pokemon battled. The staff quickly created a cocktail as a nod to the best known Pokemon, Pikachu, and invited players to try the drink. “It didn’t require a lot of forethought, and it worked better than we expected,” says Emily Condon, general manager at Yusho.

2. Take Manageable Risks
In the world of location-based marketing,experimening doesn’t require a ton of time or money. L’inizio’s Pizza Bar in Queens, New York became one of the first restaurants to capitalize on the craze by diving in with small stakes. Just $10 for “lure modules,” an in-game purchase, helped spike food and drink sales by 30 percent, says › a manager at the pizza bar. At press time, gamers were buzzing about the game’s next iteration. Whether or not the boom can repeat itself, the restaurant is ready “to jump on the next location-based game. If people want to play, we want to try it out,” he says.

3. All for One, One for All
Noting that many other restaurants in the area had put up “No Pokemon” signs, Jeffrey Kaune, general manager of Bremerton Bar & Grill in Bremerton, Washington, encouraged his waitstaff to play the game and spent $160 on lures to draw more people to his restaurant’s area. “I didn’t want people thinking we looked down our noses and thought Pokemon was dumb.”

The game attracted a wide range of customers, from younger diners to people in their 60s trying to catch Pokemon for their grandkids, Kaune says. Other establishments feared players would take up space and just order water, but every player bought food and beverages, increasing sales by up to 50 percent during Pokemon Go’s opening weekend, Kaune says. It also contributed to a convivial atmosphere—something money can’t buy.

Be Found

Games aren’t the only way to embrace location-based marketing. Here are three other apps and technologies that help bring nearby customers
to your door. 

A local search-and-discovery app, Foursquare has clocked more than 10 billion check-ins since launching in 2009. When Pokemon Go pushed location-based gaming mainstream in 2016, Foursquare’s check-in rate jumped higher than ever, to 8 million per day. 

By tapping a spinning roulette wheel within this app, users can unlock promotional deals, such as up to 35 percent off, at nearby restaurants. And behind the scenes, operators can tweak the promotions based on weather, daypart and foot traffic. 

Small, portable devices that can be placed in a restaurant and communicate with nearby smartphones, beacons also are feeding the location-based marketing mania, says Darren Tristano, president of foodservice research and consultancy Technomic. “While beacon technology has been available for years, mainstream restaurants are just starting to experiment with it,” Tristano says. Beacons also can send alerts on short wait times, attracting impatient diners and turning a slow night into a selling point.