How to Engage Your Restaurant’s Diners

Build your brand and following with an online contest

Specials are a common and easy way to stir up excitement, diversify the menu and test dishes. Sales can measure success, but making them more meaningful requires engaging diners.

Asking for restaurant customer feedback in a poll, for example, and making it fun by weaving in incentives, gives sales figures a deeper meaning while reinforcing your brand.

Consider how multi-unit Pauli Gee’s pizza engaged diners in an online survey.

Each month, the pizzaiolos at the Chicago outpost create two new Detroit-style pizzas: a meaty “Omnivore,” and a vegetarian “Herbivore.”

They’re always wildly creative, from the Your Chitin' Heart – with lump crab claw meat, red and green onion cream cheese spread, wonton crisps, and sweet and sour sauce; to the Friends in Buffalo Places – featuring mozzarella, Buffalo cauliflower, red onions, celery and gorgonzola dressing. Some, however, are more popular than others.

Owner Derrick Tung settles the score while building customer engagement.

To celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary last summer, he hosted an online contest and giveaway to determine the year’s two champion pizzas. He uses the online Google Form app to build a simple survey, listing all 12 “Squares” in each category and inviting his in-house guests and social media followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to follow the link and vote.

The message read:  

“It’s our two-year anniversary. And for all of you Square Heads, we’re giving you the chance to vote on bringing back two squares for the month of July. Check the options below and vote on our favorite square to return for July 2018, and don’t forget to join us on July 8 and 9, for $1 Regina (margherita) pizzas in-house and free celebration cake.”

To build incentive, one participant’s email address is randomly selected to receive two free pizzas each week for the month. Tung doesn’t just win the goodwill of the winner. He builds rapport with his social media followers by engaging them in the comments.

The app generates a pie chart, breaking down the results by percentage. Last summer, the Balki Bartokomous (sliced Croatian cevapcici sausage, mozzarella, pickled onions and housemade ajvar and tzatziki) won the Omnivore category, with 36.3% of 388 voters weighing in. The E=MC2 (elotes, mozzarella and Chihuahua cheese blend, sweet corn, Korean pepper crema, cilantro and chili-dusted lime) took the Herbivore category, with a decisive 56% of 416 responses. Proof is On Fire  (mozzarella, pepperoni, banana peppers, mushrooms, vodka sauce and fresh basil) ran a distant second at 17.5%.

“We do this because we've heard many of our guests tell us that they wish we could bring back one of their favorite squares,” says Tung. “It really just ties back to us celebrating being open for another year. Bringing back the most voted-on squares allows us to thank our guests as well.”

To learn about recent pizza restaurant trends here.