GIMMICKS THAT GET THE JOB DONE

Bring in more diners with unique restaurant promotion ideas

Rising above the din of advertising and digital media to grab the attention of consumers is a tricky feat. But expertly crafted publicity stunts and unique restaurant marketing can lift the smallest restaurant out of obscurity, stir up business during slow periods and create loyalty. Some ideas:

LEVERAGE EXCLUSIVITY

StripSteak by Michael Mina at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel works its reputation as a whiskey-lover’s paradise. Servers invite guests to experience a whiskey ceremony – wheeling out a tableside cart stocked with various blends – but the bar staff goes a step further with Break Even, an opportunity to try rare and often costly whiskeys at a fraction of the usual price. Fans can enjoy 1-ounce pours (one per customer) at wholesale cost; once the bottle is gone, it’s gone. The Break Even promotion is advertised almost exclusively through word of mouth and the occasional “pouring this week” teaser on social media.

TAKEAWAY: Knowing your audience and giving them an exclusive experience forges the warm and fuzzies – and loyalty.

RIFF ON EVENTS

Tying a restaurant promotion to a special event is a canny way to cash in on the event’s publicity and vibe.

Minnesota’s Crave American Kitchen & Sushi Bar used the weekend of Super Bowl 2018 to create a virtual ice fishing experience on its rooftop patio. The space was tricked out with ice sculptures and furniture, an ice bar, ice fishing houses, guides and gear. Guests could sip signature hot mulled cider and other drinks, try their hand at virtual ice fishing and sample items, such as the authentic Minnesota fried walleye and potatoes.

“We wanted to do something fun to expose the brand,” says Zach Sussman, vice president of marketing for Crave owner Kaskaid Hospitality. Planning for the five-day promotion took about six months and involved lining up sponsors to defray production costs.

Some 3,000 visitors shelled out $20 (one drink included) to check out the winter wonderland, Sussman says. A press release led to media coverage, with more than 150 outlets picking up the story. And social media coverage was off the charts – more than 1.5 million impressions, some of them from celebrities in town for the game.

Even a small event-related publicity stunt with more modest goals can pay off. While Minneapolis football fans enjoyed the frozen rooftop, many Philadelphia Eagles fans celebrated the city’s spot in the Super Bowl with a trip to the city’s historic Silence DoGood’s Tavern. Owner Eric Keiles installed a temporary banner renaming his place Eagles DoGood Tavern. The goal, he says, was pure fun. “Why not help drive the happiness and enthusiasm in a city that waited 52 years for a Super Bowl victory?”

The promotion and the celebratory parade generated long lines, even though the tavern was several miles from the route. “Even if it added just a 5 to 10 percent bump, the differentiation through our ‘storytelling’ will hopefully be remembered by guests for months to come,” Keiles says.

TAKEAWAY: Creativity pays in restaurant marketing, whether a promo is big-budget or no-frills.

CREATE A CULT FOLLOWING

Melt Bar and Grilled, a grilled cheese sandwich concept, inspired legions of human billboards. The promotion, Melt Tattoo Family, offered a lifetime 25 percent promotion to members who got inked with a Melt-themed tattoo. More than 900 customers have accepted the challenge since it launched nine years ago.

“We didn’t think anyone would do it. But it fit our restaurant,” says Matt Fish, owner of the nine-unit Ohio-based concept.

TAKEAWAY: Sometimes a crazy idea isn’t so crazy. All the hype and social media exposure from a good publicity stunt, however, can’t replace the fundamentals. “I’ve seen too many clients spend far too much time focusing on gimmicks and too little (time) making sure they have great food and beverage, hospitality and service,” Carrino says. “Restaurants that have worth and sustainability are based on those tenets.”