Category Archives: Marketing

Customer Rewards Cards

Customer Loyalty Considerations: Pros and Cons of Reward Programs

Any more, it seems nearly all types of businesses offer a customer rewards program. Often, the theory behind implementing a rewards program is to retain current customers, turn new customers into returning customers, and reward loyalty. Here, we outline the pros and cons of starting such a program, and offer some considerations for businesses thinking of implementing their own.

Types of Rewards Programs

There are three popular types of rewards program you’re most likely to come across in today’s market.

  1. The Frequency Program

The classic punch card style. The “buy nine, get the tenth free!” reward system created to inspire regular visits. The pros? It’s simple, low cost, and easy to set up and hit the ground running.

Cons? It’s one more card for customers to carry and remember they have. I don’t know about you, but my wallet is overflowing with these types of cards that I never seem to think about until AFTER I’ve made nine purchases and could get the tenth free, consistently forgetting to have my card punched. I know, negligence on my part, but it’s frustrating nonetheless.

The information you collect with this type of program is minimal. This creates hurdles in the way of future marketing efforts. One of the biggest benefits of loyalty programs is the ability to collect information to tailor promotional branding for your establishment.

  1. The Points Program

Spend more, earn more points, redeem for rewards! We all want that free flight or trip to Hawaii. And like the punch card style, it’s simple, easy to understand, and depending on the reward, can provide an awesome incentive to visit your business frequently. It’s easily customizable to reward customers with bigger prizes for making bigger purchases.

Cons? No instant gratification. Users must wait longer to collect prizes, and maintaining this program takes more effort and organization (keeping track of customers’ points and reminding them of where they stand and how far away they are for prizes).

  1. The Cash Back Program

Also known as the rebate program. Customers can earn money back depending on their purchasing behavior to spend on future purchases exclusively at your business. This has worked wonders in retail (think Kohls Cash), and certainly has a place in foodservice. Who doesn’t love free money, and earning money for purchases can make customers feel good about spending their dollars at your place. Requiring they return to spend their reward is a wildly effective way to turn new customers into regulars.

Cons? Like the points program, rewards take a while to build. This isn’t always a negative, though, as it incentivizes visitors to spend to earn. However, if customers visit infrequently, this type of program may have less appeal.

Bottom-Line Benefits

Loyalty programs have been shown to generate brand awareness and create profitability. It is six times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep one. Rewards programs have been shown to help with customer retention with a steady return on investment. If you are considering starting a rewards program, we recommend checking out this beginner’s guide to customer loyalty.

Dining with your Dog: Bone Appétit

During these dog days of summer, owners don’t want to keep their pampered pooch locked up at home. They want to spend time with them in the great outdoors. After a long walk in the park or through the city, more and more dog owners are looking to grab a bite to eat with their canine companions. Luckily, more restaurants are embracing this trend and offering appropriate kibble for both man AND his best friend.

Easy Ways to Attract Fido and their Money Spending Owners

Want to cash in on this business? Start with your outdoor dining space as most health departments will frown upon non-certified service dogs inside your establishments. This may limit your canine customers to seasonal visits when your outdoor spaces are usable. Also, some local health departments may impose restrictions on animals even if they are kept outside or in areas away from general food preparation. There are no federal laws dealing with animals inside food establishments, but state laws may vary.

A Doggie Diner at Canal Bistro in Indianapolis. Photo by Julia Eiszner.

A Doggie Diner at Canal Bistro in Indianapolis. Photo by Julia Eiszner.

Whether you advertise as being dog friendly, or simply don’t turn away dogs with their human companions, make sure you have organized policies. Potential situations can arise ranging from excited or aggressive barking to dogs that just don’t know how to excuse themselves and visit the facilities. Make sure your service staff clearly knows your handle these situations, including appeasing other customers who don’t agree with your dog friendly policies. Stress the importance of proper hand-washing after interacting or petting one of your canine customers.

Most dog friendly establishments will offer well-behaved dogs a complimentary bowl of water. Consider using disposable or dedicated dog bowls for this purpose and wash them by hand or separately from your normal dishware for added food safety. Other restaurants may decide to create dog friendly versions of their human dishes or offer snacks from local dog bakeries. When serving food specifically for the canine set, be especially careful in the ingredients as some common spices may be potentially harmful to a dog.

The ‘Secret Menus’ for Dogs

You might not know it, but major chains have already embraced the dog trend with secret (and not so secret) dog menus. Foodbeast compiled a list of these ‘secret doggie menus‘ in March of 2015. Their list included the Puppuccino from Starbucks (a small cup filled with whipped cream), the Pup Patty from In-N-Out Burger (a simple unseasoned patty with no salt), and the specially made Doggie Cupcakes from Sprinkles (a sugar-free cupcake topped with a yogurt frosting). It’s worth the read for some clever ideas!

Going ‘Dog Friendly’? Let Everyone know!

Indiana Restaurants at BringFido.com

BringFido.com compiles lists of dog friendly restaurants, hotels and attractions.

When dog lovers need help choosing a dog friendly restaurant, hotel or attraction – many visit bringfido.com! The website was started in 2005 by dog lover Melissa Halliburton as a clearinghouse for user submitted information on dog policies and dog friendly offerings at over 25,000 worldwide hotels and thousands of restaurants. Users can search by location each location is user rated on a scale of 1 to 5 bones.

A search of Central Restaurant’s home base of Indianapolis showed 25 dog friendly restaurants that included some of the city’s best known names. Some restaurants were listed as welcoming dogs to their outside patios, while other users provided information like “provided a water bowl.”

The website provides an easy way for users or restaurateurs to submit an establishment too. After submitting basic information like the name, location, type of cuisine and a description of the restaurant, Bring Fido immediately posts the listing on their site which allows other users to rate and review it.

With thousands of visitors looking for dog answers every day, a simple listing could significantly boost your business. Don’t forget to prominently feature your dog dining policies on your website and social media profiles as well!

Shop Central for Your Supplies

We want to be the restaurateur’s best friend. We have over 65,000 items available for purchase on our CentralRestaurant.com as well as competitive prices. Need a little help? Our team of Product Consultants will be as loyal as your childhood puppy with answers to your questions, expert advice and any assistance you may need to open or grow your business. Contact them via phone at 800-521-1277 or start an online chat right now.

Extremely cute featured image courtesy 1000s of internet sites.

Menu Marketing: Driving Sales, Add-ons and the Customer Experience

How to Write an Effective Menu

Whether you run a fine dining room, local sports bar or the concession stand at the ballpark, you need a little menu marketing to maximize sales. Your physical menu tells the story of your business and sets the expectations for level of service, food quality and even how the customer will tip. What does your menu say about you? Even if you have been open and serving for years, marketing consultants agree that a revamped menu with great food descriptions can increase your revenue over 10%. We’ve compiled some simple tips to help you make the most of your menu.

You menu design and copy say a lot about your establishment.

You menu design and copy say a lot about your establishment. (J. Kapusnak, foodiesfeed.com)

The Psychology of the Meal

For most establishments, you are trying to convince your customer to part with as much of their money as possible when dining with you. Here is where the psychology comes into play. To increase your per capita spending, experts suggest:

  • Do you need dollar signs? You see it at upscale dining restaurants all the time. But the Culinary Institute of America determined that prices without a “$” or the word “dollars” saw sales increase over 8%. It’s not spent money if there are no dollars!
  • When ala carte is important, separate the categories. You will encourage customers to eat more when appetizers, soups and salads each have their own section. Similarly, use a separate dessert menu.  If a customer eyes a delicious ending on the main menu, they may decide to not add a delicious appetizer at the beginning.
  • Put your most profitable items where the eyes naturally wander. Place those items in the first two positions at the top of a section, or as the last item. Most customers ignore the middle of the menu no matter what it contains.
  • Design is king. Draw attention to your specialty items by boxing them in, but don’t confuse your customer with too many or misleading pictures of your menu items. Make sure to leave ample amounts of ‘white space’ to keep your customer from becoming overloaded with information. Realize that customers usually look first at the center section of a three section menu or the right side of a two section menu. Make sure there is something that catches their eyes in those positions.
  • ‘Combo Meals’ can work in any environment. While you may not want to call the Filet Mignon a “#5 Value Meal,” people do like simple decisions to be made for them. Advertise your signature dish with a complementary signature side and maybe even a dessert and watch the customers gravitate to it. It’s not about the bundle savings (usually there is not any), it’s about making the ordering decision easy.
  • Create a popular dish by pairing it with a symbol. That ‘Chef’s Choice’ label wasn’t added because the chef loves his Chicken Parmesan – he loves the profit margin on it. Customers are drawn to labels because of a perceived prestige and will usually pay a premium to enjoy it.
  • Finally, use your words to build excitement in your food. But, that is so important that it deserves its own section.

Choose Great Words to Your Describe Food

What does your menu say about your place?

What does your menu say about your place?

You know that how you describe your menu items effects your customer’s buying decision. The right descriptive words can make and ordinary meal more extraordinary. As a simple example; how much more appealing does a Big Mac sound than a ‘double cheeseburger with special sauce’? Try adding some adjectives to uniquely describe your signature dishes or maybe incorporate some local flair or place names to your signature dishes. Powerful adjectives and descriptions could include: Aromatic, Caramelized, Fire-grilled or Grilled Whole.

Powerful adjectives can also make your signature dishes seem like exclusive experiences that cannot be found in any other restaurant. Be creative and memorable when turning your everyday appetizer into a special event. Surveys have also shown that customers are willing to pay a premium price for something they perceive as exclusive or ‘better here than anywhere else.” Plus, this makes it difficult to price compare your dish to a competitor’s similar one. You can raise your price point (and profits) with a few simple words.

Of course, if your restaurant has a theme – be sure to incorporate those quirks into both the names of your dishes and the descriptions. Don’t go overboard though. Be sure your dish names and descriptions accurately and concisely describe the food.  Nobody really wants to have to ask “what’s in the chef’s house dressing?”

Sell your Daily Specials with a write-in board.

Sell your Daily Specials with a write-in board from Central.

Finally, menu marketing isn’t just limited to for-profit establishments. On the School Nutrition Association’s website, they suggest renaming menu items to make them more appealing and thematic. One suggestion was to rename the lunchroom staple fruit salad ad “Fastball Fruit Salad” to promote a healthy and active lifestyle.

Tools of the Trade

Once you decide what to write about your food, you’ll need an equally appropriate way to display your menu. Turn to Central Restaurant and our large selection of menu covers, laminators and card displays and holders. Too casual for menus? Our Product Consultants can help you find the right menu or marker board to help you get your message across.  Give us a call at 800-215-9293 or start a live online chat with one of our educated consultants right now.

Keeping Your Tiniest Customer Happy

Are you really doing all you could to keep your tiniest customer happy? Even though they might not be the ones footing the bill, in many families, toddlers have the most power in deciding which restaurant will earn the family’s patronage. If they are not happy (and therefore screaming or causing a scene), then neither is the rest of the family, the restaurant staff or the other patrons.

The Child Development Institute, a California organization whose mission is to be a clearinghouse for “information, products and services related to child development”, created a list of seven ways to keep toddlers busy and entertained in a restaurant. We’ve grouped these ‘parent tips’ into two categories so we can look at how your family restaurant win over the toddler crowd.

Maintain the Family Environment

Kidsitter 597-018

The Kidsitter™ Multi-use High Chair shows you are committed to kids!

The CDI’s first suggestion tells their readers to ‘choose a family-friendly restaurant‘ – a place where a moderate amount of family noise and activity is expected. If you want to be a family restaurant, show your customers that you welcome the whole family. Create a wholesome looking exterior and interior free of questionable decor. How about your seating arrangements? Many parents will judge your ‘family environment’ by the type and quality of your children s seating. Do you offer the basic plastic booster seat, or have you invested in a more upscale option like the Kidsitter that we profiled in June? Don’t forget your restroom. What’s your baby changing option? You don’t want to think of the alternative.

How about your children’s menu? The CDI tells parents to choose restaurants that serve simple food options that toddlers will enjoy. While  “fast food” type meals are not always the healthiest –  they admit that for the occasional dinner out, finger foods like chicken nuggets and hot dogs will usually ensure their toddler will enjoy themselves.

The next tip tells parents to order their children’s meal at the same time the adults order their drinks. Toddlers sometimes have problems dealing with the down time before their food arrives. By ordering their food early, the toddler will be occupied with eating while the rest of the family is waiting for their meals. Do your servers offer this option?

Keep them Entertained


Still, there will be dead time before and after the meal, and the toddlers will insist on attention. The CDI provides several tips to parents on ways to keep them entertained. If space allows, a family restaurant could consider investing in some play equipment. A full-fledged McDonald’s PlayPlace is not necessary. The CDI says to look for restaurants that offer something as simple as an area with “blocks or other toys for children to play with.” Central even offers a selection of child-height activity tables that can be placed in a corner or waiting area.

No space for toys? The CDI suggests a simple walk around the restaurant to burn off some toddler energy. Is your dining room layout too cramped for a little exercise?

The last two suggestions offer ways to keep toddlers entertained at the table. From little ‘bags of toys’ like crayons and coloring books to educational place-mats, these are little items that can keep children of all ages content and occupied.

Pulling It All Together

Of course, even after providing the right dining environment and offering all the child amenities, the task of keeping a toddler occupied and content at your restaurant lies with the parents and there may be times when you or your staff need to get involved on behalf of your other customers. Remember to approach the situation calmly and look for ways to smooth the situation. Offer additional activities or ask parental permission to serve the child a complementary scoop of ice cream or other treat to keep them happy. Even with a temperamental toddler, there is still opportunity to earn a repeat customer.

Cover image Photo credit: Lars Plougmann / Flikr.com / Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Use Mobile Marketing for Immediate Results

Is your Smartphone always within reach? Have you named your Smartphone? Do you text with your friends and family more than your talk with them? Are you reading this on that phone right now? If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to these questions and you have NOT taken advantage of the benefits of mobile marketing you really need to swipe down for the rest of this article.

Your customer's Message to you is not always this clear

Your customer’s Message to you is not always this clear

Never Far From Our Phones

Even five years ago, text messaging was solely associated with teenagers tapping away with their thumbs about unrequited crushes and homework blues. Today, according to a report by mobile marketing firm Mogreet, 98% of all mobile consumers have access to text messaging and 95% of text messages are read within 5 minutes of their arrival. So why not use text message marketing to build a legitimate list of your establishment’s most rabid fans and instantly entice them to visit by offering valuable coupons or other offers. According to CMSText, another leading firm, redemption rates for text coupons run 10 to 30% on average – far higher than those of paper coupons.

How can you use this immediacy to your advantage? Think of a slow Tuesday night where many tables are free. Text a one-night ‘free appetizer’ offer to your customers and watch them stream through the front door. Overstocked on seafood? A quick text and it’s out the door and retained revenue. Last minute addition to your entertainment schedule? Let your customers know and watch them change their evening plans! The possibilities are almost limitless.

But What About Apps, Facebook, Twitter and other Social Media

Mogreet Infographic – Mobile Customer Sales Funnel App Versus MMS

Mogreet Infographic – Mobile Customer Sales Funnel App Versus MMS

Tweets and status updates used to be a great way to reach customers, but with the monetization strategies in place at Twitter and Facebook you can no longer be guaranteed that your ‘free’ message will even be seen by your customers. If it does reach the recipient’s eyes, Mogreet says social clutter results in 71% of all tweets being ignored. These social platforms are useful when customers are seeking out information about your business, but now rarely have an impact when you are trying to get the word out quickly.

As for apps, Mogreet once again reminds us (via a fancy Infographic) of the massive filter that limits your customer base when using an app. Every company you encounter is asking you to install their app – which is usually just a copy of their website. While most Smartphone users have dozens of apps on their phones, typically they will only use a couple on a regular basis. Save your resources and beef up your mobile website alongside investing in a text messaging campaign.

More hints, tips and how to get started

Ready to start? First, find yourself a reputable mobile marketing company for the administrative and infrastructure functions.  To keep text message marketing from becoming the next wasteland of spam-filled messages, a number of strict regulations and standards have been adopted by the mobile industry. Choose a company that uses Shortcodes – those 6 digit ‘text numbers’ that identify a specific sender.

Next, build your customer list through ethical means. Use opt-in systems to ensure your recipients want to receive your messages, and respect their decisions if they decide to leave. You can use incentives and instant offers to entice your customers to sign up right at their tables. Invest in some additional table tents (cheap plug, we sell them at Central) and explicitly spell out the value your customer will receive. Also, make sure your staff is enthusiastic about the concept. Finally, remember to stay on message and limit your communications to a reasonable number. Your customer should never receive more than one or two messages per week unless it is for an immediate or extra-ordinary valuable offer.

Remember, the more rabid customers that sign-up, then more customers you can reach which will increase your revenue potential.  Just do it before your competition does!