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Creating Brand Loyalty Among Millenials, Pt. 1

December 1, 2014
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Although Thanksgiving also ends up being less of a holiday for busy people in the restaurant industry than for everyone else, I do hope you were all able to spend some time relaxing and catching up with family last week. I hope there was some great food — maybe you even ran a turkey trot (my favorite tradition)! I’m back now from my mini-break, and ready to bring you more great tips, tricks, and recipes for your own restaurant or cafe. Today and Wednesday, let’s talk about building brand loyalty with the younger generation — my generation — the oft talked about millenials.

millennialsWe’ve discussed this kind of thing before, but because these are people growing up and changing right in front of us, there’s always room to refine and re-discuss how best to attract them to our brands. (In your case, your restaurant, bar, or coffee shop, etc.) The first way we might re-think the whole thing is to rephrase “getting new customers” as “courting new (and current) customers.” In any town with more than one restaurant, it’s not hard for a bored or otherwise dissatisfied customer to switch loyalties to a new place. The questions is not just how do you get them into your restaurant, but how do you keep them there?

First, you can focus on experience. Younger customers (and older ones, actually) aren’t just looking for good food. That’s a start, and it’s necessary, but the overall experience is increasingly important to modern consumers. What makes the entire experience of eating at your restaurant better than eating somewhere else? It can be ambiance, specials, events, service, convenience — any number of things. Just remember to focus on the overarching experience instead of just the meal. Your customers want to feel like part of the family, or part of the club. Let them.

You can also focus on loyalty, instead of merely selling something. One mistake businesses often make is focusing to specifically on “selling.” Looking at restaurants, you might be used to putting a major focus on selling a certain special: a nightly entree, a drink special, etc. The goal is often to get your wait staff to push this item, sometimes even with quotas and a reward structure. While there’s certainly value to pushing your specials, this sort of narrow focus on the business of selling isn’t enough to create loyalty. You want customers to choose to spend time at your restaurant and share their experiences with others via social media like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. What kind of content can you create online? What kind of experiences can you create in the restaurant that people will want to photograph and share? You can get as creative as you like.

I’ll be back on Wednesday with more tips. Until then, comment below or contact us here.

The Night Before Thanksgiving

November 21, 2014
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If your restaurant serves not just food, but also alcohol, you know what comes before Thanksgiving: “Blackout Wednesday.” It’s the biggest drinking night of the year, and one during which you can make a huge profit, but it also comes with all the negatives you’d expect: enormous volume and unruly customers. (Your bartenders will spend the next day giving thanks they survived the night.)

What can you do to prepare? Try these simple tips:

Have enough glassware. You will have more customers than usual, and they will be ordering more drinks. Glasses will get broken. Make sure your prepared for the crush.

busy-bar-475x350Have enough booze. And mixers, and ice. This would not be a good night to run out of anything. A room full of drunk customers is not the most understanding crowd. Make sure you’re stocked up on inventory before the night starts. (And it will start early!)

Offer drink specials. You may think you’ll have people in no matter what, since everyone’s going out on the town that night, but if they have any other options, you need to make sure your place is the most appealing. Offer a few seasonal drink specials or an all night happy hour. Get creative, just get them in the door.

Get them to order food. Not only will food help customers avoid getting too sloppy, it will also help your bottom line. Make sure you’re pushing appetizers, small plates, and bar food — maybe even have a special of some kind on one particular bar food item. (Just make sure you’re stocked up on that, too!)

Additional staff. Don’t hang your employees out to dry! Make sure you have more people working that shift than normal, so the staff will be able to handle to volume without encountering any big problems.

Empathize with your staff. Don’t forget that the people who work for you are people! It’s a stressful night for everyone working in your restaurant, so make sure you’re understanding. They’ll be dealing with enough flack on the floor; they don’t need it from the management.

Hope you have a good Thanksgiving week! Until next time, comment below or contact us here.

Serving Up Thanksgiving Dinner

November 17, 2014
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Does your restaurant offer a Thanksgiving menu? Many offer dine-in or prepared, take out menu options for Thanksgiving, to help those out there who aren’t quite as confident in their own kitchen. If you’re expecting people in your restaurant on Thanksgiving, or selling them meals to take home, here are three useful recipes from the Vanee archives:

Mushroom Gravy
Thanksgiving without gravy just isn’t Thanksgiving, don’t you agree? This — the first of two gravy recipes I’m including today — is a delicious, earthy mushroom gravy. Great on a variety of foods, nice paired with earthy, spicy red wines, and just all around good, it’s also simple to make! It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a traditionalist when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner: this gravy tastes good with just about everything.

Sherry Cider Gravy
12Gravy number two is a little more elegant and just as tasty. By combining three simple ingredients — roasted turkey gravy, dry sherry, and sparkling apple cider — you can make a gravy with a complex layering of flavors, just enough of savory, salty, and sweet. Goes great with Thanksgiving dinner, which is all about layered, combined flavors. Mix this up on your plate with your turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, and you’ll be in food coma heaven.

Green Bean Casserole
As a native Midwesterner, I can’t conceive of a Thanksgiving dinner without green bean casserole, and chances are your customers — whether they’re dining in or taking out — feel the same way. My East Coast roommate thinks this is odd, but she’s sorely mistaken: green bean casserole is comfort food perfection! A decadent combination or creamy, crunchy, and all around good. Thanksgiving isn’t complete without it. (East Coast snobbery or not, we’ll be having it at my house this year!)

I hope you enjoy experimenting with these recipes and they find their way to your menu and your customers’ plates. Until next time, comment below or contact us here.

Ways to Promote Your Restaurant’s Events, Pt. 2 of 2

November 12, 2014
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I’m here with part 2 of my tips for promoting your restaurant’s special events. Whether it’s trivia, tastings, tailgating parties, or anything else, these tips will help you bring more people into your restaurant on event days and make a larger profit, while also (hopefully) winning over new customers who will come back to your restaurant for regular days. On Monday, we discussed creating an event page, linking it to your website, taking advantage of your email list, and using social media. Let’s finish it off with my final two tips:

Partner With Other Local Businesses
newspaperSometimes local business owners forget to connect with other local business owners, but it can be fruitful for both parties. Some examples: The bookstore I worked at in between college and grad school often held events too large for their space at the local movie theater (which, it should be noted, partnered with many local groups for events). Another bookstore in the area partnered with local restaurants to create “meet the author” book clubs where readers could have dinner and discuss books with a visiting writer. Wine stores might partner with local chefs for paired tastings. There are pretty much endless options. Whatever creative partnership you come up with, co-sponsoring an event can take the pressure off a single business and also combine publicity forces to get a much better turnout from more diverse demographics. What’s to lose?

Don’t Be Too High Tech
In 2014 we’re so internet and social media obsessed that sometimes we forget the value of doing things the old fashioned way. Handing out flyers or pamphlets for your event, promoting with local magazines, newspaper, radio stations, and television can drive up excitement and encourage higher attendance at your event. You could even send out your staff to make rounds of the neighborhood — other business, people out shopping — to hand out flyers and pamphlets that way. Of course, the most effective way to promote is to use both traditional and twenty-first century methods. You shouldn’t forget the old way, but you shouldn’t ignore the new either.

Hopefully this mini-series has given you some ideas for promoting your next restaurant event! I’ll be back with more on Friday; until then, comment below or contact us here.

Ways to Promote Your Restaurant’s Events, Pt. 1 of 2

November 10, 2014
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Does your restaurant host events? Maybe you have special nights based around sporting events, maybe you have wine and appetizer tastings, maybe you have prix fixe menu charity dinners. Whatever kind of event you’re hosting, there’s probably some ways you could better publicize it, and therefore get better turnout. Over the next two days, we’ll discuss a few. Today I have three:

waiting-in-lineCreate an event page. Once you create an event page, make it clearly linked to the homepage of your website and available on your various social media accounts. You can make the event page interesting and worth visiting with compelling content: menu descriptions, activity lists, photos, start and end times for the event, and social media sharing buttons. Maybe you could even include an RSVP button, making your page interactive.

Maintain and use your email list. If you have a customer email list — and maybe you should — this is the perfect time to take advantage of it. A few weeks before the event, send out an email informing your customers. Send out another gentle reminder a couple days before, and then the day before. Make sure you use an engaging, interesting subject line for the email that will convince customers to click and read through.

Don’t forget to use your social media accounts. I’ve posted a lot about using social media before, so if you need basic start-up and user tips for things like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, check the archives. If you are already using these social media tools, use them to publicize your event! Create event pages on Facebook, tweet to your customers, make sure things are interactive — likable pages, answerable questions, photos, etc. Not only should you use your social media accounts to publicize your event, but also for updates during and after, and interactions with customers who attended, creating a buzz online for your future events to draw bigger and bigger crowds.

I’ll be back with a few more tips on Wednesday. Until then, comment below or contact us here.

Three Soup Recipes for Winter Menus

November 5, 2014
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As the weather gets chilly — or, who are we kidding, has already gotten chilly — more of your customers are going to want soup. Soup is one of the ultimate fall and winter comfort foods, and you should it expect it to sell better during cooler months. What soups do you have on your menu? If it’s just your standard chicken noodle and your uninspired cream of mushroom (not that there’s anything wrong with those!), maybe you could use some inspiration to spice things up. Here are three recipes to take your soup menu to the next level this season:

Sweet Georgia Sausage Chowder
If you ask me, or even if you don’t, chowder is one of the most comforting soups. It’s hearty, it’s creamy, and it just makes you feel better on a cold night when you’re in your wool socks and sweater and wishing for spring. Most people are used to clam chowder, and if you’re from the South you’ve probably had your fill of corn chowder, but have you had Sweet Georgia Sausage Chowder? By combining delicious sausage, sweet corn, sweet bell peppers, and a creamy, decadent broth, you can serve your customers the ultimate comfort food. And who wouldn’t want that?

Fire Roasted Tomato Soup
119My favorite nostalgic meal from childhood — and, let’s be honest, college — is warm, creamy tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich for dipping. When I ran cross country and track we’d come in from a long run through snow, sleet, and wind, and the fact that the dining hall had tomato soup and grilled cheese made me forget their many other sins, at least for that night. This tomato soup takes it up a notch with fire-roasted tomatoes for an extra kick of flavor. De-licious.

Ham and Bean Soup
If you’re looking to make soup a hearty meal instead of a side, snack, of just a lunch, adding some rich, creamy, protein-filled beans to the mix can be a great idea. This soup gets a ton of flavor from ham shanks and a ton of health benefits from beans. Together, it’s a pretty perfect combination for dinner or a filling lunch. Your customers will love it!

I hope you enjoy serving up these special soups to your customers this winter! I’ll be back Friday with more. Until then, comment below or contact us here.

Beverages: What Your Customers are Looking For

November 3, 2014
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Today’s post — happy Monday, everybody! — is the last in my short series on the latest beverage trends changing beverage offerings in fast food, fast casual, and casual restaurants. With savvier customers and more intense competition, the days of a boring old soda fountain, burnt diner coffee, and one kind of tea to choose from are over, at least if you want to make money in today’s market. We’ve discussed the popularity of craft sodas, teas, and other beverages already; today we’ll go over what else your customers are after, and also how not to lose your way following trends.

Not Just About Thirst
AlcoholicDrinksThese days, consumers want to order drinks that not only quench their thirst and taste good, but offer some other benefit: energy boosts, health benefits, etc. Look at the popularity of expensive juice and smoothie bars, energy drinks, or even the add-ins you can get at smoothy chains like Jamba Juice, with extra protein, vitamin C, and ginseng — you name it. You don’t have to be selling 10 dollar smoothies to get in on the game here; all you have to do is offer a menu with beverages that are also healthy and/or energizing. Fruit juices, regular old smoothies, coffees and teas, lower-sugar craft sodas, and sparkling waters are all good options.

Proceed With Caution and Common Sense
Keeping up with trends is important, but you shouldn’t go crazy throwing out your whole menu and chasing fads, especially if you’re already running a successful restaurant. You’re better off paying attention to shifts in the market and in customer demand, and making small tweaks and adjustments to your already successful formula. After all, if your food is good, most customers are focused on that. You wouldn’t want to fall behind in other areas of preparation and service just to offer a bunch of trendy drinks. Change is good, but don’t get too caught up! Keep on top of your fundamentals.

I’m excited to see all the new drink menus next time I’m out to eat! I’ll be back on Wednesday with a new topic; until then, comment below or contact us here.

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