There’s a reason Matt Levine has become one of New York City’s most acclaimed restaurateurs at just 32. As the owner of the food and beverage company indieFORK, which owns and operates Chalk Point Kitchen and The Handy Liquor Bar, he’s known for his ability to attract A-listers with strong branding and innovative marketing and promotional strategies. Here, he shares his top tips for reaching new customers and making sure they want to come back again and again.
It’s important to create valuable content for your restaurant that attracts attention and builds your brand buzz, while also establishing consumer awareness and guest trust and ultimately driving consumer interaction. When marketing my lounges and restaurants, it’s always been important to content market via two approaches: “help, don’t sell,” and “teach, don’t preach.”
Help, Don’t Sell
There are a lot of really innovative restaurateurs and talented chefs out there, and guests have an abundance of options in dining. I always tell my staff, “If we have an amazing special for the night and no one orders it, did the special really exist?” It’s important to come up with content to help drive traffic, then let your customer service and quality of cuisine do the rest. Content marketing and social media are both effective ways to creatively bring in guests and drive traffic when used properly.
When Chalk Point Kitchen started actively catering, rather than just sending out an email and press release, we had a videographer follow us for an entire week (yes, 4 a.m. call times and all). They filmed us, from kitchen prep to the runway, as we were selected as the official Backstage New York Fashion Week VIP Room Caterer along with also Catering 8 Lincoln Center Runway Shows. We gave our guests and any new potential catering clients an exclusive look backstage into New York Fashion Week and our catering world in this video, creating brand content and entertainment value around our new restaurant offering and experience without making a generic self-promotional announcement.
Teach, Don’t Preach
The Instagram account for my market-to-table SoHo restaurant Chalk Point Kitchen doesn’t just push our restaurant but also introduces users to our team, promotes our purveyors, and explores our neighborhood via #FF. For my cocktail lounge, The Handy Liquor Bar, we teach guests how to make our cocktails at home via our YouTube Channel. At the end of the day, your marketing efforts are what help get your guests through the door, but it’s ultimately your customer service and quality of food that bring them back (remember that!).
Here are five creative marketing ideas that have been successful for us:
Listen to your social media followers. I always train my managers to utilize real-time metrics and social media. We constantly search the keywords “Chalk Point Kitchen” and “The Handy Liquor Bar” on Instagram and Twitter and search our hashtags #ChalkPointKitchen and #TheHandyLiquorBar on various social media platforms. Then we can real-time follow and locate our geo-tag. These social media practices help give us instant information, real-time experience and feedback from guests, while also pointing out any potential influencers and opinion leaders. You get to hear and see from your guests’ unsolicited perspective while also getting the opportunity to fix any potential real time issues.
Produce creative and unique photo-friendly content beyond just food. While perfectly plated and visually appealing food is certainly eye catching, as I like to say, think outside the circle, not the box. Get creative. At Chalk Point Kitchen each and every guest receives a customized chalkboard with their name on it when they arrive. Our dessert napkins are printed with rap-inspired dessert lyrics (to match our old-school hip-hop music) and we have an entire wall dedicated to Polaroid photos of our guests. Our place settings have quilted tied checkered napkins, fresh flowers, and custom coasters. Besides creating a welcoming home-like atmosphere, it also generates a picture-friendly place setting. We welcome our guests to share our brand and the atmosphere we created, beyond just our food.
Utilize your OpenTable confirmation message. Most restaurants use the generic reservation confirmation template email, but this automated message can be customized and used as an innovative marketing tool. You can create a personalized message and deliver a first impression prior to your guest ever walking through your door. At Chalk Point Kitchen I want the diner to understand our market-to-table concept, so they take a tour through our locally sourced backyard of Chinatown and Little Italy in this introductory video. We also give the guest an opportunity to “Meet Our Team” with our “Day in the Life” series, which provides an inside look into our kitchen and our team members. It shows that our brand goes beyond our logo and mission statement and offers a humanized touch and personalized approach that gives us an opportunity to educate our diners. This customized confirmation email also announces new initiatives and promotes upcoming activations.
Solicit feedback from guests. The only way for us to improve as a restaurant is to understand the concerns and needs of our guests. We created (pretty lengthy) comment cards, which have been extremely helpful in shaping our restaurant. Presented with the check, many of our guests take an extra 5 minutes at the end of their meal to fill them out, and we are extremely grateful for that. When you genuinely ask for feedback in a sincere manner, your guests care. Similarly, every Monday we compile all of the email addresses via OpenTable from guests that dined with us the previous week. I personally email each and every diner to hear about how their overall experience was at Chalk Point Kitchen. From complaints to compliments, we address and acknowledge them all, and I then forward them to my Front of House and Back of House teams. We discuss, implement, and improve. For example, one guest last week suggested we use organic soap in the bathroom to match our organic and sustainable menu, and I thought to myself, “That’s a great idea, why didn’t we think of that?!” Well, now we have organic soap in our bathrooms.
Build your restaurant inside out — community first. Local outreach has been an extremely effective marketing initiative to reach a targeted audience with an immediate ROI. At the end of the day, on snowy Mondays and rainy Tuesdays, the neighbors are the ones that will come support your business. Ever since opening, the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly supportive of us at Chalk Point Kitchen. Rather than press tastings, we did neighborhood and resident tastings when we opened, and you can feel the organic word-of-mouth spread. In fact, we recently created a neighborhood email address solely for residents that live in our ‘hood for last-minute reservations. We will always have a table available for our regulars. We have several guests that eat here three or four nights a week — it’s humbling.
When launching new activations, further focus on your community by partnering with local organizations. We recently introduced lunch, and prior to opening to the public we partnered with SoHo Strut, an organization (and local blog) focused solely on SoHo. We collaborated and invited local businesses and retail employees to get an exclusive first look and tasting of our lunch menu.