When it comes to restaurant marketing, winemaker dinners and charity events are two of the most common activations. While those events can build excitement and help promote visibility, they aren’t the only events that work.
Out-of-the-box thinking is required to develop new partnerships that can break through the noise and represent a win for the restaurant, guests, and partners. Taking a page from the guerrilla marketing playbook and focusing on innovative, unconventional, and low-cost approaches can help build new business, beneficial relationships, and sometimes create opportunities for positive press coverage.
Not sure where to start? Take a look at these three case studies and consider if something similar might work for your restaurant. Use them along with the best practices to inspire and add structure to your own creative marketing efforts.
Alexander’s Steakhouse and John Varvatos
A fine-dining steakhouse & upscale designer fashion brand
Nathan Tenney, the former regional manager at Alexander’s Steakhouse describes an event that kicked off the relationship with John Varvatos, the men’s clothing retailer. “After meeting with management to discuss options, we settled on a complementary cocktail party pop-up with our bar staff making drinks for their guests, and in return they provided our bar staff with tailored suits.” General manager Nicholas DeLuca shares that the bar staff currently receives a discount at the store for purchasing uniforms, and in return Alexander’s hosts their annual holiday party. Alexander’s has even named cocktails after the store.
Benefits: Varvatos staff now refer their clients to Alexander’s, and at Alexander’s the bar staff proudly wears their suits.
Says Tenney, “It cost us zero dollars other than labor and product. The return is exposure in store with the same clientele. They’ve probably sent a dozen guests over to us. That and the uniforms makes the bar staff feel awesome. It’s a perk for the restaurant.”
Why It Works: The demographic is the same for the store and the restaurant. A single event has led to a long-term relationship with benefits for staff and increase in referral business. “Varvatos has brought in their own management and employees to dine here several times to learn about hospitality and see how to apply it to their retail concept,” says Tenney.
Canela and Barry’s Bootcamp
A festive Spanish restaurant in a gay neighborhood & hip fitness brand
When Canela chef-owner Mat Schuster saw Barry’s Bootcamp moving into a nearby space, he saw the opportunity to partner and reached out. Says Schuster, “With Barry’s we’re doing an event with one instructor who has an interest in food and nutrition. It’s an after-class social gathering with happy hour pricing for bites and wine and beer, and we will also customize some healthier bites.” Based on the success of the initial event, Schuster is also considering doing a nutrition focused cooking class for their members or expanding the happy hour and possibly doing a seated brunch after class.
Benefits: For Schuster, it’s all about cross promotion and expanding his reach. But other benefits include positive community engagement and breaking out of the normal routine for staff who enjoy the change of pace.
Why It Works: The restaurant is flexible with menu ideas to accommodate guests and works incrementally, expanding based on feedback and the success of an initial event. Because they are neighbors, the partnership also helps to build a stronger community.
Santé and Salon d’Art
An upscale resort restaurant & the fine art exhibitor
Fifteen years ago, Suleyman C. Cooke, owner of Salon d’Art, approached the restaurant Santé at Sonoma’s Fairmont Mission Inn & Spa with the idea of bringing artwork into public spaces. Cooke met with management and reviewed a portfolio of work to determine what would be a good fit. Cooke curates art on paper, which is featured as décor in the restaurant and also available for purchase. Additionally, the hotel offers lobby space for a weekly pop up where Salon d’Art displays and sells art.
Benefits: The restaurant gets ever-changing fine art curated for their concept at no cost and a very competitive concessionary fee on any sales. The gallery in return gets exposure to a new audience and doesn’t incur overhead for retail gallery space.
Why It Works: The success of the long-term program is thanks to a symbiotic relationship. “We share the same clients and they are already having a positive experience when they are dining in the restaurant,” says Cooke.
Best practices for a non-traditional marketing partnership:
1. Make sure there’s a natural fit. It’s easy to see the synergy between these brand partnerships. Most importantly, consider the overlap of guests or potential guests.
2. Set clear expectations from the outset. At Salon d’Art, Cooke works out a detailed contract to cover everything from commissions to insurance. At Canela, Schuster recommends specifying as much as possible, including promotional activities down to the number of social media posts that each partner will provide.
3. Start slow! Begin with a single event or trial to see how it goes. Schuster recommends approaching an event the same way you would with a menu special. If it proves successful, you can repeat it or make it permanent. Don’t commit to something too involved or expensive at the beginning.
4. Consider your staff. Will this be something they enjoy? Will it be a burden? Discuss opportunities with managers to get their input. The success of a program is dependent upon how the staff embraces it. Promotions should always fit with the overall hospitality your restaurant is providing.
5. Hospitality is reciprocal. Look for the win-win where your restaurant, staff, partner, and guests are all benefiting. Find ways to make the program and the relationship valuable for everyone involved.
6. Have a communications plan. Programs and events don’t work without getting the word out. Work with your partner and PR or marketing consultant if you have them to determine how to publicize your efforts.
7. Invest up front. Cooke has had to turn down potential partners who didn’t have time to spend on the initial contract or fully review the program details. Once the program is in place, expect that there will be much less work involved and relationships will evolve organically.