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17 January, 2023

How Restaurants can use Influencers to Increase Sales




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Restaurant Experience In Marketing

How did you get into the restaurant industry? What was your starting point?

So I started in the restaurant industry probably about 13 years ago now, and I just hopped into it by chance. I had kind of fantasized about the restaurant industry, in my teen years. And I graduated college with a marketing degree. And then there was a local pizza restaurant that I just kind of popped into one day, got hired on the spot and I worked in service.

I worked in the front, front desk. That's sort of part of the team until I started managing restaurants, you know? Assistant, general manager, team lead, and even bartending, until I found my way into our corporate office and kind of worked my way up into the position that I'm in now, which is director of marketing for the multi-unit restaurant group.

We've been through openings, closings, and the pandemic. We survived, thank goodness. So I've been doing this position for five years now.

How does your experience of being at the front level of the store shaped your career and how you do marketing for Tableseide?

So I always say that I kind of combined both of my passions, both of my loves.

Hospitality has always been something that has been super interesting to me. I'm super passionate about, you know, delivering amazing hospitality, but then I partner that with having all of the experience of actually working on what I call, like the front lines of the restaurant.

So it's not so common that someone in like a director of marketing position, especially for a hospitality group, actually has that experience. You know, working in the back of the house, working, the 12, 15, 16-hour days that, the restaurant industry is so notorious for.

Um, but I really do think it gives my position a certain edge just because I really know kind of how to relate to the operators. I always say I have the utmost respect for anyone in the stores doing the work. And I really, really, really make an effort not to kind of throw anything at them from a marketing standpoint that will really like impact operations.

Like they're, you know, I never wanna come to them and I never want them to be like, oh my gosh, director of marketing's here. What's she gonna throw our way today? Um, you know, I, I really try and try and understand where they're coming from. Hey, Thanksgiving Day. Let's kind of tailor what, what offers we're gonna offer, you know, in a way that it's not gonna completely impact operations.

What are the operational lessons you've learned that you keep in mind in your position as Director of Marketing?

Honestly, keeping it simple is... And I know that sounds kind of, it sounds simple to keep it simple, but it, it really isn't. And when you throw in factors, such as the pandemic, such as, inconsistent sales, meaning either sales explosions or extreme sales drops. Um, so really just kind of going back to the drawing board and having the confidence to say no to something, which might sound like a great idea in your head.

Um, so keeping it simple.

Another really important lesson I think is always kind of keeping your ego out of it. And I think, as you said in the beginning, people that run and operate restaurants might be a little bit crazy, so, you know, we have. Extremely talented chefs, extremely talented operators.

And then from my CEO, who brings so much experience to the table down to like, me as the marketing team, our director of ops, just kind of keeping the ego out of it and making sure that at the end of the day we remember, hey, we are all on the same team. We are all on the same page. We are all working towards the same exact goal.

I think that really serves as a good reminder. 

How do you keep the ego out of it? How do you keep everyone focused on the goal?

No, it is not easy. And it's definitely something we work on pretty much on a daily basis. Again, as you said, if there is extremely talented people in the room, no doubt there's gonna be ego in the room as well.

Yeah. So I would say for just kind of keeping that in, Again, just making sure that we offer an open book policy. You know, coming from our corporate office, always available to talk, always available to sit down and you know, anyone who has any concerns my CEO does an amazing job at kind of being present.

And another thing is we, our corporate team, my CEO myself as the director of marketing and we have a newly appointed director of operations. So we are in the units, which might not be as possible if you have like a larger number of restaurants.

But we're in the units weekly talking to our teams, getting to know our hourly staff, getting to know... working closely with our chef teams, working closely with everyone from like the buser to the general manager running the whole operation. 


Branding Each Restaurant

Are your strategies different for how you engage the customers of those different brands, or is that the same strategy that's getting applied across the board?

So it is different at all of our brands because all of our brands are so different.

I can kind of highlight kind of just like a really quick general, synopsis of what each brand is.

So Tableside has been around for about 15 years now. We have a flagship brand and location called Libby's Neighborhood Brasserie.

And that is kind of a, like elevated fine dining, yet casual location. We have two of those. The first one, as I said, opened in 2008. So it's a very kind of well-known destination in, in our city, Sarasota.

And then we have Circo, which is a taco and bourbon joint ver casual. It's not fast casual, it's still full service and dining.

But it's kind of funky. We play loud rap music. Crazy lights. We have like a chalk wall. We do like chef-inspired tacos. We're kind of tongue-in-cheek over at Circo. So that strategy, we targeted a completely different demographic for Circo, it's located in our downtown area. You know, again, so kind of targeting, I would say, the millennial, you know, gen Z kind of demographic.

And then lastly, the last thing we added to our portfolio was a brewer Oak & Stone. We added about a year ago, in kind of a really growing part of the city. And, um, that's been super fun. But that, again, it's a brewery and, you know, beer enthusiasts are, you know, beer enthusiasts. So we really try and we really kind of toggle between target beer fanatics. And then obviously we have an amazing menu at this location. So we, we toggle in our marketing efforts, we really toggle back and forth between targeting beer people and then food people. 


How do you go about engaging your local communities?

It is slightly different, but kind of the overarching, like idea is gonna be the same. For example, like a loyalty program. We have a very aggressive loyalty program in all of our locations.

And they're all the same program, it's the same provider. Um, but we kind of tweaked the amounts, like spend a hundred dollars, get 10 back at, our lower price point location. And then at, Libby's, which is kind of an elevated casual dining. It's a little bit more, spend 150, get $25.

So we kind of start at the bottom with the loyalty program, and then we kind of graduate into like kind of weekly and special offers.

And then we go up to like social media and brand awareness where we, you know, we monetize a lot of that. Um, you know, we monetize Facebook ads and Instagram promotions.

We utilize influencers. That's kind of been a new, like a year and a half. We've been using a lot of influencers, um, in our locations. Uh, and we kind of pick and choose, Hey, this person we form partnerships with them and, um, decide, this person would be great to promote our brand.

So those are just kind of some of the overall strategies that we use. And we do kind of copy and paste in a way. For each location. For each location, you try something that works well, for one brand, it might work well for the other brand, so you can actually replicate it there.


Using Influencers to Market Your Restaurant Brand

How do you select the influencers you want to partner with?

So we, so in the, my marketing team, I do have like a social media manager. Um, and her job is to kind of be really in tune with our social media platforms.

We're extremely active on Instagram, Facebook, we're active on TikTok. So the goal for our social media manager is to kind of comb through the influencers in our local area and then extend into like the next major city, which would be Tampa Bay, which is a huge metropolitan area.

So she kind of goes through, kind of gets a read on where certain, and we do target definitely like food-centric influencers and there's a lot of... So you know, people, influencers that explore different parts of the communities, but with a food focus. So we kind of select based on that and then we get in touch with them.

We kind of set up like a meet and greet and then we work with our teams. Hey, we, send out an invite. We say, Hey, this influencer's coming in. We decide what we're gonna offer them. We make a deal with the influencer and then we kind of go from there. And then we do get a lot of content to use that way, like photos and video, which that's kind of priceless, you know what I mean?

It's like we have our stock photography that we use, but then the influencer kind of allows us to give like a unique spin on anything that we wanna promote. If it's a limited-time offer menu, if it's an upcoming event, if it's a new happy hour, or a new cocktail that we're rolling. So that's kind of how the strategy behind that.

And then another thing, if I might add, is influencer events, which we haven't really seen a lot of this in our market, but we've seen it in the larger markets. But it's pretty much what it suggests is hosting probably 10 to 12 influencers and kind of doing a mass influencer event and we invite them.

We kind of make our tables look beautiful and then we decide on a menu and then we send out like plates and make a special menu for them. And then we get tons of content and we've seen a lot of engagement. We did one a couple of weeks ago at Circo and we saw our engagement kind of went through the roof for that social media platform with the end goal of course being to translate directly to sales. It's not just like, let's have an influencer event. 


So how do you measure that?

So that's an awesome question and I think it's something that we're still kind of working on, you know, actually measuring that return on investment. But I would definitely say there is a direct correlation with sales immediately following these influencer events. It, you could think at it as kind of a spike.

So generally following the events, we do see an increase in sales, like on the daily average for like probably a week, and then it does kind of taper off. But as the influencers re-share, and I mean everyone kind of knows how, how that. You see an influencer, you follow an influencer, they post about a place that you might be interested in going to.

You make a note of it and, Hey, next time I'm in the area, make sure I check this place out. So that is really hard to measure and we don't know if people are coming in, cuz they saw it on so-and-so's Instagram account. But I do think in general we do generally see a spike.

And there's just kind of what goes along with the influencer. The world of influencers is, oh hey, I saw these, I saw them at Circo, I saw them at Libby's, so it's for out for millennials and Gen z. I really think that helps like, kind of get the word out there. Um, and again would hopefully translate to more sales.


What are the strategies that you use—you're getting these new customers through these influencer marketing campaigns and getting them into coming back, multiple times rather than once.

With Circo, I know that again our target demographic is gonna be those like the 4, 18 to 50, I would say age range, And in an effort, I mean, we wanna keep 'em engaged, right?

So yeah, we wanna keep them interested in what we offer, keep them coming back. So we are always doing like little social media blasts, like posts. Take a photo of us post it online and be entered to win, $300 in Serco gift cards. And those have been really popular in the past. And then tagging us and sharing us on social brands making sure people are aware of what our social media tags are at Circo. Just really making sure, and then obviously making sure that our team members, the people that are running the floor, our service staff are super knowledgeable and aware of kind of everything that's going on at all times. So they can speak to, you know, Hey, I saw this... I came here because I saw you are on, you know, so-and-so's page.

Yeah. And then the staff member can kind of speak on that. Oh yeah. And you know, maybe give them some insider information or something like that. 


Failed Campaigns

What marketing campaigns have been successful? What ones have failed?

So I have a recent example for, um, for Circo, the one that we keep referencing.

When we start planning, we've already started planning for 2023. Every year we start planning, and we put our different ideas into the pot. You know, we decide what we're gonna do based around what holiday's coming up, based around football season, based around whatever, you know, whatever is coming up on the calendar in an effort to capture more guests.

So one, and again, this kind of mirrors back to what I was saying about ego and just biting the bullet, saying this didn't work. So in Circo we're always trying to do fun, engaging promotions. We recently did a football promotion for football Saturdays at Circo.

And we spent money on graphic design. We spent money on different collateral in the stores. We bought a beer pong table. So we did put money into this promotion, which we put into all of our promotions, but we were just consistently seeing very little engagement. We kind of took a deeper dive into it. We were like, maybe this isn't working out.

And so we kind of decided to pull the plug on that promotion, as it, you know, as it was. And it's always kind of disappointing, especially if you're like, in the beginning, you're excited about it, but when it's just not, no one's excited about it. There's no return on investment. Um, and kind of deciding to pull the plug.

So we had kept it rolling for about six weeks. Our guest counts didn't increase. You know, our sales kind of stayed the. So we were like, instead of throwing energy towards this promotion, let's just pull the plug on it. And that's happened. I mean, that's happened quite a few times in my career and it always kind of sucks it's just not putting the energy and the effort into something that's not working and it's knowing that it's not working.

Advice for Marketing Your Restaurant

What's the most important piece of advice, related to marketing do you have for restaurant owners to get people into their restaurants and keep them coming back?

I would really look at it in terms of levels.

So there's definitely different levels of marketing. And level one would be creating a very clear and cohesive brand for your restaurant. Meaning, spend a little bit of money to have decent graphics, have a nice, clear logo, spend a little bit of money again, I mean, on getting a menu that's suitable for the location printed.

And then from there I would say you have to be on social media, and make sure, and you don't ha have to hire someone for that position, but just make sure that anything you're putting out there, I call guest facing, um, is gonna be, you know, is gonna align with your brands. Um, and again, in this day and age, it, it's really quality of the images, quality of the video, and just kind of staying on top of everything that's trending. And I really think that cuz everyone knows you, you hear of a new restaurant, the first thing most people are gonna do is whether no matter what their generation is, either Google it and then my generation is gonna probably look it up on Instagram or even TikTok.

Definitely Facebook at least. And I find that a lot of, a lot of concepts. Are interested in long-term growth, they definitely need to have a social media strategy. Kind of aligned with that. 

Picture of Amin Yazdani
Written By: 

Amin Yazdani is the CEO and Co-Founder of Craver, a fast-growing mobile platform for Restaurants, helping them gain and retains their loyal customer base.

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