Several weeks ago I received a coupon/gift certificate (what’s
the difference between them again?) in the mail. It was on the
generous side - $25 off a meal at a restaurant less than 10 miles
from my home. I have been to this restaurant before, actually
twice in a couple of years. Not being one to pass up on what was
roughly a free steak, my wife and I went to the restaurant for
dinner. Another couple from the neighborhood that had also received
the same offer joined us.
This restaurant is part of a collection of restaurants owned
by the same company. It does an admirable, although far from perfect
job, in my opinion, of attempting to create loyalty among its
The atmosphere: a French bistro. I haven’t been to Paris
yet because I prefer understanding the insults directed at me
by the locals, like in my former hometown of New York. Anyway,
the restaurant succeeds in creating what I imagine is a “real
bistro.” It works for me. So let’s give this location
a good mark on atmosphere.
The service: very good, attentive, knowledgeable, and friendly.
Our waiter was nicely outfitted, and he properly sold us wine
and other alcohol with our meals. The alcohol alone cost us almost
as much as the two $25 certificates.
The food: French food is not my personal favorite, since there
is so much emphasis on various sauces. However, the food was very
good, and all of our entrees, ranging from steak to fresh fish,
were enjoyable. I’d go into more detail, but I’m not
a chef or a food critic, I’m an educator!
Let’s review: nice atmosphere, good service, and good food.
They have created an enjoyable dining experience, so I should
be going back soon, right? Well…I honestly don’t know.
Frankly, most restaurants today are disciplined enough to provide
good service and food. In regard to atmosphere, it’s clearly
important, but it is more personal and subjective than good food
or service. We would typically agree if service is inattentive
and something doesn’t taste right, but we could reasonably
expect some disagreement over whether the “atmosphere” is
good. So where some restaurateurs might fail an individual diner’s
preference for atmosphere, there is no disputing that good food
and service are universally recognized, and are also minimal expectations
for most, if not all diners. In other words, if you provide good
food and service, you’re just like almost everyone else.
You need something extra to successfully differentiate yourself
from the competition.
I know I’ll go back to this French bistro sometime because
I have a positive memory of the restaurant and meal that I enjoyed.
The problem is that when considering where to dine, neither my
wife nor I think of this restaurant. Although they captured my
attention with the coupon, they missed a golden opportunity to
continue converting me into a friend.
Before I explain why, I have a question to ask. I’ll be
in your area and would like to take you to lunch. Do you have
any suggestions on where we should go? (Note: If you are a restaurateur
you can choose any restaurant but your own!) Got a restaurant
in mind? Which restaurant is it? Oh - good choice, but I recently
ate there. Do you have another suggestion? Great, I’ve heard
of it but have never been there.
The restaurants that you thought of are “top-of-mind.” It’s
as simple as that. Every restaurant customer has his or her favorites,
his or her own personal top-of-mind. This location at the top
of the customer’s preferences is every business owner’s
dream, whether the business is retail, fashion, cosmetics, home
appliances, or restaurants. Your restaurant is undoubtedly top-of-mind
to some minority of your total restaurant customer base, and you
must protect your position with these loyal friends (customers)
from the competition. Your mission is to become top-of-mind to
an increasing percentage of your total customers. (By the way,
this mission never ends.)
Oh…in regard to that lunch date, we’ll have to make
it another time. My plans have changed, but I appreciate your
Let’s go back to the French Bistro. This meal, as pleasant
as it was, is not enough to replace my top-of-mind restaurants.
That typically doesn’t occur with a single visit - unless
the meal and atmosphere are truly unforgettably great. (Lots of
restaurants are unforgettable, but usually for the wrong reasons.
Another column maybe?) I eat out over 400 times a year. It takes
a lot of effort to impress me, and more importantly, to get me
to rearrange my own top-of-mind restaurants.
Ironically, this restaurant has a point-based Frequent Diner
program, but the waiter never mentioned it, so that opportunity
was wasted. In my follow-up research, I’ve learned there
is a cost to join this program, so I probably would’ve passed
on it anyway. (Imagine that – I pay you for the privilege
of marketing to me!) Of course, I could wait for another $25 coupon
to arrive in the mail; we know that was effective at bringing
me in – once. But it was also expensive to the restaurant.
So what could this restaurant do, and you as well, to begin the
process of turning me into a more frequent customer? How do you
go about making your restaurant, instead of your competition’s,
a customer’s “top-of-mind” choice?
There are solutions that work – so don’t give up
hope. In regard to this dining experience, I expect no regular
follow-up reminders of how I enjoyed the atmosphere, service and
food at this French bistro. C’est dommage.
Mason Harris of Robin Technologies, Inc., offers the Restaurant
Association of Maryland (RAM) endorsed YouGotMeals permission-based
email marketing program for restaurants. A frequent speaker on
marketing and loyalty programs, Mason is also writing a book specifically
for restaurant owners and managers. Feel free to share your questions,
comments, and experiences related to this column, restaurant marketing,
and diner loyalty with Mason via email at email@example.com,
or sign up for his e-newsletter at www.yougotmeals.com.
©Robin Technologies, Inc. 2004
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