Are Complicated Restaurant Promotions Driving Your Guests Away?
Attracting new customers to your restaurant, while retaining loyal guests, is an ongoing effort. Restaurant marketing teams focus on many promotions throughout the year, from straight-forward percentage discounts to buy-one-get-one (BOGO) deals, to the “promo-with-a-twist” (For example, “BOGO meal if you order two beverages” deals). Some savvy restaurateurs even collect points based on guest spending to facilitate customer loyalty programs. While research shows that coupons drive sales, complicated restaurant promotions can hobble your efforts.
Customer loyalty programs are proven methods for growing and sustaining business. These types of promotions typically have one goal: keep the customer coming back again and again, earning points and eventually cashing them in. Unfortunately, complicated restaurant promotions undermine those interests when they frustrate the customer.
Let’s look at one personal example from a fast-casual restaurant. I received an email about a restaurant chain’s Loyalty Holiday Giveaway promotion. The email listed specific requirements. If I fulfilled them all each week, I’d eventually earn a $25 reward in the restaurant’s branded app. Admittedly, it was a lot. I found myself harkening back to the lyrics of Canadian singer-songwriter Avril Lavigne’s debut hit single Complicated:
“Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”
“…gets me frustrated.”
What initially seemed fun became frustrating in the end though, and most customers would have abandoned the effort shortly after the first week. I wanted to see it through! Let’s look at what happened.
The Multi-Step Promotion
The Loyalty Holiday Giveaway promotion had three qualifiers. To receive the reward I had to:
- Download the restaurant’s app.
- Be on the lookout each Thursday for an app notification or an email specifying which item to purchase that day.
- Purchase each of the designated items on their respective Thursdays and win $25 in holiday rewards at the end of the month.
Even the most complicated promotion can be fun, as long as the restaurant flawlessly executes it. Get it right, and your brand will travel far beyond your initial reach. Get this marketing effort wrong, and things go awry, resulting in annoyed customers and promises never to return. Let’s break down my experience to highlight the ideal ways to market your restaurant promotion.
Step One: Expand Customer Engagement
How It Should Work
Having an app and encouraging your restaurant patrons to use it regularly is a wise move. Statistics indicate that 72 percent of online guests conducted their searches for restaurants on a mobile device. Imagine what those numbers will look like in 2020, as even more consumers make their dining decisions on the go!
The restaurant sent me an email promo that asked me to download their app. This communication positioned them for a big win! To measure the promo email’s effectiveness, the operator only had to track the downloads before and after it sent. The message listed my specific directives for the promotion, and though I found them to be a bit much, I felt motivated to earn the promotion. So far, they had me!
Step Two: Extend Promo Communication Across Multiple Channels
How It Should Work
When running multi-step promotions, communication with your customers is critical. Emails are great, but that communication must hit every touchpoint that customers may have with your brand along the way. These channels include:
- In-store or person-to-person contact. Think management teams, part-time, and full-time employees mentioning the promo to guests.
- Signage. Customers need to see that promotion is active and ongoing, so they also can build excitement and join in.
- In-app Notifications. The promo communication needs to be consistently delivered as promised, through notifications, on-time, every time.
- Email. A little goes a long way, so don’t overwhelm your guests. The best practice is two to three emails per month.
- Corporate call centers. Ensure everyone in your organization knows about your promotion. Customers should be able to call the restaurant’s corporate location and have that person on the other end immediately recognize, understand, and be able to explain how the promotion works.
On the first Thursday of the promotion, the restaurant sent an email detailing which product to purchase. I’ve mentioned that a few times now. I also received a notification through the app, though. I felt excited because the promotion seemed to be working as promised! On the subsequent Thursdays, they sent no email, though. I even checked my SPAM folders. Nothing appeared in the app either. This lapse in communication left me wondering if the restaurant’s figurative left hand knew what the right one was doing.
Step Three: Execute Consistently Across Units
How It Should Happen
It’s easier to run a multi-step promotion in a single unit than it is a chain. Conducting a promotional effort across multiple restaurant sites, throughout different states and even nations require deft planning to avoid damaging customer loyalty with cumbersome experiences. Restaurant staff in every unit should be informed about the specific beginning and end dates of the upcoming promotion.
Your staff should be able to explain to any customer how promotion works, with every detail down pat. If informed and trained correctly, your restaurant staff can provide a more consistent, more actionable promo call to action than any other communication. Never underestimate the difference in face-to-face contact over written verbiage.
During the four-week promotion, I dined in three separate units of the chain in three different towns, all within the same state. These restaurants were all relatively close to one another. When I asked about the promotion, not a single staff member in any of these sites knew about it.
I found my questions met with blank stares and had to wait as (like clockwork) each host would summon their manager to help with my inquiries. I became so frustrated with the lack of in-store promo knowledge that I called the corporate number! When I finally reached a live voice after the normal gauntlet of automated responses and holding, they couldn’t tell me anything about the promotion. I gave them my phone number and email address and asked them to call within the next week. No one called.
Step Four: Follow Up
How it Should Happen
If a customer takes the time to call your corporate office, it means they’re already frustrated with your brand. If an operator finds these calls happening regularly, they can use them for direct feedback. After all, if they’re seeing more and more disgruntled customers, they can likely assume something’s misfiring in the workflow. Monitor where the communication breakdown has occurred by asking these questions and searching for the numbers that will support conclusions:
- Are people opening the email in large numbers, but not clicking? Perhaps the instructions for downloading aren’t clear, or there’s a technical problem with the application.
- Do customers complete the download, but fall off after the first week? This downturn signals that the promotion is too complicated to understand, and folks have lost interest.
- Do customers abandon the promo before completion? This abandonment may indicate profound customer frustration that negatively impacts your long-term brand value. Your customers are saying, “this promotion isn’t worth the headache.”
As I reached out to more restaurant staff and management about the promotion, I became more and more disillusioned about all the effort I was making to secure just $25 in the app. Between an awkward, confusing process and a lack of clear communication, the restaurant’s reputation dropped a few spots in my mind. In a story of marginally silver linings, I did receive the award at the end of the year. Had I not, the restaurant brand would have lost me as a customer for good.
To avoid losing a customer’s interest in your promotions, operators must weigh the potential positives against the negatives. Restaurant marketing teams can create exciting promotional campaigns that entice patrons to dine and spend more frequently, but clear directives and constant communication are critical to their success. Keep the words of award-winning serial entrepreneur Julian Hall in mind as you consider your next restaurant promotion, “Ideas were yesterday, execution is today, and excellence will see you into tomorrow.”
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Marcia Noyes steers PR efforts and helps with writing for the company. She started her career as a television reporter and has also worked for several magazines and newspapers over the 30 years in her career. Her work has appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, the Denver Post, Southern Living Magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Body and Soul.