Every year, OpenTable partners with restaurant associations, convention and visitors bureaus, and destination marketing organizations to promote over 150 Restaurant Weeks across the country. Restaurant Week is a program in which restaurants in a metro area offer special affordable menus, from a two-course lunch option to a multi-course tasting experience. It’s a perfect opportunity to draw new diners into your restaurant — and when you wow them, they will become regulars. Make the most of it!
For tips, we talked to Alice Wu, who leads Restaurant Week marketing for OpenTable, and Gwyneth Borden and Jenais Zarlin of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which is putting on San Francisco Restaurant Week right now. Here’s how to make Restaurant Week work best for your business.
Build a Menu Around Your Goal
Decide what your goal is for Restaurant Week. Is it to bring new diners into the restaurant, or is it to increase traffic generally?
There are numerous strategies that restaurants use to create successful outcomes from Restaurant Week programs. Some create a menu highlighting their “greatest hits” to showcase what they do best as an introduction for new diners.
Other restaurants may use the opportunity to experiment with their menus, trying out new dishes, a tasting menu, cocktails, or little bites, such as an amuse bouche. Customers are savvy, so if the menu on offer looks like an assembly of regularly offered a la carte items without any perceived additional value, chances are, they will notice.
In San Francisco, AQ served a winter roots-themed menu set to a soundtrack by the band The Roots. Hog & Rocks put on a partner dinner with High West Whiskey, pairing food with different whiskies. Similarly, Thirsty Bear Brewery did a beer-themed dinner: the food was made with beer and paired with beer. Get creative!
Spread the Word
Use your social channels to show off your Restaurant Week menus and dishes and encourage diners to book a reservation. Utilize the Restaurant Week dedicated social channels (like a Facebook event page and Twitter hashtag) by contributing content and images, in addition to leveraging your own social channels. Even if you haven’t built up a huge social media following for your restaurant yet, Restaurant Week is a great opportunity to get started and take advantage of the added program buzz.
Chino, a Chinese-themed restaurant in San Francisco, held a Facebook giveaway called “Fortune Friday.” They posted a picture of a fortune cookie with a fortune made of song lyrics and asked people to enter by naming the artist who sang the song. The winner received a reservation for a table for two at Chino.
You can also use your email database and in-restaurant collateral to promote Restaurant Week to existing customers who may be interested in a new menu. Include the Restaurant Week logo on your website to show that you’re participating, or talk about Restaurant Week in your newsletter.
The Burritt Room in San Francisco wrote a note about Restaurant Week on a chalkboard sandwich board outside of their door to get the attention of people passing by.
Train Your Staff on All Promotions
Every single staff member in the restaurant should be familiar with the Restaurant Week programs. Diners should be presented with the special menus immediately upon sitting down – don’t make them ask for it.
If you are offering a Restaurant Week menu, commit to it for the duration of the program. People do dine out because of Restaurant Week, and sometimes they feel awkward asking for the discounted menu. They are less likely become a repeat customer if they don’t feel welcome.
Ensuring staff members are trained on promos will also avoid uncomfortable situations, like when diners don’t receive an item that was promised on the preview menu. Even if it’s a small value – an amuse bouche or a breakfast takeaway – you don’t want anyone to feel slighted or to fall short of their expectations.
In some cases, servers are concerned that they won’t be tipped as well because of the discount component within the program. It’s important to communicate with staff that over-delivering from a service standpoint is how repeat business is generated, and they are more likely to be rewarded well for great service.
Over-Deliver on Expectations
On a similar note, it’s much better to over-deliver than fall short of diners’ expectations. Restaurants submit menus for Restaurant Week before the event begins, and you want to make sure you deliver nothing less than what you advertise on the menu.
When guests sat down to an $85 tasting menu at one San Francisco restaurant, they were thrilled to see there was a wine pairing with each course. They were excited to receive even more value than they had originally perceived. Conversely, restaurants offering the $40 menu showed wine pairings but didn’t clearly note that it would be an additional cost.
Other restaurants excluded certain days and times from the promotions without communicating the restrictions to the organizers. Diners had no way of knowing that they would not be able to order the special menu when they arrived. When submitting menus, restaurants should clearly note on the menus which days and times will be excluded, if there are any. The organizers are interacting with more than 100 restaurants in the planning process, so use the menu as an opportunity to communicate all of the relevant information that diners should know.
“Restaurant Week is an opportunity to introduce your brand to new diners,” says Gwyneth. “If you’re not hospitable or haven’t communicated the expectations, it’s going to hurt your brand.”
In San Francisco, LUXE Valet, an on-demand valet parking service, is offering a promo code SFRW for first-time users so that diners can valet their cars for free. Restaurants who don’t offer valet or parking can leverage the promotion to drive traffic to people outside of the neighborhood. By communicating the offer to potential diners, you can drive more business for your restaurant.
Some Restaurant Weeks have a charitable component, too. When you make your San Francisco Restaurant Week reservation through OpenTable, 25 cents of every cover will benefit the local food bank. Donate additional proceeds or find another way to partner with the charity to make an even bigger difference, and include that in your marketing.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Loscher
Now that 2015 is here, resolve to make this the best year yet for your restaurant business. Every day this month we’ll be featuring a new tip from restaurateurs, chefs, and other industry leaders to shape up your marketing, operations, hospitality, and more. Check back daily for expert advice and successful strategies to start your year off right, and see them all here.