2009 December: Date Night

2009 December: Date NightLook around your restaurant any given weeknight. Are your tables full of happy customers? If not, you may want to consider having a date night promotion. Gaining in popularity due to the poor economy, these package deals seduce patrons with the promise of a good time and delicious food at a set price.

For guidance, look no further than Mellow Mushroom in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Manager Patrick Hook explains: “We offer a pizza, two drinks, and two movie tickets to the local Carmike Cinemas for a set price. We have customers come in daily for their own date night. This promotion has been very well received and we see customers of all ages and demographics.” Several other Mellow Mushroom restaurants also sell a version of this package.

Tony Palombino, founder of Boom- Bozz Famous Pizza in Louisville, Kentucky, also offers a date night special of an entrée salad to share, a medium pizza and two glasses of wine for $20 on Monday nights. Upon seeing that his Monday night traffi c was slow at two of his locations, he created this promotion and has seen a sales increase of 18 percent. “We typically sell 35 to 40 promotions each Monday.” Palombino says that his typical dating customer is 35 to 60 years of age and that he advertises the special in the neighborhood section of his local newspaper and on the top of his outgoing pizza boxes.

At Crust Pizza and Wine Bar in Detroit, Michigan, its $50 date night package includes a bottle of wine or two other drinks, salad for two, a pizza, two mini desserts, and two movie tickets to the local Maple Art Theatre.

“We sell two to three promotions per week and we are happy with that as there is no additional cost to us and we are getting a lot of extra promotion from the theater,” says Owner Jonathan Sherer. Yes, the theater actually runs a cute “movie” explaining the package deal to its patrons, says Crust’s marketing consultant, Kathy Johnson of Old Dog, New Tricks Advertising. The theater is a successful art house, which sends the pizzeria a new demographic, the 30-plus crowd. The restaurant purchases the movie tickets at face value and the theater runs the ads in return. This bit of genius began as a Valentine’s Day promotion that was so successful it was retained year-round.

Sales tracking of date night promotions should include looking at your return on investment. Examine how many promotions you sell each week and how much, if any, you spent on advertising. Expand any promotion that brings people back week after week or causes your number of sales to signifi cantly grow, says Mark Stevens, marketing CEO and author of Your Marketing Sucks. “You are trying to create your code-breaker promotion, the one that brings a four- or six-fold return on your advertising investment. When you can fi nd it, you will achieve lasting success. He also suggests that you seek daters outside of typical demographics. “Seniors love pizza, and they love a cheap meal, but no one caters to them,” Stevens explains.

Setting your price point depends on the nature of your customers. Are they seeking a low-cost meal or a mouthwatering, one-of-a-kind culinary experience? High school and college students will naturally gravitate toward low-cost establishments while up-and-comers may wish to impress their dates with their knowledge of fi ne Italian cooking. Consider the price of each individual item in your date night package and try to fi nd a price point slightly below that total; however, if you have an incentive such as a CD to add, you may go slightly above the individual price of the items. Nothing takes the place of trial-and-error. It could take a few months to determine your perfect price point. Make sure you allow yourself a profi t margin that will please both you and your accountant in the long run.

Ensure that your promotion is easy to understand, easy to take advantage of and easy to remember. Spell out the items involved, such as “a medium pizza with unlimited toppings, two large drinks, and two desserts.” Include the price, when the offer is available, and whether a coupon is required. You want to have an offer that people can remember and easily pass along to their friends. You may wish to have a trial run of a promotion, but remember that the majority of growth occurs over time, as word of mouth spreads.

When people dine out, they are seeking good food but also an experience to remember. Provide that and your customer base is sure to grow. With these basic principles in mind, look around your restaurant again, and consider what you can do to entice happy daters to your establishment. ?

Creating and Promoting Your Own Date Night

“Be original!” asserts Mark Stevens. “Look at what your competition is doing and do the opposite.” Ideas include:

? A tie-in with a local entertainment venue courting a similar demographic. This may include movies, bowling, skating, spectator baseball, miniature golf, an aquarium, or an art museum.

? A give-away such as a small book of love poems, or a CD of romantic music with a label advertising your pizzeria. “Every time they play the music, the customers will think of that date night and your restaurant” states Stevens.

? A combo package of your own items — this can include drinks, salad, appetizers or desserts to accompany pizza for two at a special set price.

Advertising your new promotion can be accomplished through traditional channels, such as coupon distribution, radio and television spots, and box-top ads. Also consider cross advertising with your promotional partner, and bi-monthly or weekly e-mails and text messages to your customer base. Don’t be afraid to attempt free promotion as well. Setting a particular date night, such as Mondays, can allow you to hold events such as 50s night or 80s night in which the customers are treated to genre music, temporary décor, inexpensive giveaways, and prizes for the most-appropriately dressed. Have the local newspaper or television or radio station cover your event and make your restaurant “the place to be” on Monday nights.

J. Lucy Boyd is a freelance writer based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.