Mike Rangel Expo Exclusive 2012

Every pizza operator faces the same question: Does this apron make my butt look big?

The answer is yes, but the other big question is: How do I get more people in my restaurant at slow times without giving the place away or spending a ton of money on advertising or marketing?

My company, Asheville Pizza and Brewing, is a family restaurant with a movie theater and brewery attached. (Yes, a family restaurant can be a brewery too.) In fact, we’ve won “Best Family Restaurant” in Western North Carolina for the last 12 years in a row. We obviously advertise and position ourselves to be attractive to families and kids of all ages.

But we were still having agonizingly slow Mondays and Tuesdays. So we had to look elsewhere to bring more business in on these slow nights. We tried Monday-night specials. We tried Monday-only coupons, and all that did was bring our regulars from other nights in to take advantage of the discount.

We even considered closing on Mondays. Now I’m an old-school guy, and I’ve had it branded into my brain that restaurants should be open seven days a week, but I know other restaurants that operate for six and seem to be OK. Still, losing 15 percent of sales by being closed an extra 52 days a year just didn’t seem to be the correct solution for us. We had to do something.

Our decision was to target groups and organizations that already meet once or a twice a month on Mondays or Tuesdays and give them a space to gather and a small discount on food. We went to the website www.meetup.com to research groups in our area and see what day of the week they meet. There were an incredible number of them in our area—Chihuahua lovers, writers groups, ghost and paranormal hunters, etc.

The first group that caught our eye, other than the “ghostbusters,” was one of the local homebrewers clubs. We decided to target them first.

Why did we—and why should you—target homebrewers?

• There are more one million people in the United States who brew at home at least one time a year.

• They drink beer and support craft breweries and “beer-friendly” restaurants.

• They love to share their creations and try the creations of others.

• The majority of homebrewers are married (so if they like your place, they will bring the family).

• The majority of homebrewers are college-educated and have professional jobs with more disposable income.

We reached out to our first target group, not the largest homebrewer group in our area, just the one who met on Mondays. We offered them a free space to meet, a 15 percent discount on any food they ordered and the assurance that they would always have their monthly Monday slot reserved for them. It took a couple of calls and a couple of emails before they finally agreed to give it a shot.

Fewer than 10 people showed up for the first meeting, but our managers and servers gave them the VIP treatment and they had a great time. The next month we had about 15 attend, and I got a chance to sit down with the group after their meeting. Our restaurant had a pretty decent beer list at the time (some brewed onsite), but after one meeting with them, we realized how many more beers they wanted to try.

We couldn’t order everything they wanted, of course, so we created a list of all the beers that our distributors offered and let them choose one draft beer selection and one bottle beer selection from the list every month. We put a sign, “Homebrew Club Selection,” over the tap and it quickly became our fastest-selling non-house-made draft beer. We had to double the amount of “Homebrew Club Selection” beers that we ordered, as we discovered that other customers who didn’t brew at home wanted to know what the “beer nerds” were raving about.

All of this occurred after the second monthly meeting and before the third meeting. Then, at the third meeting, more than 50 people attended the homebrewers event. We were swamped and happy. We had been adopted by a group of smart, hard-core beer drinkers who were willing to spend more for higher-quality beers, and that is exactly the kind of regulars we wanted. If they appreciate the craftsmanship of a beer, they also will appreciate the craftsmanship of a quality pizza. They were shunning the big-brand beers for fresher, more exciting flavors in the same way we compete with the big-brand pizzas by being fresher, more exciting. It was a perfect fit.

Since then we get 60 to 80 people coming in like clockwork once a month. And the best thing is that the homebrewers return the rest of the month with their families and friends. Mondays have now become our “Specialty Beer Night” and our third busiest night of the week. We’ve brought in our beer distributors to run beer tastings, and we’ve invited other breweries to come in and do a “tap takeover,” where they bring in three or more of their beers and pass out shirts, pint glasses and other items. All of these at no cost to us.

If your restaurant serves wine, there are likely to be wine clubs and wine distributors in your area that you could target. Or find a local wine store and do a “wine night” with them.

There are groups all around you. Your goal is to target the groups that fit you and your restaurant and get them in the door. And there are lots of ways to search for groups online. Here are two that we used: www.meetup.com and www.homebrewersassociation.org
Cheers and happy hunting.

See Mike Rangel at Pizza Expo / Click Here to Register for Expo!

Asheville Pizza and Brewing president Mike Rangel will spill several more beer tips in a seminar at Pizza Expo 2012, “How to Cash in on Beer Sales.” He will also sit on the $2 Million Club panel during a special pre-show session featuring the comments of operators who run pizza operations averaging $2 million or more in revenue per year.

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