2009 September: Prescription for Profits

Every weekday, 100,000 pharmaceutical reps take out or have delivered $4 million in food from restaurants just like yours. That’s over one billion dollars each and every year. The average catering budget for a pharmaceutical rep is between $800 and $2,500 per month –– and they spend every penny of it. In fact, they are forced to spend this dazzling pile of cash because it’s the only way they get access to the doctors. No lunch –– no admission.

That means that every month, within your takeout or delivery area (if you’re within three to fi ve miles of a hospital or medical center), pharmaceutical reps are spending more money and ordering more food than you could even handle and make. How much of this are you getting?

I got plenty at my pizza shop, but it didn’t fall in my lap. We went to hospitals and doctors’ offi ces, taking in nice coffee mugs piled high with Hershey’s Kisses. Oh yeah, while nurses were grabbing at the candy, we were passing out stacks of menus (they frown on that if you’re not handing out candy). Once they started ordering from us, the pharmaceutical reps followed.

We also paid visits to pharmacists and traded pizza in exchange for having them copy the business cards of all their pharmaceutical reps. We contacted the reps and fl at-out offered to provide a free meal up to 12 people as a way for them to try us out.

It didn’t take long before we had a pretty solid lock on this lucrative niche. One of our pharmaceutical reps even gave us a credit card –– on fi le –– so his doctors could call any time and order lunch from us. All they had to do was say “It’s on the Prozac account.” That rep and several others also got gift baskets delivered to their home during the holiday season (along with our other high-spending customers).

Having a well-planned marketing strategy to target pharmaceutical reps can bring big sales during lunch and dinner. That money has to be spent somewhere. It might as well be your restaurant.

To help you get your piece of the pie, here are some things to consider when catering to pharmaceutical reps. I’ve categorized these considerations between lunch and dinner. What you’re about to read is feedback received from actual pharmaceutical reps. This is what they look for in a restaurant and what drives their buying decisions.

LUNCH — Offer all major credit cards, including American Express. Different pharmaceutical companies provide their reps with different credit card brands. The most common is Visa, but some do use American Express.

 Offer delivery and set up. The key to marketing to pharmaceutical reps is to make their lives easier.
 Provide quality packaging to offer great presentation. When a rep provides a lunch, it is a refl ection of them and their company. Presentation appeals to both the offi ce staff and physician.
 Offer drinks and dessert for off-site catering.
 Be on time! Blow this even once, and they’ll never call you again.
 Always provide an itemized receipt or invoice of what was ordered. Pharmaceutical reps use this for their expense reports, and having this available with every order will make their life easier and motivate them to use your restaurant more frequently.
 Provide flatware, plates and serving utensils free of charge. It is a major irritant when restaurants choose to charge for this service.
 Have one person in your restaurant dedicated to handling pharmaceutical rep lunches. They prefer one point of contact and the ability to establish a relationship.
 Offer them a Rewards Program. Pharmaceutical reps are spending their company’s money, and a rewards program provides them a way to personally benefi t from the money they spend on lunches and dinners.

DINNER — Provide a private room. Dinners usually involve a speaker who requires the proper environment.

 Have a screen and projection equipment.
 If you are going to require a minimum, make it a reasonable, acceptable amount.
 A pre-set menu is acceptable as long as you offer two to three choices for the main entreé.
 Again, it’s best to have one person in your restaurant dedicated to handling pharmaceutical rep dinners to establish a good working relationship.

So how do you get started? After you have considered the above needs, you will need to start targeting reps (harder to do) and the doctor’s offi ces they visit (very easy to do). The rep will order from the restaurants their doctors’ offi ces request. So the fastest way to get into this market is to target the doctors’ offi ces. You can purchase a mailing list for all the doctors’ offi ces in your area. This will get the word out.

You should also follow up the mailings with a personal visit to the offi ces. Once you receive an order from a pharmaceutical rep, pull out all the stops and overservice them. Again, it is all about making their life easy and giving them a personal reason to come back and tell their offi ces about your restaurant.

Once they come in, don’t let them leave without capturing their contact information. Ideally, you will get them enrolled in your customer rewards program right away and give them an incentive to spread the word among their associates. At the very least, get their business card. Marketing to pharmaceutical reps is a grassroots effort and grows through positive word-of-mouth and attention to detail. Listen to them, reward them and don’t let a bad experience go un-repaired. The reputation of your restaurant among the pharmaceutical rep community can spread awfully fast, both positively and negatively. And one of the additional benefi ts of tapping into this hard-to-crack market is that the reps are still spending lots of money –– even now. It might as well be going into your pocket. 09.09.09