Surveys concentrate on dining experience, but it’s just as valuable to learn who your customers are
Every other Friday, kids in baseball uniforms bustle into your restaurant, stomachs rumbling, coach leading. No deductive reasoning needed; you have a baseball team in your dining room eager to feast.
Knowing who your customers are is an important way to increase sales and help with direct marketing. For example, giving the baseball players coupon books to be used throughout the school year will keep them coming in during the cold months, too. Congrats, you’ve just turned summer customers into year-round clientele. Bonus: the kids will likely show up with their parents, and mom and dad have to eat, too.
Figuring out who’s in your dining room isn’t usually this easy. Granted, if you’ve been in the business awhile, you learn client type by osmosis, which isn’t the same as knowing exactly where they’re coming from. For the most part, customers don’t wear uniforms or have business cards pinned to their lapels. Sure, you’ll notice groups decked out in office attire during the afternoon rush, but are they coming from the office complex up the street or the one farther down the road, and how can you serve them beyond lunch? You want to cater their retirement and Christmas parties. You want to deliver pizzas during their work-through-lunch meetings. The goal is to build more business through existing clientele by marketing to them (and others like them) effectively. The first step is learning who they are.
So how well do you know your customers? Maybe the baseball team scenario doesn’t resonate with you. Maybe you’ve never even had a sports team in your dining room. Adam Milne, owner of Old Town Pizza & Brewing in Portland, Oregon, says there’s an easy fix for this.
“A few years back, we drove around to different sports fields and dropped off coupons,” he says, “giving players one large pizza and letting them know we were offering a 10-percent discount to sports teams who came in wearing uniforms.” Today, he has sports regulars.
Lee Kim, owner and pizza chef at Burattino Pizza, located in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, also took steps to know his customers by honing in on an untapped demographic and creating new customers. He distributed menus to serious fitness enthusiasts at the local gym. “I wanted to see how receptive they would be to our gourmet pizzas for health conscious people,” he explains. “I got such an amazing response that we’re now creating special fliers and coupons for gyms, martial arts academies and bicycle clubs.”
Not only do these two pizzeria owners know their clientele, but they’ve taken steps to help create portions of their clientele. They’re in a good position to ask these sports teams and fitness enthusiasts for catering gigs — tournaments, marathons, after parties and pizza booths set up during big games.
Truly knowing someone requires ongoing engagement, and the more you engage, the more you learn. That’s why Kim makes it a point to respond to everyone on Yelp. “And if I sense someone is even slightly unhappy, I will remake the pizza, jump in the car and deliver it personally.” What a way to engage!
Collecting business cards in a bowl and holding drawings periodically for free lunches or having guests fill out a form with their contact information is another way to get to know your customers. “Key data items to collect should include name, e-mail address, the zip code where they work and the zip code where they live,” says Warren Ellish, president and CEO of Ellish Marketing Group and a marketing expert with Synergy Restaurant Consultants.
A part of knowing your customers includes understanding your trade area. For this, Ellish recommends the pin survey. You’ll need a blown up street map of the geography around your location, with your restaurant at the center of the map. Mount this map on a foam core board and have a box of pins handy with two different colored heads. “Have a team member ask each client to place the corresponding colored pin on the map to represent where he lives and where he works.” If you do this for a week, separating the data collected by time of day, you’ll have a good geographical map of your trade area and a real sense of where you should be spending money on freestanding inserts, mailers and door hangers.
“When you can clearly define your target market, you can provide products and services that meet their needs and communicate to them in a way that resonates and builds trust,” says Ellish.
You’ve done the work; you’ve learned your target market, who your customers are and exactly where they’re coming from. Maybe you’ve even followed Milne and Lee’s lead and tapped into a new demographic. The next step calls for building.
Now that you know them, build. “Once you’ve learned who your customers are, “invest in a simple e-mail system like Constant Contact or Mail Chimp and reach out to your database regularly with specials, new menu items and other news,” says marketing expert Nancy A. Shenker, founder and CEO of theONswitch.
Knowing who your customers are and where they’re coming from provides the foundation for building. In the meantime, make sure you keep them coming in; make sure the reasons they’ve chosen to frequent you pizzeria don’t change. J.D. Wood of InfoSurv, a restaurant survey company, suggests including this question on your surveys, “Will you come back again?”
Now that you know your clientele and have built trust, asking for add-on business is easy. If you’re like Lee, answering all your customers’ questions on Yelp and hand delivering a pie to ensure customer satisfaction, it’s not a big deal to ask these same customers if you can cater their family reunions, sports tournaments and business lunches. They know you, they trust you and more importantly… you know them.
Bobbie Metevier is a full-time freelance writer and former book editor. When not writing, she likes to spend time with friends and family in Southeast Michigan.