HYPE! What Promotions Are Right for Your Restaurant Business?

February 21, 2017 - 9 minutes read

The Cubs make it to the series. Election night is looming. The Winter Olympics aren’t that far off. “Scandal” is back on.

There’s always something going on that gets people excited — and at times, that something may seem like the only thing anyone wants to talk about. Your staff is in on it. Your customers seem obsessed. So, why wouldn’t your business grab onto the excitement and do a promotion?

Whether it’s as simple as game night specials or as elaborate as a theme party, capitalizing on cultural hype to promote your restaurant or bar seems like a total no-brainer, but there are questions to consider. How you answer these questions as an owner or manager can go a long way toward deciding whether it’s worth following the hype or you’re setting yourself up for a sound defeat.

Do I have the right audience?

When thinking about their target customer, odds are, most restaurants are going to have a difficult time coming up with a simple answer. Yes, your menu and pricing will determine quite a bit about who dines with you. Is a meal with you affordable for customers at any income level? Is your cuisine culturally specific? Does your location draw a particular type of person? Young or old? With kids or without? More couples than singles? Ethnicity? Gender? Dress? What are their tastes?

A lot of your target marketing probably revolves around retaining and getting more of the type of diner your menu and location already attract, keeping you relevant and ahead of your competition. But when you introduce a new concept — like showing a football game night or hosting a weekly television party — your menu isn’t going to drive that decision. You need to think in terms of audience, not customers. And there’s a big difference there.

Multiple, distinct demographics may love your deep dish pizza, but they’re not all going to love having a British rugby game playing overhead while they eat. You may attract more single people than couples to your bar on week nights, but is “Grey’s Anatomy” going to get eye-rolls or cheers?

If you don’t have a good sense of the type of entertainment your customers enjoy while they dine, have your servers ask about your specific ideas casually when delivering drinks or the check. Give yourself time to accumulate responses and keep track of them as they come in. If your idea is something that resonates, then you’ve already laid some ground work in advertising!

Is it on brand?

This is not the same question as the previous one, although it may overlap in some meaningful ways, particularly if your establishment has a strong ethnic or cultural theme already. Take a deep look at your overall brand to determine if a promotional idea is going to accentuate or undermine the reason customers come to visit.

Sometimes, the answers may come easy. Sports bar? It’s an easy bet that making a big deal out of the World Series will resonate with your brand. Full service, fine dining tapas bar? Maybe Cubs-themed, hot dog-focused small plates aren’t the best idea. You wouldn’t host a French wine tasting at a neighborhood hot dog stand. Why mix up the message of your brand in the reverse?

Ultimately, caving to the hype of a popular sports or cultural event may look desperate to your customers if it doesn’t fit seamlessly into your brand. Any special, whether discounted or not, runs the risk of diluting your brand value if not properly thought out.

And hyped events like those in sports, television, and politics are come with baggage that you take on when promoting your restaurant or bar. You just need to make sure it’s the right kind of baggage.

For instance, you may be tempted to host an election night viewing next Tuesday night. With political tensions where they are in 2016, the sage advice would be: don’t. Rather than generate fun and profit, you risk riling up disagreements and having an evening of anxiety or conflict, especially if your business is located in a particularly contested area.

And believe it or not, there are very strict federal laws about promotions tied to election day. No business is allowed to offer discounts or giveaways to those who vote, no matter whether the promotion is devoid of party affiliation or not.

Can I get into trouble?

There’s another consideration when planning events that capitalize on the hype of popular entertainment: the law. 

Believe it or not, there are strict limitations on showing events like the Super Bowl or even broadcast television programs in public spaces. Bars and restaurants can display a show or event on a TV set, but only if they don’t use “more than 4 audiovisual devices, of which not more than 1 audiovisual device is located in any 1 room, and no such audiovisual device has a diagonal screen size greater than 55 inches, and any audio portion of the performance or display is communicated by means of a total of not more than 6 loudspeakers, of which not more than 4 loudspeakers are located in any 1 room or adjoining outdoor space.”*

* US Code Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 110: “Limitations on exclusive rights: exemption of certain performances and displays”

In short, if you want to show nearly anything copyrighted on a big screen TV (larger than 55 inches anyway), you’re likely going to have to have an agreement with the copyright holder. Consult your attorney on options for packages or licensing for specific events if you plan to go this route.

Be aware as well that many event names and logos, particularly in the sports industry are trademarked or copyrighted — protected to the extent that it is not advisable to replicate them visually in any way for your promotions.

This may require a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge when it comes to describing “the Big Game” (a name that’s also copyrighted by the National Football League), but the likelihood is, if the promotion is right for your audience, they’ll know what you’re talking about.

Will it pay off?

Truly, the only sure way to know if a particular promotion will generate enough interest and profit to make it worth your while is to try it. But asking neighboring businesses about their experiences is a pretty strong second chance for insight.

In fact, coordinating special events with other business owners in your community could drive interest and make sure you’re on the right track for the local audience. And it connects you in a meaningful way with other business owners like you, people trying to boost the local economy and be successful.

By Matthew Griffith

Article originally appeared on rewardsnetwork.com.

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