Bill Marvin
The Restaurant Doctor™

I am sure you all appreciate your guests. After all, where would you be without them? But what do you do to let them know how important they are to you? What do you do to make them feel more important and draw them closer to your restaurant? What do you do to massage their egos and elevate them in the eyes of their peers?

Does that sound like a tall order? It is easier to do than you may imagine. The following examples illustrate a few approaches that have worked for other operators. Perhaps you will find an idea or two that you can adapt.

Patron profiles in the newsletter
Do you publish a newsletter that goes to your guests? Along with the recipe of the month, the news of your current promotion and the biography of the waitress just completing her tenth year with you, why not include a profile of one of your regular patrons? After all, the restaurant exists for the good of the guests, doesn't it?

How can you get this information? Ask!

Imagine the stroke to someone's sense of importance to be interviewed for a feature article. If you ask around the restaurant, you probably have someone with journalism experience who can conduct the interview (although I suggest that the manager or owner be involved for the prestige it will lend to the process.)

Wall of Fame
The wall of fame is a way to recognize your regulars, usually by mounting their photo or their caricature on the wall of the restaurant. If you elect to recognize someone this way, a few words of caution:

1. Establish selection criteria. There has to be some objective standard that determines if someone is eligible for enshrinement on your Wall of Fame. If it just happens at the whim of the manager or someone on the staff, it becomes a game of favorites and has no importance to those outside the inner circle.

2. Don't surprise anyone. Be sure you have the person's permission before you consign them to immortality. If someone prefers not to have their picture posted, respect their wishes. No matter how curious you might be, do not pry into their reasons. If you put up their picture against their wishes, you work against the goal of the honor which is to make people feel closer to your operation.

3. Make it an event. To have others regard enshrinement as truly an honor, you must treat it as such. Adding someone to the wall can follow a traditional ceremony. Since you get to establish the tradition in the first place, give it some thought. Come up with something that will be fun, memorable, not (too) embarrassing to the participants and which will bring you in a little money!

At the least, the honoree should invite their friends to witness the event. Schedule the enshrinement on a night when business would otherwise be slow. You can use the business and there will be less distractions to pull your attention away from the person being honored.

The unveiling of the picture should be preceded by a short testimonial (serious or otherwise) about the person being honored and what they have done to merit the honor being bestowed. Their picture, whether it is a photo or a caricature, should be professionally done and presented in a frame of appropriate quality.

4. Hold a ceremony. Enshrinement is even more powerful if there is a little ceremony that goes along with the honor. In many cases it will be silly or humorous - something like having the honoree chug a beer, rub tuna fish on his tummy and buy a round for the house! Just so things aren't too one-sided, you might want to make a contribution to the honoree's charity of choice. Who knows? Just use your imagination and you will be fine.

The ceremony is part of what will give the honor its meaning. From the aspect of GBM, the enshrinement becomes a reason to invite all your other guests to come back in to witness the ceremony. Take photos. Give one set to the honoree and post a second set for those who could not attend.

Outstanding customer plaque
There are other ways to recognize guests besides posting pictures. The Steak Joint, Oklahoma City, OK, hangs an "Outstanding Customer" plaque in the dining room which, after two years, has 390 names on it. Ed Khalil, the owner, says that guests love pointing out their names to their friends.

Customer awards
David Duthie, owner of The Yellow Brick Toad in Lambertville, New Jersey does a superb job of guest recognition. Every August he holds an award dinner for his regulars, the highlight of which is the announcement of his "Patron of the Year."

In addition to the annual honor, he also gives out other awards. The Toad is an active supporter of local charities, so David enlists his guests to volunteer to help with a variety of community activities over the course of a year. At the annual banquet he gives out "Being There" awards to those people who helped by being there when they were needed.

Personalized menu items
A great way to tie a guest to your restaurant is to name a menu item after them. I am sure you have regular guests who always request some special concoction when they come in. If you think it would fly with your other guests, why not name the item after the originator and add it to your regular menu. It will have "talking power" and help the guest identify more closely with the restaurant.

Items like this can easily become signature items for you. In my college days at Cornell during the early 60's, THE place to hang out in Ithaca was Obie's Diner, a classic railroad car-type of place with ten seats at the counter and two tables. Obie's was famous for the Bo-Burger, a combination allegedly devised in the early 50's for Bo Roberson, Cornell's first (and perhaps only?) consensus All-America football player. It consisted of a hamburger with grilled diced onions, a fried egg with a broken yolk and melted cheese. Bo-burgers were very good to Obie who sold enough of them to buy a new Cadillac each year and spend every July and August in Spain!

Who knows what incredible items are lurking in the imaginations of your guests?

At Crisis Hopkins, my San Francisco restaurant, we solicited our guests for their favorite recipes. The best ones ran as weekly specials, with appropriate credit given to the contributor, of course! The person who provided the recipe received dinner for four any month that their item appeared on the menu. The result was that we had a huge research department (made up of our guests) who were making regular contributions to what they increasingly came to think of as their restaurant. In the process, we discovered a number of great items, several of which became regular features on our menu.

A final example of the power of tying guests into the menu is also from the Bay Area.

When I lived in San Francisco, there was a neighborhood restaurant/bar near my apartment that seemed to have a new owner every year. Most owners seemed intent on carving out a place in the overall San Francisco restaurant market and they all died trying.

Finally, a group bought the place and after the obligatory name change and interior freshening, went strictly after business from the immediate neighborhood. To create the local connection, they named all the menu items after the area residents who suggested them (for example, the Nora Daly sandwich or Fettuccini Isaacman). They did a good job with the basics, gave every guest personal treatment and became a popular local hangout. Interestingly, word of their success got around and it wasn't too long before they became a city-wide destination!

Personalized booths or seats
Another way to honor a regular patron is to engrave his or her name on a brass plate and attach it to their favorite booth, table or bar stool. All the criteria listed for the Wall of Fame apply to this honor as well. It is up to you to determine what special privileges accompany such an honor, if any.

Along this line, it seems that an increasingly popular way to finance public projects is by selling personalized bricks which are then used to pave walkways and other public areas. Perhaps there is a variation on that idea that could be used to help tie a guest more closely to the restaurant.

Guests names on reader boards
If you have a reader board, you have media at your command. People love to see their names up in lights and you could give them their 15 minutes of fame. You have as much to gain by using your reader board to make your guests feel special as you do by using it to advertise your specials. When guests make a reservation, ask if they are celebrating a special occasion. If so, see if they would mind if you put it on the reader board. You could easily become the place in town to celebrate!

If there is a lesson in all this, it must be that in a business based on personal connection, you have to get personal. Good luck!

This article was excerpted from Bill's book Guest-Based Marketing.

for more information contact:
Bill Marvin, The Restaurant Doctor™
(585) 606-0000

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