Think Small for a Big 2022

January 18, 2022 | blog | By Julie Ondrusek

As intoxicating as “feeding the world” might sound to restaurant owners and managers, when it comes to operations, restaurant marketing, and simple expectations, that mindset can actually be a crippling trap. 2021 was a historically challenging year for the restaurant sector. Unprecedented labor shortages. Ongoing pandemic challenges. A supply chain mystery Sherlock Holmes couldn’t crack. Whether it was QSR, coffee houses, cafes, or casual dining, no business sector in America was hit harder last year than restaurants. That positions 2022 as a critical comeback year. The question is, what’s the big idea for succeeding with many of the same hurdles standing in the way? Ironically, the answer is thinking smaller.


By smaller, we don’t mean thinking that’s “less than.” We’re not talking about ideas that are less significant, less effective, or in any way a step back. By “thinking smaller” we simply mean narrowing your attention from “everyone” to three groups guaranteed to pay higher dividends: your staff, your existing customers, and the undercapitalized connections sitting in your database and on social media. Your first step to making 2022 a better year is connecting early and often with those three cohorts. Here are five ways to do that and focus on delivering better restaurant marketing results in 2022:

1. FOCUS: On putting your staff first

Without the solid foundation of a staff as committed to building your brand as you are, there’s no chance you can consistently deliver for the customers your marketing attracts. Restaurants were among those hardest hit by “The Great Resignation” in 2021 and it’s not hard to understand why. Locations were understaffed. Existing staff were overworked. And frustrated by everything from mask protocols to having to wait a little longer than normal, diners across the country were impatient, rude, and cheap when it came time to reward the servers doing the best they could. That’s a lot to come to work to every day.

This year, look for ways to really connect with your team on an ongoing basis. Be aware of their physical, mental, and emotional health and don’t wait for them to tell you there’s an issue before asking.

The Container Store provides some of the greatest customer service anywhere in business. Straight from former CEO Kip Tindall, it all stems from putting their employees first. That’s what companies with extraordinary cultures do. Take better care of your people and they’ll take better care of your customers.

2. FOCUS: On providing an exceptional experience for your existing customers

There’s a reason one of the bedrock tenets in restaurant marketing is that it’s far easier to keep the customers you have than to go out and get new ones. For every restaurant in America, surviving the last 24 months has been a Herculean task — one you couldn’t have pulled off without those customers who have persevered and stood by you during the pandemic.

Whether you’re serving up burgers, chicken, pizza, or anything in between, it’s easy to believe a customer is a customer is a customer. But that’s not true. Some of your diners are more valuable than others and your first priority is taking great care of them. Yes, shoot to deliver an exceptional experience to everyone who walks through your door. But for those special customers – the ones who visited three times a week throughout the pandemic, the ones who post about you religiously on social media, the ones who take extra good care of your staff – those folks are priority one. Priority two? Aim your restaurant marketing at people just like them.

Talk to your customers. Ask them why they come and what it is about your restaurant they love. Then use those insights to inform your restaurant marketing. Relevant messages over time are what connect. Give your customers an extraordinary experience and in some, if not many ways, they will share it.

3. FOCUS: On investing in lasting relationships

In the restaurant business, some of your greatest investment opportunities can actually be your smallest in regard to cost — a thank you note here or a small dessert there. All they require are forethought, imagination, and consistency.

Today’s consumers want what they want and, more and more, they want it right when they want it. Look at the rise of food delivery in the United States. In 2020, DoorDash, GrubHub and Uber Eats represented more than $9 billion in revenue and those three represent just 80% of the sector. On top of that, according to Franchise Times, in 2020, more than 82 percent of sales came through the drive through. That’s a LOT of to-go bags. And even more opportunity.

When you’re building personal relationship, actions like gratitude, thoughtfulness, and generosity are key and the same holds true for the relationships you build with your customers. Imagine dropping a handwritten thank you note into every to-go bag you send out. Even a printed one still says, “thank you!” For your repeat customers who spend $50, $100, $200 a month in your restaurant, a FREE dessert or appetizer costs you nothing. But the impact is monumental for an unexpecting recipient.

Take time to visit people in your dining room. Thank them for coming. Solicit their thoughts. If you haven’t created an email marketing campaign targeting those in your database, this is the time to do it. (And if you don’t have an email database to speak of, start building one.)

You’ve invested in your real estate, your building, your staff, and your food. This year, invest in the relationships with your customers. Of all your investments, it’s the one with the greatest chance to grow.

4. FOCUS: On overcommunicating to your existing connections

Whether it’s restaurant marketing, or just marketing in general, there are two schools of thought when it comes to today’s consumers and their ability to receive communication. Either A) we’ve all reprogrammed our brains to not be able to focus for longer than :15 seconds at a time and therefore shut out anything that runs longer than that, or B) consumers shut out branding, advertising, and marketing altogether because most brands don’t put interesting, meaningful, relevant content in front of them. While A is somewhat true, we’re rolling with B.

Howard Luck Gossage, the father of San Francisco advertising, famously said “People read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.” This year, when you’re executing your restaurant marketing, make it something interesting. And don’t use a shotgun. Use a rifle. Write your content, your promotions, your invitations as though you were writing personally to your existing connections – the patrons you see in the restaurant, your fans on Social Media, the people leaving you positive reviews – and over-communicate what you want them to know and to do. Then, integrate your messages into everything you do. And when you do, make it interesting.

5. FOCUS: On perfection in the moment

Finally, give yourself and your staff permission to breathe. The last 22 months have been a war and if you’re reading this, you came out the other side. Now you’re here and it’s time to look forward, not back. That’s not to say everything is perfect. It’s not. There are still major staffing shifts happening and the supply chain is far from fixed. But rather than allowing those things to control your mindset, focus instead on perfection in the moment.

Focus on all the things you do well and deliver those without fail. Make delicious food. Be kind to your staff. Personally engage with your customers. That goes for your restaurant marketing as well.

Look at each piece of communication you send and ask, “Can it be clearer?” “Can it be more interesting, or entertaining, or captivating?” Ask if it could be better and then commit to making it so. In your promotions, on social media, in your email campaigns, in your broadcast messaging, are there consumer insights that can better inform your restaurant marketing, add brand distinction to your restaurant, and make your brand more relevant? Often, we get so focused on the whole, we neglect to look at the impact of the parts. Focus on perfection in the moment and the ripple effect will astound you.

JULIE ONDRUSEK is COO and Director of Client Service at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising, and marketing, leadership, culture, and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

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Julie Ondrusek

at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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