Over the last few months, hospitality venues have closed, changed to takeaway, altered their brands and reopened for socially distanced dine-in. We spoke to Oh Marketing to find the best ways to market what you’re currently offering and keep customers up to speed.
As businesses deal with changing restrictions, altering their products or shifting to takeaway and back again, customers are having a hard time staying up to speed. For hospitality in particular – one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic – it’s never been more important to market effectively. We spoke to Oh Marketing strategist Michelle O’Hara to get some tips on how to keep your venue front-of-mind in an ever-changing environment.
With physical distancing, customer limits, contact-tracing measures and extra hygiene practices in place, hospitality feels a little different at the moment. Venues face the challenge of maintaining a high level of customer service amid a stressful time for employees. It’s more critical than ever that staff and managers are able to make drinking and dining experiences great for guests.
“It’s really important that business are looking at every step of customer interaction, particularly with these extra health steps involved. You have to think about how you’re wowing your customers with each interaction,” O’Hara says. “This includes how you communicate online, on your socials and especially face-to-face – particularly now, things such as sharing your venue’s Covid-safe plan and having extra signage around the venue will help with the customer-service experience.”
The best upsells are often the most obvious. Ensure your staff are up to speed on the latest food and drink offerings by hosting quick tasting sessions with team members on shift. Once service has begun, the best way to upsell is to be clear and open about it, and ask customers what they’d like to eat or drink. Be assumptive – everyone in the venue is there because they have some time and money to spend.
“It’s pretty simple, to be honest. Offer cocktails, offer sides to get started and don’t be shy about it,” says O’Hara. “If you’re serving a group, speak to the whole group and offer everyone a drink – it puts a sort of peer pressure on everyone to jump on board and have an entree or buy a drink to get started.”
You’ll always get customers coming through from different areas, but one of the keys to sustaining success is developing a loyal local following. Learn names and orders, chat to customers about their lives and keep them informed on what you’ve got planned for the business. Giving your business a face and making it a place where customers can stay and chat makes the experience more personable and enjoyable – particularly in an era when brand loyalty is dwindling, O’Hara says.
“There’s almost no loyalty to hospitality businesses, and people talk with their feet. If you’re advertising on social media, simple things like ensuring the ad is targeted at a local crowd will go a long way,” says O’Hara. “People may visit your venue infrequently, but sustained success comes from treating your locals like family and ensuring they come back time after time.”
Introducing loyalty cards isn’t suitable for every business, but it can be another great way to help build customer engagement and secure some repeat business. O’Hara says there are pros and cons to introducing loyalty programs, though.
“It seems obvious, but offering an incentive like a free coffee after a certain amount similarly gives people a reason to keep coming back,” says O’Hara. “A good way to ensure people use loyalty cards is to actually keep them at the venue in a box, and have people’s names on each card. It helps customers feel connected to the venue – having something that feels like it’s theirs stored on site.”
Engaging with customers on social media has become more important than ever this year. It’s a good idea to post regular updates, particularly in relation to how the evolving restrictions affect your business. Many venues have changed their business model or product offering significantly over the last few months, so it’s crucial to communicate any changes as well. Building a brand aesthetic is another thing marketing agencies can help with if you’re stuck on where to start.
“Social media boils down to your ideal client and how you segment your client base. A lot of businesses will use Instagram for a younger audience and Facebook for their older followers,” says O’Hara. “Posting times are really important too, and specific to your type of venue. Ensure you’re using the metrics on offer with Facebook, Instagram and other platforms to see what times your followers are engaged so you can target posts and understand your audience. Social media is an excellent free marketing tool that a lot of businesses don’t utilise.”
One of the best ways to market your business is through your customers. If you have an engaged customer base that raves about your venue, you’re more likely to reach new people. Word of mouth, social media and reviews are all helpful for this. How you encourage customers to engage this way depends a lot on what type of venue you run, but often a friendly chat is a great way in.
“There’s nothing wrong with asking customers to tag you in a post or leave a review then and there, right after they’ve eaten,” says O’Hara. “Obviously you’d judge this on a case-by-case basis, but getting involved with your customers, acknowledging them and chatting to them will help you establish a rapport and lead to positive feedback on social media or review platforms.”
Photography: Brook James