22 – Great restaurant Marketing ideas we found at the 2016 NRA Show

NRA 2016

The 2016 NRA Show in Chicago was attended by over 45,000 people.

We spent three packed days looking for the best products, ideas and inspiration to help you grow your business.  There was so much to see – but here are some of the edited highlights.

We visit two great Chicago restaurants –  Nick’s Pizza & Pub and Au Cheval with Eric Cacciatore from Restaurant Unstoppable.

We finally get to experience the amazing In-n-Out Burger – the iconic burger business.

What was the surprising thing about Bubba Gump?

We discuss some of the reason YOU should go to the NRA show and how it will help you grow your business.

There are a lot of suppliers who have a great story – that story can and should become part of your story.  It helps create the experience; and where there is experience there’s margin!

We discuss Kimbal Musk from The Kitchen and the way he creates a great story about his suppliers, Denny Post and the importance of a Signature meal- even if it isn’t that popular, as well as a great discussion between Jon Taffer from Bar Rescue and Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible.

Are you doing coffee in your Restaurant? Is it great coffee?  What impact would making your restaurant someone’s regular coffee spot make to revenue?  We talked to the team from Vittoria coffee. (It was easily the best coffee at the show!)

The Urban Cultivators look great and if you are creating a fresh and green brand, these are perfect for really highlighting what it is that you are doing for your customers (and how much of a difference would cheap, fresh herbs make?)

Why was it we visited the Aussie Pie Kitchen in LA?

We also look at Torta Bianca – a great ingredient for your cocktail list.

We finish of with esoteric wine varietals and how they can help you with your wine list and profits and lastly a warning about spending the wrong way with your social media marketing.

These are just some of the examples of what we picked up from the show.  If you have an idea for a restaurant in mind, or already have a concept, there are hundreds of ideas and products there that you can find to help to tell a better story, find productivity gains or increase margin with better and more interesting menu items.

I have focused too much on productivity, because I am not very good in the kitchen, but I think there was just as many interesting products for HOW you do in the kitchen as there was for WHAT you do in the kitchen.

Hope to see you at #NRA 2017 and hope you have a busy night tonight!

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22 – Great restaurant Marketing ideas we found at the 2016 NRA Show


James Eling: Hey, it’s James from Marketing4Restaurants and welcome to episode 22 of Secret Sauce, the restaurant marketing podcast. Great marketing ideas we found at the 2016 NRA show.

James: So, welcome back everyone. Yes, its been a little while since the last episode and what we were hoping to do was to release a podcast about the NRA show whilst we were at the NRA show, but it was literally a flying visit to the beautiful city of Chicago. I flew in on the Saturday, which was the first day of the show. Hit the ground running on the Sunday and then I flew out on the Wednesday. So, I didn’t have the time that I was hoping to to get a podcast out, but I’ve got all of information written down so I’m going to hit you with all of the great marketing ideas that we saw. I was hoping to get something out really quickly after that, but tragically due to some really, really heavy storms in Chicago I missed my flight back to Melbourne and got to spend a lovely 24 hours at LAX, including sleeping overnight in the airport like an airport hobo. Which was a little bit of a shock to the system, but the good thing was I actually got to get out to LA. I’ve flown into LA and out of LA heaps of times, but

I’ve never actually gone into LA. So, I had, once I got my flights sorted out and rebooked and everything, I had about eight hours to spend in the beautiful city of LA. And so, I went down to Santa Monica which was absolutely beautiful, and the first thing I did, the first thing I knew that I had to do before I left was to go and get an In-N-Out burger, which was great. An In-N-Out burger, so they did a pop up in Australia a few months ago and the queues were massive and I think they were sold out by something ridiculous like 11 o’ clock in the morning. Just because the word of mouth marketing that In-N-Out do is so effective and, so I had the burger. The burger was pretty good. But, you know, I think it’s the way that they tell the story that is really the secret sauce for In-N-Out burger. So, the way that they have inorganic food, the way that they’ve been around for so long. Whatever it is that they do, it’s really successful. The queue was quite long, the queue of vehicles in the carpark was really long, people getting something to do.

But I thought it was just really interesting because, and it’s certainly a cheap burger. Like, price is definitely one of the things that they compete on, from my point of view. It was a pretty cheap meal. The burger was pretty good, it wasn’t awesome. But you could just tell there was a really strong vibe, a really happening place, and so, it was awesome to tick an In-N-Out burger off my list of things that I had to eat. While I was in LA, I was also went to Bubba Gump down in Santa Monica. So, along the pier, Bubba Gump, sort of seafood-y type kind of place with a few other bits and pieces thrown in there. The one thing that I thought was really interesting from Bubba Gump was that they have done a massive job about building a brand in a tourist location. So, next to the Bubba Gump restaurant, there’s actually a little shop selling a truckload of Bubba Gump merchandise. And I thought, “Wow, I wonder what the profit split is for Bubba Gump compared to,” you know, so food and bev versus the, you know, the T-shirts and all of the other paraphernalia that they sell next door. They’ve done a really good job of identifying who their target market is. Now, obviously it’s tourists. And the tourists are going to want something that they can takeaway from their trip.

So, for me, you know, going to Bubba Gump I’m always going to associate Bubba Gump with a trip to LA which, you know, is something exciting. For most people, in a tourist situation, that is their holiday to La or their trip to LA, that is what they can associate with Bubba Gump. So, it’s not really that much about getting a Bubba Gump, it’s the fact that every time they wear that T-shirt, every time they see that T-shirt they’re going to be thinking about their trip to LA. And so, that’s a really great idea, I thought. And it’d just be, yeah, it’d be fascinating to know how much money they make out of their merchandise as opposed to food and bev. Couple of restaurants in Chicago that we visited. So, I was super lucky to have dinner with Eric Cacciatore from Restaurant Unstoppable. So, if you haven’t listened to Eric’s podcast, I’ll include a link in the show notes, have a listen. Eric’s a really smart guy who probably runs the world’s largest restaurant podcast, which is Restaurant Unstoppable. A great podcast, he interviews all of the smart people in the restaurant industry to find out what their secret to success is, the struggles that they’ve gone to. He really has some amazing guests on his podcast, definitely well worth a listen. Eric and I have both interviewed Nick Sorello from Nick’s Pizza and Pub and it was really interesting because I’ve read his book, A Slice of the Pie, and we had a good chat. It was amazing to be able to go there to the restaurant to actually see everything in action, and it was really quite impressive because everything that he talks about it’s there. It was great.

We met Monica there, one of the managers. She gave us the tour of the place. What I’m going to do is I’m actually going to do a separate podcast about our trip there, just because I think it’s really important to delve into some of the things that Nick does there. An Amazing restaurant. Has built an amazing culture, and it’s really, really successful. So, we will talk a bit more about that in an upcoming podcast. The last place that we went to was Au Cheval, a great little restaurant and I think, you know, when we talk about great food, great value, great experience, you know, try and pick two. I think these guys have completely nailed it. So, the first thing that kind of tipped us off that it was going to be pretty interesting was we were with Chef James Clary, the restaurant guru. And he said that this is probably one of the must go to restaurants. So, we got there and a two and a half hour wait. It’s like, “Wow, okay, that’s interesting.”

Because it was probably about 7:30, 8:00 already by the time we got there. And so, we went to a pub across the road and had a few beers, had a few bits and pieces to eat beforehand. Which, just out of interest, I thought, you know, it’s a great way of picking up email addresses for your database. So, I’m wondering if there’s an opportunity there for a free restaurant waiting list. There’s a lot of them out there, they all seem to charge a fair bit. Wouldn’t be that hard to build a waiting list, so that’s one of the things that the team’s sort of looking at. And I think there’s probably some ways that we could probably make it a little bit better for the restaurants. But, by the by, we finally go in there. There was five of us eating, they gave us a table for four. So, I was kind of sitting out on the end and it was quite squishy with the table next to us. The service was okay. But I got to tell you the food there was absolutely amazing. So, we had a bone marrow meal and, you know, there’s something about bone marrow. I hadn’t seen that on a menu before, but it’s one of those things you sort of like, as a kid growing up, you think about, you know, sucking the marrow out of chop. And, you know, sort of like it’s one of those comfort foods that take you back to being a kid. And it was really amazing that the taste of it. There was also a pata dish there that was amazing. And then I had a burger and the burger was, that was a really, really, really good burger. I was super happy with that. And the price was very, very reasonable for the quality of the food. They absolutely nailed it. And I think it was all about the food, it was all about the value, and that’s why they had a two and a half hour wait. Completely amazing.

So, that was super exciting. But what we’re here to talk about today, the NRA show. So, what was it that we learnt? I think the big thing, it’s huge. The NRA show is absolutely massive. There’s a whole heap of people there. One of the halls I didn’t even get to go to. So, there was three, it’s open for four days, I was there for three of them and I didn’t get to see everything. By the time you sit down and talk to the people you want to talk to, you look at the things you want to see, and then you start talking to the people about the things that you didn’t know that you were going to see and all of those sort of exciting things and opportunities that pop up. It’s a huge show and you’ve really got to get your skates on to go out and see everything. The NRA show I think is perfect for someone who is thinking about setting up a restaurant.

A huge opportunity just because of the fact that there’s so many things there that you won’t have thought about, whether it’s about the food that you’re going to be cooking, the way that you’re going to prepare it, the productivity efficiencies that you can get in the kitchen in front of house. All the concepts that you’re going to come up. There’s a whole heap of ideas and I think if you already own a restaurant it’s critical to go there just to be able to keep up to date with what’s going on within the industry. We attended some of the key notes speakers and it was really interesting. You know, the facts and figures that the NRA were sharing about where the industry’s going, the challenges that everyone is facing. You know, particularly around minimum wage. Although, in Australia, it was a little bit interesting because I think in the United States people are looking at a wage cost of around 30 percent of revenue. In Australia, it’s north of 45%. So, that’s an extra 15% of revenue that goes towards wages in Australia, which is why one of the interesting things is that, you know, a lot more restaurants are closing on Sundays and public holidays just because they can’t make any money out of it.

Attending the speakers, the key note speaker, lots of really great ideas, they had Denny Post there, she’s the president of Red Robin. And she was telling the story of the ramen burger. And because when you look at it you kind of think, “You know, wow that’s really interesting but I don’t know if I would eat one of those things.” And she said that the ramen burger has been super successful for them. They don’t sell as many as you would think, but a lot of people go in. It creates that conversation, a lot of people go in, they see the ramen burger and they say, “You know what, I’m just going to order cheeseburger.” But without the ramen burger, they may not have come back. So, it’s about having something new to talk about with your customers, give you that opportunity to provide them with the experience that they’re comfortable with. And I think that that was great example with that. They had a panel discussion with Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible, and John Taffer from Bar Rescue.

And, for me, I thought that was probably one of the best things that I saw at the show. They talked a lot about why they have the approach that they have, because, you know, they seem to be pretty aggressive on both of the TV shows. But they did talk about what it was like. Because I always though that, you know, a little bit of it was stage managed and, you know, they have obviously their script that they sort of go along with. But they gave us the background to some of the stories and some of the people that they’d worked with and I think Robert was talking about the reason that he’s so aggressive is that people have been doing the same thing for so many years. They really need a big shake up to try and get cut through and make a difference about what it is that they’re trying to do in their restaurant. And so, I’m actually going got put together my thoughts about that and we’re going to spend a whole podcast talking about it. Because one of the things that we’ve noticed with Marketing4Restaurants is that, and you know we’ll talk to someone, someone reached out and I talk to our team about, there’s three kinds of restaurant owners.

There’s those who want to grow their restaurant, there’s those who don’t want to grow their restaurant, and those who don’t know that they don’t want to grow their restaurant yet. And I think there’s a big proportion of restaurant owners who realized that they sort of got into the restaurant industry, or they’ve burnt out now, and they’re just waiting for something to happen so that they can get out. Which I think is really sad, you know, particularly for those people who go, who are forced to sell it at a massive loss, they’re left with a mortgage. This is the really sad but stark reality for a lot of restaurant owners. And we see it quite a bit, you know, someone who says, you know, or they decide that they want to do something about it and they leave it too late. We hear that quite a lot. “I don’t have any marketing budget but I need to get more customers in.” And, you know, sometimes if they’re local or if I’m traveling, you know, I’ll drop in and see them. And you think, “You know what, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done here and I don’t think that anyone’s doing that work.” So, I think there’s lots to talk about, just from that point of view about the things that Robert and John brought up.

So, we’ll do another podcast about that, because I’m sure it’ll be pretty interesting. They also had, there was a great presentation from Kimble Musk. So, he started The Kitchen in Boulder, Colorado. Done a really good job linking local farmers with the restaurant. And I think, this is the kind of thing that you want to be thinking about is how can you tell a story. And the story that they tell is, you know, the story of the farmers, the story of the people who produced the goods that they sell. And so, their menu changes on a daily basis, literally based on what it is that they can get from the market and what they can get from their farmers. So, if it’s not available, they’re not going to cook it up, they’re not going to go and source it from somewhere else. Creates a great story to be able to tell and that creates an experience, and where there’s experience there’s margin. So, doing really successfully and he’s now working on creating learning gardens for school children. So, where they actually go and grow some of the produce themselves. And it’s been really an amazing story because he was saying that their test scores go up for the kids who have been through that program.

Now, that’s a really powerful change. And when you associate that with your brand, with your restaurant brand, that is something really powerful and you are going to draw really strong relationships with a group of the market out there who want to be involved with some sort of projects like that. So, I thought that was really exciting, really interesting. Had a good chat with the guys from Grub Hub, you know. So, being in Australia, we know fundamentally how Eat Now slash Menulog work. We know how the guys at Delivery Hero work. And, you know, we’ve got some concerns about the way that is. Grub Hub though, a completely different beast. So, it was really interesting to see how that works. So, offering between 10 to 20% commissions to Grub Hub and the more commission that you pay, the higher up you’ll be in the search results when people are searching on their app. Which is very interesting. But the way that the guy was saying about it, he goes, you know, “But it could be higher.” And I said, “Well, in what circumstance would it be higher?” And he said, “Well, you know, if the market is incredibly competitive, say, in Chicago or New York, you can pay a lot higher.” I asked him, “So, what’s the highest that you’ve ever seen?” And he said, “45%.”

So, there were restaurants out there who are giving 45% of their revenue to Grub Hub. Now, you need to be a really special restaurant I think to be able to cope in that kind of environment. You need to be focused incredibly highly on the efficients that you can get, because you can need to be producing for the lowest cost possible. If 45% of your revenue is going to Grub Hub. I mean, when you think about it, what are food costs in your restaurant? You know, say, between 15 and 25%? Let’s say they’re 25%. If you’re paying wages of 35%, you’re now looking at 60 percent going to Grub Hub, if you’re giving, sorry, that’s 60 percent of your revenue. If you need to pay 45%t to be at the top of Grub Hub, then that’s 105% of your revenue. That’s a 5 percent loss. That is pretty scary. So, you need to be really thinking about your business model to be able to make that work. And I think this is where it really comes in that yes, definitely, use that 45% to acquire new customers, then try and get the customers in on your own booking system to be able to take your own orders, because that’s where you can actually get the customers contact details, be able to have a conversation directly with that customer.

And then, we’re actually able to retain some margin because I would have thought it would be really tough to run a business where your main source of revenue is coming from someone like Grub Hub and they’re charging you 45% for it. Because you got to remember, and this is the thing that I think this is why I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about these systems is that some of those customers will be your local regular customers and you’re still paying 45% for them, or whatever that commission is. I don’t think you should be paying that commission. I think it makes it really hard to run a profitability business. Groupon was there, as well, I was kind of surprised to see them. In Australia, we’ve seen quite a decline in the discount couponing type business model. They had quite a big standout, I don’t know how well they’re going in the United States.

One of the things that we did a while ago at Marketing4Restaurants is because we can see where traffic is coming from we had a little report run that showed us when a customer was running a discount coupon program. Because we used to call it the Groupon death spiral. A restaurant would, they would write, and it wasn’t necessarily Groupon, so it might be one of the others. They would run one of these campaigns and then six weeks later they run another one. And then four weeks later they’d run two with different ones, and then four weeks after that they wouldn’t answer the phone. And you can get that really big injection of cash but it is quite costly to get that injection and it sort of leads you really dependent on being able to grow that. And sometimes it’s just not sustainable to be able to keep going on with it. Now, we do have customers who are using it and are very successful with it. But, you know, these guys are the advances operators. These guys have got a really strong program about how they run their coupon marketing programs. And it works really well for them, but, you know, they would be, I think only about 10% are doing that campaign quite well.

One of the big issues we see is that when you search a restaurant, fi they don’t have a really strong SEO presence on the first page there’ll be details, you know. Groupon campaign or Scoopon or Daily Deals. That will come up in the Google results, which automatically makes people go, “These people are couponing. Maybe it’s not that good, or maybe I should go and see if I can find the details of this coupon.” And then you’re taking someone who was going to pay full price and turning them into a discounted customer. And the other thing, of course, is that these guys have very big email businesses. So, what they want to do is they want to get people to sign up, they get the coupon. Then, next month they can drive that traffic to someone else’s restaurant. So, it’s pretty tough, it is pretty tough to convert them to be a loyal customer. And I know that that’s what a lot of people say, “What we’re going to do is we’re going to convert them to being, you know, a loyal customer here.” You need to have a strong program. And the guys who are doing this successfully, that’s what they do.

The way that they run it is that they’ll, they might give out, you know, 1,000 discounts. Of course, not all of them get redeemed, not all of them get redeemed so there’s a bit of profit there that comes in. What they do is they try and limit it so that, and of course there’s always a bit of argy bargy about what the Ts and Cs are on the offer, you know. Whether these people need to come in early, whether they, it’s the number that can be redeemed on the weekend is limited so that you’re pushing them towards your quite nights. Some of these guys use our restaurant booking system, because that way they guaranteed of capturing the email address. From then what they’ll do is they’ll offer the exact same offer to the customer but through their own system. So, they’ll take the email address that they’ve captured through the booking system then send out the exact same thing. So, if it’s a 50% coupon, they’ll send them a 50% off coupon. But the big thing is that rather than a percentage of the revenue going to Groupon, they’re getting all of that. So, automatically, their margins go up. And they’ll have a conversion rate. So, if they’ve got 1,000 email addresses, they might send that out and 300 might take that up.

So, of that 300, they’ll then offer a lesser coupon, so it might be a quarter off the bill, you know, 25% discount. Or, it may be a free bottle of wine. And some of those customers will take up that offer. And then they’ll send them an email just saying, “You know, we’d like to have you back,” so no coupon. And so, a percentage of customers will then take that up. Now, those ones that will be their fourth visit, they’re probably going to be a regular after that. So, the food is so good, you know, there is something unique about the restaurant that people can’t get in the same area. And that is a way that they’ve turned them into a regular customer. And so, they spend an amount of money to pick up a certain percentage of regular customers. And the interesting this is these guys, they’re really switched on, they know what those numbers are. So, they know what the conversion rate from the first email will be, from the second email and the third email. And they know that they will puck up 30 regular customers if they get a 1,000 people who take up that coupon offer. So, or number similar along those lines. Let’s say, it’s just something to think about, but it was interesting to see them there.

One thing that was pretty exciting at the show was I caught up with the guys from Vittoria. Vittoria is a premium coffee manufacturer and distributor and we had a really interesting discussion about how restaurants can use coffee to differentiate product. Now, for me it was really important for two things. One, I’m quite a fan of an Australian style coffee, nice and strong. A strong flat white. And it was actually pretty hard to get one of those at the show. There was a lot of people who had a free coffee on their stands, the Vitoria guys had by far the best coffee there which was exciting. Because that was my morning routine, to go and get a coffee from the guys and sort of power up for the long, long day of walking around the show. But secondly, just having a, these guys have done a lot of research into, you know, obviously the value add that coffee can make in a restaurant.

And I think it’s, one of the important questions is how many people choose their restaurant based on the coffee that they get? And I know, like, I know that there are some places that I will routinely go back to in various places that I go to, because of the fact that I know that the coffee is really good and it’s one of those things that you can use to increase the chance that someone’s going to come back to your restaurant by having a decent coffee. Now, of course, having coffee also means that you then sort of break into the café part of the market.

Now, this is one of our pet hates is there’s a lot of people who have a restaurant which they call café. I think that that’s really dangerous, because when you see café in the name you’re unlikely to go there for a meal unless you really understand what that restaurant’s about. However, there’s not much stopping a restaurant from offering really good coffee and getting people to pop in at 11:00 in the morning for a quick coffee. So, that’s one of the things that I think is a really big opportunity. Having a look at your coffee offering and making sure that it’s decent, that you’ve got great coffee. Because great coffee can make a big difference. Now, just how much of a difference can that make?

So, I was flying from LA to Sydney to catch a flight from Sydney from Hong Kong to go to Taipei for Computex. I wanted to have a look at some of the technology that’s going to be coming out over the next 12 months. So, I was going to Computechs. Now, I was meant to be heading to Melbourne to have a day to have a couple of meetings and unpack, repack, and have a decent night’s sleep. All of that fell through because of the weather in Chicago. And so, I was in LA and I knew that to adjust to the right time I was going to need to be up until some ungodly hour like 4:00 in the morning or something. And I thought, “You know what, the one thing that’s going to get me through here is a decent coffee.”

So, I actually looked for a Vittoria coffee in LA and, you know what, the Aussie Pie Kitchen stocks Vittoria’s coffee. So, I went there to get a coffee. Now, that was a customer that they would have never got. I was actually looking for that coffee because I needed something really strong to power me through the flight. Great coffee, great pie kitchen as well, doing really successful in LA selling Aussie pies. So, that’s a whole part of that little part of the story about how your product offering, something like coffee, I went there just for the coffee to a pie restaurant and it was awesome. Had a look at a lot of the pos systems. Wow, how many POS systems are there? One of the things, one of the massive trends that I think there is the fact that a lot of people are moving towards cloud-based systems. I think the days of, you know, spending $30,000 or $40,000 on your POS system. They are probably almost over I think. A lot of the cloud systems are very cheap to start up, get up and running. Of course, you’ve got a monthly fee and, of course, the data’s in the cloud. There is a little bit of risk with that, but I think that the really big thing is that your cost for getting set-up with a decent pos system is way, way, way lower than it used to be.

We had a, I had a look at quite a few of them, you know, talked to all of the vendors. Probably the best one I saw was Toast POS, pretty slick. Lots of really good information. The whole reason that you want to put a pos system is to be able to pull decent information our, to be able to turn that into information that you can actually act upon. Which menu items are working, which ones, you know, you tie up your pos system with some decent menu engineering and then you’ve got some really powerful information about the profitability of your restaurant. That’s an important thing that you need to be thinking about.

One of the products that I saw that I thought was really cool was Urban Cultivator. Now, what they do is they have this big sort of cabinet that kind of looks a fridge with a glass door on it. But what it does is it allows you to grow your herbs in there. And I was saying to the guy, “Wow, I don’t know where you’d put this because you kind of, you know, the marketing guy in me wants to put this out the front so that everyone can walk in.” And, you know, everyone talks about their commitment to freshness it’s like, “Well, this is our restaurant garden within the restaurant.” How cool is that? And it looks great, you know, it’s very white, really stark contrast to the green of whatever the herbs are that you’ve put in there. Looks amazing, brightly lit, fantastic presentation. But, of course, you want to be using that in your food because that’s part of the story. So, you know, you want to have it back of house so it’s nice and easy for, you know, the chef to be able to get at it. And, of course, he said, “You know, just buy two or three.” And he said that some restaurants do actually do that. But I think, you know, this is one of the ways that you can use technology now to really communicate what it is that makes you unique. A lot of people say, “You know, we use fresh food.” It’s kind of a motherhood statement. Something like that is a really powerful marketing tool to be able to say, “So, we cook with really fresh food. This is how we get our herbs.”

And on top of that it’s not just about the marketing, your product is going to be so much better then, as well, because of the fact that you’re actually using fresh herbs. It’s going to be there, it’s going to be available, the chefs are going to be able to pull it out literally seconds before it actually goes into the pot. That is going to make a big difference as far as taste goes, and that goes into the story so that you’re telling a story about fresh food which you can back up because of the fact that you’re using the fresh food. And there was lots of things like that that I saw that, you know, regardless of whether you’re family-friendly, there was things that, you know, you can do to make the restaurant appear more family-friendly. You know, whether it’s a cuisine that you’re after, you know, importing sauces from, you know, South America or wherever. There was a whole heap of ideas out there, which is really exciting.

Now, another thing that makes going go the show particularly arduous and difficult is that it’s coupled with the bar show which meant, of course, that you have to go in there and it’s like any other tradeshow. You know, there’s people there and, of course, they want to talk to you about their products, which is, “Would you like to try our premium vodka? Would you like to try our premium bourbon?” And there were 101 craft beers there, which, of course, we all had to try. So, yeah, I hate my job, you can’t tell, can’t you? But it wasn’t just about going out and having a bit of a free drink. I was looking for the things that make for the really interesting story. Because so many restaurants, they have a list of wines that you can try. But how much, my question is how much thought has gone into that? How much profit are they making, and how do they drive people to, you know, to have that extra glass? To buy that higher-margin item? Because I think a lot of restaurants, because of the fact that they’re so focused on the food, the beverage menu tends to get lost a little bit. Which can be a big problem, because it can be a massive source of profitability.

So, some of the things that I saw, there was lots of craft beers there and I thought one of the really, really interesting spins on it was the guys from Smart Brew. And they’ve actually got basically a turnkey microbrewery that you can put in your restaurant. So, you can take your restaurant and then turn it into a microbrewery, which means that you’re producing your own bears. And they’ve got brewery experts who can help you come up with flavourings for your own beers. Now, this automatically clearly differentiates you against all your competitors. An Indian restaurant or a Chinese restaurant, you can now produce a beer that is tailored towards the tastes of the menu that you’ve got, you know. So, Indian food, it might be hot, you might come up with something that’s going to be, you know, really going to compare well with the hot spices of a Vindaloo. You can then do the pairings of your beers. And, of course, the beer you’re producing yourself, so it’s high margin. It’s another way that you can get more people in and be able to sell them more.

So, you’re going to be increasing the number of people that come in. You’re going to increase the number of times that they come to your restaurant. And you’re going to be increasing the amount they spend with you on higher margin items. What an amazing idea that is. So, I’ll put some details of how you can contact the guys from Smart Brew in the show notes. Because, yeah, I was really impressed by it and it makes a lot of sense. I was talking to the guys from Mid Oak Distillery in Illinois. They had, they’ve got a premium vodka which I tried, super smooth, really liked it. But they were kind of struggling, because premium vodka, you know, super smooth vodka, everyone kind of says that they have that.

So, one of the things that they tried was a Torta Bianca, which is a white cream liqueur made from their vodka. And it kind of tastes like a cake, like a cheesecake kind of thing, a really nice distinctive taste. I really liked it. While I was there talking to the guys, there was a lot of people doing the tasting and you could just tell, “Wow, this is really different.” And this has been one of their huge selling items. And like, it’s kind of really easy to see. It’s something a little bit unique, something that’s actually a really cool product. And from a restaurant point of view, how hard would it be to come up with a signature cocktail for, possibly, you know, focused on the ladies. Something that’s nice, easy to drink, sweet. That’s the kind of thing that if you can associate, if you can create something like that, and I don’t think it would be too hard to do a signature cocktail. Isn’t that a great way of getting customers to be repeat customers.

You know, the customers are going to want to come back because that’s the place where they want to have, you know, one or two or maybe three of their favourite cocktail, which is made from that premium recipe. So, a great opportunity there, and there was a lot of spirits like that and I think that’s one of the really exciting things about going to any show like that is that you can be on the lookout for something like that and you got to ask that question. “What is there that I could do to create a signature item, or how would that work in my restaurant?” Wine lists, so there was, I sat in on a seminar on having esoteric varietals in your wine list. So, something a little bit unusual. The benefit of that is it creates a conversation, gives people a reason to come back. And you can then do things like wine pairings, because people they won’t have heard of a lot of these varietals. I hadn’t heard of any of them. Some of them were really amazing. But you can do wine pairings with them. So, you know, “Order this and try this wine.” You might actually get people’s wine choices driving their menu selection from a food point of view, which, of course, you can then structure it so that it’s going to be a high-margin item. Themed wine dinners.

Now, so this is the, and what I’m going to try and do is to get a sommelier on the show to talk to them about how you can start to do these sort of things. But a little bit of education about how to structure a win list could go a long way to increasing your wine sales and, obviously, dropping a significantly larger proportion of those sales down to your bottom line. So, the last thing that I saw which I thought was really interesting. In the sort of tech pavilion, there was a lot of people offering outsourced social media services. And some of them, you know, were quite expensive, you know, $300 a month, you know, $1,000 a month. People who will create social media posts for you and then they’ll monitor, you know, what is said on the various channels of social media. I would have to say, so, you know, putting my hand up as a lot of you know we do social media for some of our restaurants, but that always comes with a caveat of, “Hey, we shouldn’t be doing your social media. I don’t think it is appropriate for us to do social media.” Even though, you know, we’re restaurant marketing experts, that’s all we do.

So, you know, we’re pretty comfortable, we know what works, we know how to execute it will. We’ve got no problems with that but the big thing is that social media is social. It needs to be from either the owner or from someone who fundamentally understands the unique selling proposition of your restaurant and how it is structured, the voice that you want to have. Because social media is about being social. And if you’ve got a very bland social media program, if you’re not really being, if you’re saying what everyone else is saying it’s just going to get lost. It’s going to be very difficult for you to come up with something that is actually going to get good traction on Facebook, that is actually going to get good traction on Instagram.

Or, you know, maybe even something like Snapchat or Twitter. How do you, as a social media outsourcing company, you know, we’re always very hesitant. And sometimes we’ll be like, “You know what I’d love to say here but I’m not going to say that because it could go badly.” You know, it could go badly. As an outsourced social media company that’s the last thing that you want. So, everything’s always bland. And I know, I may have mentioned it before, there was a restaurant in it was either Townsville or Cairns, might have been Townsville I think, and there was the screaming kid and they ended up having a fight with the parents because the kid, there was no parental control. And this is a fine dining institution and the guy said, “You know what, that’s it. I don’t want anyone under five in my restaurant anymore.” And it created a massive backlash and it was covered in news.com.au, you know, which is Australia’s largest news website. You know, “Restaurant says that you can’t bring your kids to his restaurant anymore.” Now, that free publicity was massive. And on top of that, everyone who has been to a fine dining institution before and has had their meal ruined by kids, you know, running around and screaming and all of that said of thing has said, “You know what, that’s the kind of place that I want to go to.”

So, he saw a massive increase in sales. Partially because of the free publicity that he got, and partially because of the fact that people were saying, “That is the kind of fine dining restaurant that I want to go to. One where there aren’t going to be kids running around screaming.” Now, you can’t be everything to everyone, and it’s important to understand that. You need to have a niche that you go after. And the more targeted your niche, the better your marketing will be.

Of course, if your niche is too small then there’s no point of having 100 percent of a market that’s only 20 people dining a month. So, you need to have, you know, potentially multiple niches. But it’s really hard for an outsourced social media company to get their head around that. So, that’s one of the things that I think, you know, you need to be a little bit careful of. If you do have a social media person there, you know, give them some really clear guidance on what it is that you want. You know, talk to them about edginess, you know. What are the things that you’re going to have a bit of an experiment with? What are the things that you’re going to play with? And the thing that worried about me, and I think that you can definitely get that if you get, you know, that person who, you know, is probably a sole operator. Someone who’s super social media-savvy. But with the bigger organizations, I really think that you’re going to struggle to get anything that’s unique. I think you’re going to be posting up about the special. You’ll be posting up a few bits and pieces about food as it comes across the pass, but I don’t think that there’s going to be anything out there that’s really going to resonate with people just because of the fact that it is run of the mill safe kind of things. And run-of-the-mill safe, it just doesn’t work on social media.

So, that was all of the things that we saw from the NRA show. So, lots of fun. We learnt heaps. And, as I said, we’re going to be doing a few more podcasts about some of the, you know, sort of deep dives into the things like, you know, building a restaurant culture, leadership. Quite interesting the cross over between the work that Nick Sorello does and the guys from Bar Rescue and Restaurant Impossible. Leadership is a big issue I think in the restaurant industry, and it’s pretty tough to be able to grow yourself as a leader but it’s one of the things that, you know, I’m pretty passionate about helping people with because it is really important, you know. You’re leading a team; a lot of people depend on you for their livelihood.

So, it’s a really important job and I think it’s one of the things that creates a lot of stress for restaurant owners is the fact that it’s not just about the food. They’re actually required to train, mentor, and lead a team in the restaurant. So, we’re going to cover a lot more of that in some of the upcoming podcasts. So, yeah, I hope you something out of this. Lots of things to think about. Have a look at your local restaurant association, have a look at the shows that are available. I know, some of the, like the ones in Australia they’re free to attend, so you kind of, it’s a bit of madness really if you’re not actually going along and attending and having a talk to some people and thinking, “What is there that I could be doing differently in my restaurant? How could I make an incremental change? What is there in productivity? What is there in product? What is it that’s going to make a better experience for my customers so that I can, you know, increase my margins, increase my revenue, increase the profit that falls to the bottom line?” So that you’ve, you know, you’re getting rewarded appropriately for all of the hard work that you put in. That’s it for me today. So, hope you have a busy night tonight. Bye.

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