Episode 6 – Restaurant Marketing Lessons from San Francisco

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We look at Restaurant Marketing from the customers perspective as we go in search of great restaurants with great marketing to help you better understand how customers are looking for places to eat.  This episode covers our last trip to San Francisco, where we some some great marketing and eat at some great Restaurants.  More importantly, we look at some restaurants that we didn’t visit.  You rarely find out why a customer didn’t come in, but in this episode we discover some of the things that can make a customer go else where.

Links to resources mentioned in this Podcast

Qantas – Selecting meals before you fly to increase customer service and decrease wastage.

Harrow – Great little restaurant with a Happy Hour special that got us in and a well thought out menu.

Sabella & Torre – A destination seafood restaurant with great value crab rolls!

4505 Meats at the Farmers Market.  The Best Damn Cheeseburger.  Naming your meals is an important part of Menu Engineering.


Podcast transcript of Episode 6 – Restaurant Marketing Lessons from San Francisco


James Eling: Hey, it’s James from Marketing4Restaurants and welcome to Secret Sauce, the restaurant marketing podcast episode six. Marketing lessons learned from San Francisco, part one.

James: So, in February, I was lucky enough to go to San Francisco. I was actually over there to tie up a deal with Stripe, an online payment gateway for our free restaurant online ordering system. So, I took the time to travel around San Francisco. It’s about the fourth time I’ve been to San Fran. Beautiful city. Love it. There’s some great restaurants there. What I want to do in today’s podcast is I want to give you a tourist’s eye view of how someone goes looking for a restaurant. How is the decision made about, “Where am I going to eat for lunch? Where am I going to go out for dinner?” when you’re a tourist in a city that you don’t really know too well.

I want to give you the insights about what works well, and there’s a couple of places that I didn’t go to specifically because they made some mistakes in their marketing. Either the brand promise was off or the place didn’t look good, presentation, the things that they did to stop me from walking in. So, lots of different scenarios. I want to go through the places that I went to. Remember, if there’s a restaurant that I didn’t go to, it was probably because they weren’t in the mix and it might be because of SEO, not great Facebook, not great PR, all of those sort of things. So, hopefully everyone will get some ideas about how they can increase the number of tourist type customers coming into your restaurant. There was a couple of rules that I had. Because it’s the fourth time that I went there, I didn’t want to go back to any restaurant that I’d previously been to.

So, that meant no NY China, no Wayfair Tavern. How good is the chef’s table at Wayfair Tavern? That is awesome. I literally had to go and find somewhere new to eat for every meal. I didn’t want to eat at a restaurant in the hotel. Basically, looking for a new place every day. And we’re going to go through the decision-making process that led to use to go to those restaurants. So, some of the tools that I used, I used Eater, Thrillist, San Fran Chronicle, a lot of them had some good lists online. So, we’re going to go through individually probably about 10, 15 restaurants that I ate at, why I ate there, or why I didn’t eat there. But before we get off there, I want to talk about one interesting lesson that I learnt, not strictly from a restaurant but it does involve food. That is Qantas. I flew into LA from Melbourne. I was lucky enough to get a points upgrade to business class, which was completely awesome. I was really surprised. It’s so comfortable working in business class, it was the first time I’d flown Melbourne to LA, business class. I think it was the most productive marketing session I’ve had this year so far.

There was no internet, there were no interruptions. I didn’t need to get up out of my seat. I could just sit there smashing away at my laptop, coming up with great marketing ideas. The idea that I’d had in the Qantas Club while I was having a few quiet drinks, was it’d be great if we sent out an idea every day to people. So, then I thought, “You know what, we could go 365 days. We could send out a tip.” That was basically how I came up with the idea for the 5-minute-A-Day Restaurant Marketing MBA, which is what we are planning on doing. So, we just released a five minute a day restaurant marketing MBA where you can sign up and every day we’ll send you out a tip, a trick, some sort of idea, strategy, tactic, or maybe just a bit of inspiration to help you find new customers, turn them into repeat customers, increase revenue, increase profit, and hopefully work a few less hours in your restaurant. So, I found out that I’d got the upgrade 24 hours before the flight.

So, I logged onto the Qantas website and this is the bit that I thought was really a clever marketing strategy. You can select your meal. Now, when you think about it, Qantas runs a restaurant in the sky, which makes it really hard because they can’t just run down to the butcher to get some more meat. They can’t run down to the supermarket to get more vegetables. They take off with everything that they need. So, obviously, there’s going to be a lot of wastage because they say to people, “What do you want? Do you want the beef? Do you want the chicken? Do you want the vegetarian offering?” Now, obviously, they’ll have some averages, but it still creates a bit of wastage. One of the things that I noticed was that you can pre-order. So, you can tell them what meal you want on the flight. And I’ve never really bothered with that. I’ve always been flying economy.

Literally, it just didn’t peak my interest. This time it did, I was excited about flying business class. I went in there and I saw something that I thought was really clever. They’ve got an online order only option, which is Sichuan chilli calamari. There’s a great description there with it, how it numbs your lips, created by their executive chef. It sounded really exciting. That’s what I selected. And the marketing tip that I think was really clever about that is if you want someone to do something, you should offer an incentive. Now, they want you to pre-order, it’s going to cut down wastage for them so they want you to pre-order. The clever thing that they’ve done is they’ve made a pre-order only meal. I thought it was the best one there, it was definitely the most exciting one.

So, if you want people to engage with you on Facebook, do you have a Facebook only offer? I’m not talking about a discount. Everyone rushes to discounts. What about a menu item that’s not on the menu? Is there a special pie that you can do? Is there a special entrée that you can do? Is there a special cocktail that you can do? I think it’s good if there’s something that comes out, ideally some sort of flambé or something, something that’s very dramatic because people are going to say, “I didn’t see that on the menu.” “No, no, that’s our Facebook only special. Follow us on Facebook and you’ll find out about those.” Do you want people to give you their email address? What do you offer them in return? It doesn’t have to be about discounting. It could be about some sort of value ad. When someone gives you that email, that’s worth something. So, you’re going to increase the value that you get out of that if you offer something in return.

So, I thought a really clever marketing tactic and awesome execution with great calamari. So, flew into LAX, from LA into San Fran. The other thing about the business class upgrade is I suffer pretty badly from jetlag, this is the first time that I didn’t suffer from jetlag. Checked into the hotel, sorted out my mobile phone card sim and then I did a little bit of shopping, and thought, “You know what, I’m getting a little bit hungry and I’m starting to get a little bit tired.” Which was perfect because it was about six o’ clock at night. This was the first opportunity I had to actually start looking for a restaurant to go and have a meal. I’m standing on a street corner with my cell phone out. I’m on my cell phone and I’m searching not from Google but Google Maps.

The search I used was ‘happy hour San Fran’. Up comes a map with a whole heap of restaurants that have got a happy hour. You know, happy hours are one of the things I think San Francisco is a town that does extremely well. A lot of restaurants in Australia could do a lot better with happy hour. So, I looked at a few places. It was interesting because some places didn’t have great websites, you couldn’t actually tell what food there was. I found a place that was probably about three blocks away from where I was staying and that was Harrow. Had a look at their website. The website was optimized for mobile and they had butter milk fried chicken. I thought, “You know what, perfect. That’s exactly what I would like.” So, I walked a couple of blocks to get there, went in there, had a look at the happy hour menu, and they had Icelandic beer. I’ve never had Icelandic beer before, how awesome is that? So, that was very exciting. I thought, “This is perfect.” The whole night, the whole meal, it started off really well because I thought, “Wow, what a find. Icelandic beer.” So, I had the Icelandic beer. You know what, it was beer, it was Icelandic. But it was exciting, it wasn’t just your normal run of the mill beer. It was something that’s a little bit out there, really adds to the experience.

My fried chicken came out and it was really good fried chicken, beautiful. Crispy on the outside, super tender and moist on the inside, beautiful. The one thing I think that they did that was just fantastic to amp it up just to that next level was they made their own sauces. One of them came out and it’s a habanero sauce. I like hot food, I really love hot food. This habanero sauce, it was beautiful. I didn’t think it was too hot, other people probably would think it was too hot. For me, it was perfect. Added a good sized to the chicken, went beautifully with my beer. Yeah, it was really the perfect meal. I loved it, I thought it was a fantastic experience. Not too expensive. One thing, and I did actually talk to them about this, there was no dessert menu. I was really impressed with it. Just a small little restaurant. And the menu was super simple. There weren’t that many items on it. I think that’s really good, because it gives the kitchen the real opportunity to pick the things that they’re going to be able to cook really well.

You go to some places and there’s 200 menu items. It’s like, “I don’t really know what these guys want to cook for me.” At Harrow, I’m pretty sure that each one of those, a lot of care and attention has gone into each one of those items. So, I thought that was really good. But I wanted to continue the journey. I wanted to stay for dessert, but they didn’t have dessert. So, that’d be awesome if they did and I’m sure that they would be really, really spectacular. Now, the other thing was, happy hour, it was a dollar off. I think the beers went from $6 to $5. I think that that’s really important, as well. These guys didn’t cut their throats on a happy hour bargain. It was literally a dollar off. I was looking for happy hour. So, if they didn’t have a happy hour, I wouldn’t have gone in there. Literally, they shaved $1 off the beer. I think there was a happy hour appetizer, I can’t remember what it was. But they haven’t discounted relentlessly. They were playing in a market, the happy hour market for SEO.

Most importantly, Google Places, because that means that they show up on Google Maps. Mobile optimized website, because if I couldn’t find the menu on the website I wouldn’t have found out about butter milk fried chicken and I wouldn’t have gone there. So, Google Places, found it. The menu sold me on it. And the kitchen was able to deliver on it. If I lived in that area, that would be my regular restaurant without a doubt. I really liked it. Great food, great experience, and really reasonably well priced. So, that was it. I headed off to bed feeling fairly tired after, I think it was about 30 hours of travel all up – it felt like it – and had a great night’s sleep. And I was really happy because one restaurant down a great restaurant experience. So, that was the kind of think that I was really after. Next up, the next day I started doing some research on where to start going. A couple of ideas were starting to come up.

One thing that I found was really interesting was places that didn’t have a website. You know what, I get that, “We don’t need a website,” that’s completely fine. But if you do that, I don’t think that you should be doing Groupon marketing, because that means that the first thing that comes up when people Google your restaurant’s name is Groupon’s page where you’ve got 50 percent off vouchers. What message does that tell you? I know that there’s some really successful restaurants out there that do a really roaring trade with Groupon vouchers. But if the first result in Google is a Groupon 50 percent off, it’s not a great first impression and I didn’t go to any of the ones that were like that. I think I went to a couple of places that do do Groupon marketing. Because, done well, it can work really well. But yeah, no website. The benefit of the doubt is just, “It’s probably better off to leave this restaurant rather than to go in there.” I did see that quite a bit. I’ve got to tell you about the one time that I did break my rule of not going to somewhere that I’d been before, that was down at Fisherman’s Wharf.

The crab roll from Sabella & La Torre, it’s probably one of my favourite cheap eats in the world. Literally, I don’t think you can go to San Francisco without going down there. I haven’t been in the restaurant, it’s always out the front, standing there, crab roll, Anchor Steam beer in hand. I don’t think it really gets much better than that. Literally, it’s because I think they have got a ridiculously good product. It tastes really, really good and the value – I can’t remember how much it is, $6 or $8 – but just full of flavour, a great meal. Now, I was actually, it’s taken me a long time to get this podcast out, I was actually there for the Super Bowl. I’d been doing some work in my hotel and I thought, “You know what, I’m going to catch the last half of the Super Bowl and I’ll have dinner at the same time.” So, I was looking for a restaurant or bar. I was kind of looking for an American type experience, being the typical tourist. I was looking for chicken wings or, I don’t know, something.

I did a bit of a Google search, couldn’t really find anything. So, I thought, “You know what, I’m just going to have to walk and find something. It was interesting because there were some places that you walked into, of more often, walked past and just had a look in. They were really quiet and unappealing and there was no one in there apart from staff watching the game. I thought, “You know what, that’s probably not where I want to be.” I wanted to find a place that was nearly full, bit of atmosphere, bit of excitement. I found a couple that were full, so obviously, going there after half time I probably left my run too late. So, I kept on walking. Literally took me about half an hour to find a place and it was actually on Columbus, an Italian restaurant. Wasn’t my first choice, and it was actually pretty quiet, not my first choice either.

So, why did I go in there? I think it’s really important, one of those things… I don’t think a lot of people were thinking Italian food for the Super Bowl, because there was a few restaurants that were pretty quiet along there, but I could see. So, they’ve got big windows and I could see the bit screen TV in there. There was two or three people in there watching the game, and probably three or four people from front of house. But the big thing was a friendly guy came out and he said, “Are you hungry.” It was like, “Yeah, yeah I’m just wondering what I would like to eat.” I asked a few questions, he answered. Of course, I think he offered me a free beer. There was some sort of incentive to come in. I thought, “You know what, if I keep walking I’m going to miss the entire match, is I better actually… You know what, I’m going to go for it.” I think they had an eggplant parmesan which was really nice. There was me, a couple of other people, and there was a couple up at the bar. We watched the game for the last probably 45 minutes. Had a great time. Eggplant parmesan was fantastic. But I thought it was really interesting because I wasn’t thinking Italian and I was looking for a place with a lot of atmosphere. I was kind of running out of options, but it was the fact that someone came out with a smile.

I was actually really impressed because I wanted to talk to him a little bit about restaurant marketing. He just said, “I’ll get someone.” It was only after that I realized he doesn’t speak English at all. Obviously, all of his English is focused around menu items and beer and being able to get people to come into the restaurant. Because when I actually started to talk to him about things outside of that, his English was not very good at all. But someone at the door, friendly, answer any questions about the menu, offer an incentive, because I was close to walking away. And I think one of the things that’s really important to realize is that most people want to avoid a confrontation. So, it’s always that little bit harder to say, “You know… nah. I don’t want to eat here.” That’s a little bit of rejection, and most people are decent people. He was warm, he was friendly, and look, they did have some food. I probably would have walked away if there wasn’t anything on the menu that I didn’t want to eat. But hey, eggplant parmesan always a fan of, yeah. That was a really good experience and I had a great Super Bowl, so I was excited about that. Now, next one was 4505 Meats. This is a really interesting brand. They’re butchers.

They’ve got a barbecue restaurant, as well, which I would have loved to have gone to. I didn’t actually get there. I just never actually got the time to get out there. What I did do though, was I was able to go down to their farmers market. And I’d been doing some research, these guys have done a really good job of their PR, because they did appear all over the place. A lot of Best of Meat type restaurants, there was a fair bit of buzz about 4505. The thing that I loved about it was the Best Damn Cheeseburger. So, I went to the farmers market and sought them out. Quite a bit of competition, those guys were really busy though. They had a maple type offering, as well, maple syrup and bacon, which I’m always a fan of. I thought, “I’m going to go for the Best Damn Cheeseburger.” Not my usual breakfast, having a cheeseburger, but it was a really, really nice burger. Lots of flavour in there, lots of very tender, very moist, yeah, a beautiful burger. I think when you look at what it is that they do, butcher, restaurant, farmers market, great little bit of brand extension, great little bit of cross-promotion.

Because you can go to the barbecue, or you can go to the farmers market, love the product, and then you can go and buy the meat. You can go and buy the meat and have a go at cooking it yourself. So, obviously, their restaurant does the marketing for the butchers and the butchers, obviously, they’re going to have their own customers. So, they’ll be pushing the customers into the restaurant or the farmers market. Great little strategy to find more customers, and I think particularly when it’s associated with great execution, works out really well. And, you know what, it was a pretty damn good cheeseburger. I was really happy with it at the end when I’d finished it. So, as I said, I was in San Francisco to meet up with the guys from Stripe. One of the things that we have in Australia is that a lot of the online ordering companies for takeouts, they can take two weeks or more to send the payments through, and I just think that that’s crazy.

A lot of restaurants have cash flow issues, and having to cook food up one night and then wait 14 days to get paid for it I think is crazy. So, we wanted to talk to Stripe about, for our online ordering system which we’re offering for free because we don’t think you should pay to take orders on your own website. If you’re interested, check that out, it’s on the website. We call it FROLO, free restaurant online ordering. So, I went out to see the guys at Stripe, and as I was walking along I saw an A-frame. I think A-frames are a really good idea, because they give you five seconds to cut through. They give you five seconds. A lot of people they’ve got their head down, they’re walking along. I was looking for a coffee. This was a little café and it had, “Word of the day: simulacrum.” Which is a likeness of a person or something. Anyway, I probably haven’t even said it right. But I thought, “Wow, I kind of know what that is but that’s really interesting.” So, I went in there and said, “So, what is it?” The girl actually didn’t know, she said, “I didn’t do it, I normally do it but I didn’t do it today.” She looked it up on Google which I could have done, but I was already in there and I bought a coffee. I said to her, “How many people come in and ask you that?” She said, “We have lots. Lots and lots and lots every day.” I just thought, “What a nice little way of…” You know, people often put their specials up there, their discount. I think it’s great to have the dish of the day, something out there that’s going to pique a bit of interest, or something like this.

Try and engage with people, this is what marketing’s all about, engage with people. I looked at that and thought, “Wow, that’s awesome.” Obviously, it’s working for them – and it’s a really small café. They probably wouldn’t be needing to get too many extra people in there to make it worthwhile. Next thing I want to talk about is, so, I was staying at the Handlery Hotel. Quite a nice hotel. Stayed there before, just off Union Square. If you listen carefully you can year the bells of the cable cars as they go along Union Square. So, I looked at a lot of restaurant websites. I looked at lots of lists of restaurants. I’ve got a few things that I wanted to eat. One of those things is a delicacy that I didn’t actually go looking for in San Francisco because it’s not an American delicacy, but it’s on my list of things that I want to try. I won’t tell you what it is, you’ll probably be able to work out which restaurant it was.

When I came back to Australia, I saw an ad in AdWords for this restaurant, and I thought, “Wow, that’s kind of interesting. They’re obviously doing location-based marketing through AdWords. So, I was Interested literally because it’s like, “Wow, I’m back in Australia now and I’m seeing an ad.” So, obviously, they’ve lagged that, which probably isn’t ideal because even if the restaurant was completely awesome, it’s going to be a little while before I go back there because I’ve actually flown out of the United States. I had a look at the restaurant, I had never heard of it. They were two blocks from where I was. I’m 100 percent certain I had walked past there. I’m 100 percent certain I’d walked past there probably three, if not more, times. They had on their menu an item that I would have gone to just to have that menu item, but I’d never heard of them, I’d never seen them and this is the problem. When you’re talking about attracting walk-ins, they’d done nothing to do that. I don’t know what the store front looks like, I don’t know why I walked past. But I did. I certainly never say their menu, because I would have looked at it and gone, “Wow, that’s awesome, I’m going to go and eat there, because that is cool.” I think that that’s the really big point of this is that all of the searches that I did, most of them were on a map because I was walking to a lot of places, although I did have a Muni card.

The Muni seven-day pass, is it? How awesome is that thing? I did catch a few buses out and about. But yeah, I would have walked past there three times. It would have been an easy opportunity for me to go and have a lunch or a dinner there without a doubt. Because of this menu item, I would have gone there without a doubt. And they actually, when you search for that menu item in San Francisco, they’re in the top three. But all of their other SEO I think has obviously fallen off Google’s radar for whatever reason, because I would have looked on it. All of the restaurants that came up on the Google Map – and I suspected it’s because they don’t have a Google Places set up or it’s set up incorrectly, something along those lines. But yeah, that was a customer that they definitely missed out of because I would have gone there had I known about it. And the thing that’s scary about that is that if you do do AdWords advertising, and it can be a bit expensive depending on how much competition there is and I think there’s quite a bit in San Francisco, if your SEO’s not great then it makes the AdWords spend actually a lot higher.

We’ll talk about AdWords advertising in a future podcast and the three things that you really nail to decrease the cost that you have to pay for each click. But yeah, there’s something obviously awry with their marketing, which is a shame because I would have loved to have eaten there. Alright, so, we’ve covered quite a few things today. We’ll cut it short here, because we will go through part two where we’ve got some more awesome restaurants that we want to talk about and some more really clever marketing ideas. As well as that, some problems that some restaurants had with their marketing. I think it’s just important to go through those, as well, because you might be committing one of those mistakes. I think that that’s a really, really big drama. And I can’t stress this enough, SEO. If your SEO’s not doing well, then you’re not going to know all of the people who aren’t finding you and going to some other restaurant. It is the silent killer, poor SEO.

All of the restaurants that I didn’t look at, all of the restaurants, they’re the ones with poor restaurant SEO. So, it’s really important to have a good think about how much traffic you get from Google. Because that traffic is search traffic, that’s an indication of how good your SEO is. Even more importantly, make sure your website’s mobile optimized. So, Google’s making a lot of changes to make sure that it only sends traffic to mobile optimized websites for people who are on a mobile. I did nearly three quarters of my searching on my phone. So, make sure that your website’s mobile optimized. So, that’s it. I hope there was some little nuggets in there that could help you, hopefully inspire you to do a little bit better with your marketing.

Some awesome restaurants out there, it all comes down to great food, great value, great experiences, and I certainly found those in San Francisco. But more importantly, how many restaurants were there that deliver up on all those three things, and it’s hard to do all three of them, that people have never heard of? You don’t want to have the best restaurant that no one’s ever heard of. So, the next podcast will be basic email marketing for your restaurant. So, we talked about a lot of ways of building your database, now we’re going to talk about the main thing that you can do with your database. That’s to send out some emails. We’re going to go through some emails that we’ve sent out and we’ll also cover off on how to know what is working with your audience, because every restaurant’s got a different audience. So, you need some different tactics to get the best results you possibly can.

So, yeah, I hope you got something out of today’s podcast, love you to leave an honest review on iTunes, I read them all. Just trying to make this the best podcast on restaurant marketing that there is. So, if you’ve got any feedback, that’d be great to let us know on iTunes. Have a look at the show notes, they’re on the website marketingforrestaurants.com. Got lots of photos up there of what we saw and what we ate. Please share the show notes, we’re all about helping restaurant owners just like you increase revenue, increase profits, and hopefully work a few less hours in your restaurant. If you’ve got any questions, hit us up on [email protected], or ask the question on Facebook. Really keen to answer some of those for you. What do you need help with? What are you struggling with?

Or, even better, what’s your restaurant marketing tactic that you’ve used to find new customers and turn them into repeat customers? Lastly, check out the 5-minute-A-Day Restaurant Marketing MBA. So, what we’re going to do is every day for 365 days, we’re going to send you out an email with a strategy, a tactic, an idea, a tip, a trick, or just even a little bit of inspiration to help you with your restaurant marketing. That’s what we’re really passionate about doing. It’s completely free, and we’re aiming for literally no more than five sentences, “This is an idea. This is why it’s an important. Here’s an example of it in use.” Pretty simple and we’re sure that everyone’s going to get some value out of it. There’s 365 ideas out there, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something in there that will help you. So, that’s it. Hopefully you’ll have a busy day. Bye.

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