Loyalty key to maintaining restaurant traffic

Published on
March 17, 2009

While the foodservice industry is currently suffering in the bleak economy, restaurateurs are optimistic about the future and are implementing loyalty campaigns to get consumers eating out again.

A panel of U.S. restaurant operators, academic officials and others, talked about the industry’s marketing programs and future viability at the “Navigating Restaurant Profitability in the New Economy” event in Orlando, Fla., on Monday. The event was part of the Dean’s Leadership Series, sponsored by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, N.Y.

“As you look across the whole industry, there is a huge, pent-up demand for consumers wanting to go out to eat more than they are,” said Dawn Sweeney, CEO and president of the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C. In NRA’s recent survey, about one-third of consumers nationwide said they want to go to restaurants more frequently.

“People associate [going out to eat] with a higher quality of life and feeling better about themselves,” said Sweeney.

William Fisher, the Darden Eminent Scholar in Restaurant Management at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management agreed. “Research shows that whenever there is a calamity, people want to get together and relate, and get support from each other. It represents an opportunity for the hospitality industry,” said Fisher.

As a result, restaurants can develop marketing campaigns around the message that their eatery is “where our community comes to eat” and where people “can get away from the cares of the world,” suggested Fisher. For those who cannot afford to travel this year, they can take a vacation when they visit their local restaurant, he added. One possible slogan is, “This summer, let us be your vacation station.”

While the restaurant industry faces hard economic times, it also has an opportunity to hire loyal, qualified staff and emphasize relationships with loyal customers.

“The restaurant customer is king right now: they have all kinds of options. A lot of the successful companies right now have already built strong customer loyalty,” said Sweeney.

Stephen Sawitz, an owner and “keeper of the legend” at Joe’s Stone Crab Restaurant in Miami Beach, Fla., is getting ready to implement an affinity card program. Joe’s Stone Crab guests will be able to earn “crab points” toward discounts and rewards every time they visit the restaurant.

“We’re focusing on keeping our core customers coming back,” said Sawitz.

Contributing Editor



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