The first thing I do on vacation after checking-in to my hotel is ask the concierge, “What’s your favorite restaurant in town? Where do you go for a meal out?” I’ve had very few bad experiences dining out after the concierge has given me a list of their favorites. You always trust the locals, right?
But, do the locals trust your restaurant? Because if they don’t, it’s probably the reason why you’re the only joint on the block with available al fresco seating on a Friday night in July.
That’s because marketing to tourists is something of a creative endeavor and involves some hand-shaking. Marketing to locals is more like it. I’ve been thinking about ways your business can attract tourists’ tummies and wallets, especially during peak seasons. I chewed on it awhile and decided it comes down to two main strategies: local and social.
Get Local with your Restaurant Marketing
As Dean Small, founder and managing partner of Laguna Niguel, California–based Synergy Restaurant Consultants, tells QSR Magazine, “If the locals love you, the tourists will flock to you because they want to be part of the local scene.”
Chambers of Commerce and Tourist Bureaus
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) suggests getting to know your local chambers of commerce, economic development boards, and tourist bureaus so you can build relationships with key decision makers and access latest news on laws and tourist trends that affect your traffic. Plus, you’ll meet other Main Street Marketers with whom you might partner to host events and cross-promotions, or just brainstorm together for better business.
Attending and Hosting Events in your Community
Keep your eyes open for upcoming events, including local farmers markets, where you can host a booth or a concession stand or send a mobile unit like french restaurant Chez Pascal’s Hotdog Truck. You’ll see notices in the paper, fliers on the wall, in the church bulletin, or hear about it over the garden fence. If you can’t participate or sponsor as a business, try to attend as a business owner or, better yet, as a volunteer. Find and thank the organizers for a great event and get on their mailing list to help put it together next year.
Speaking of events, you could host your own. Perhaps a Meet-and-Greet at the end of the off-season for returning locals, and early tourists, to get reacquainted with each other and you. If you go in for branded swag–and who doesn’t, right?–and you’ve had seasonal giveaway items printed up, like water bottles or reusable bags, fill them with something yummy from your friendly, local co-sponsors and send them home with the good folks. Marketing to tourists can be fun!
Partner with Local Businesses
As Food Service Warehouse points out, some of your possible cross-marketing allies are more diverse than you might realize, “Partner with charter bus companies, travel agencies, local hotels and event centers. … Some hotels and convention centers will even give visitors a coupon book for local businesses.”
When you have an event or will be at one, tell everybody about it, in real life and on your online channels. Consider ads in the paper. Get the local press involved; offer interviews about the effect on the economy or the community-building objectives of the event. One of the easiest ways to tell your guests is with table-top sign boards. Handwrite the details for a homey touch.
Be Social- with Locals and Tourists
Use all of your customer touch points, in person, at events, on your site, in e-newsletters, on your social media channels, and in your local review sites, to promote and connect. As Food Service Warehouse says, “Since they do not have firsthand knowledge of the region, tourists and out-of-towners are even more likely than the average customer to surf the Internet for a good place to eat.”
Improve your online presence
That means, you should have an up-to-date online presence. Make sure your website has a clean user interface, loads quickly, is mobile-friendly (no Flash!), and gives all the key information–like hours, location, and menus–upfront. Calls to action on your website might be contact forms or links to email, brief sign-ups for email newsletters and incentives, buttons for your Twitter and Facebook pages, and links to review you on Yelp or Google Local.
Ask for contact information
Capture your guests’ contact information when they’re in the store by offering drawings, specials, or regular e-newsletters. Each mailing could share recipes and anecdotes of local color. You could even congratulate big announcements from staff, like weddings and pregnancies, as well as from guests, like milestone anniversaries. Stay in touch with them throughout the year so they know you’re still there and ready to serve when they come back.
If they opt out of receiving special incentives through email or text messages, call them to your Facebook page or Twitter channel. The SBA gives a neat example from North Carolina’s Outer Banks for how to engage customers even during off-peak season. Vacation spots there post videos of the beach during winter. A yoga retreat center in northeastern Pennsylvania tweets quotes from their teachers, publications, and even from their guests, gathered during regular in-house tweet contests. Their Facebook page adds photos of their lush surroundings, gardens, and trails.
Whatever your niche and whatever your channel, just remember how easy it is to be social. Just share compelling content that makes the heart warm and the mouth water, tickles the funny bone or strikes your fancy. They’ll be back for tourist season next year, and they’ll be at your door as soon as they arrive.
Check Review Sites; Are they Keeping Tourists Away?
Online reviews can be rough, and restaurant reputation management can be even harder. So when it starts to get busy and you see a negative review, you might start thinking…does it even matter?
The answer to that is yes – 80% say their trips are strongly influenced by online reviews. However, the impact greatly varies by generation. You know your regulars and people in town must have heard things about your restaurant’s customer service from their friends, but when people are coming from out of town all they have is social media.
How to Drive International Tourists to your Restaurant
Around the country, passports are being stamped and hotels are filling up. Is your restaurant ready for an influx of international visitors? Tourism to the US continues to grow and your restaurant should be ready to service people from all over the globe.
How can you make your restaurant more welcoming to international guests with minimal disruption to your usual service? Consider these small changes that could go a long way.
Create Bilingual menus
Nearly any restaurant in a European city has multiple versions of their menus on hand, but the US has been slow to follow suit. Try and pay attention to who is visiting. If you notice a lot of tourists from a particular country, or region of the world, consider having your menu printed in one or two different languages. If your restaurant is in Honolulu, you may find having menus in Japanese helpful, in Texas that might be Spanish. Pay attention to the visitors you’re having and see if you can help make their experience an easier one.
Hire bilingual staff
It may be impossible to have someone who speaks every language, but if you’re paying attention to the languages you hear, you can consider than when hiring staff. You may get a lot of visitors from Portugal because you have a large immigrant population in your city, advertise for bilingual staff who may be able to communicate with them.
Explain tipping culture
In may parts of the world, tipping isn’t part of the restaurant experience. In some countries tipping may just be leaving the change, and in other parts of the world tipping is considered rude because it’s seen as a bribe. Your server shouldn’t have to pay the price for this unique part of American culture being misunderstood by guests. If you notice an influx in guests who seem confused by tipping, perhaps you can include tipping instructions on the check with percentage suggestion amounts.
Be ready with recommendations
Travelers are here to explore your city and many savvy travelers know that one of the best resources is the people that live there. Encourage your staff to interact and be enthusiastic stewards of your city. Are there nearby shops you can recommend to them, or other restaurants you can point them to for a different experience?
Remember that people traveling, especially for pleasure, are factoring in all their experiences when forming their opinion about your country and your city. Consider yourself an ambassador for your city and country. Be patient with your international guests so they come away thinking that your restaurant was welcoming and friendly, as well as your city. Travelers who find a place they feel comfortable are also likely to come back again during their visit. Make sure your restaurant is the place they’re choosing.
Dining out has changed forever. Does your restaurant have the guest experience today's consumer demands? Learn how to make it unique and worth coming back for.
How Boston Restaurants Appeal to Summer Tourists
Boston is one such city that sees a marked rise in tourism during the summer months. With famed summer retreats like the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard just ferry rides away, and towns like Wellfleet and Essex dubbed as top summer destinations by Frommer’s, Boston benefits as a frequent stop-over stop for tourists on their way to Massachusetts beaches. We checked in with a few Boston area eateries to find out how they cash in on the city’s tourist traffic—and make sure they stand out year round. It turns out good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth is still one of the most important tools in any restaurateur’s arsenal.
“We reach out to hotel concierges, tour guides, and even Uber drivers to get the word out and let out-of-towners know we are the spot to be.” -Andrew Zimmer
Hourly Oyster House
The Hourly Oyster House is a popular spot situated in bustling Harvard Square,whose raw bar brings in college students and local professionals year-round. However, the restaurant sits on side street that doesn’t get as many passersby as the Square’s more heavily trafficked thoroughfares. So owner Patrick Lee decided to hang a large flag boasting an image of a tasty mollusk outside the restaurant.
“Grafton Group has operated restaurants in Harvard Square since 1996, and summer brings lots of families and prospective students to the area. We’ve now got six restaurants in the neighborhood, and we find that while summer tourism drives business for our spots in heavily trafficked areas, it doesn’t have the same impact on our more off-the-beaten-path properties,” says Lee.
“In 2016, we opened the Hourly Oyster House on a charming yet slightly tucked away street in the Square, and we knew we’d need to get creative to signal our presence. Taking a cue from the flags that adorn Harvard’s buildings, we created a large three-by-five-foot flag emblazoned with an oyster. A mascot of sorts, the flag extends from the façade of the building and waves over Dunster Street. Since the restaurant isn’t set up for a front patio, we secured a space for outdoor dining closer to busy Mass. Ave. while still being directly accessible from the restaurant itself. Between the flag and the bustling patio space, anyone who happens to glance down the street from the busy intersections at either end will know exactly what awaits them should they venture over.”
Kings Dining & Entertainment
While Lee’s old-fashioned marketing approach has served his restaurant well, Kings Dining & Entertainment, a bowling and dining destination located in Boston’s Back Bay and well-known to locals, has made use of digital marketing to draw in summer tourists. “As tourists look more and more to their phones for their vacation or travel planning, we restaurant folks have a lot of new and exciting options in the digital space to grab their attention,” says Kings general manager Christopher Barrows. “To name a couple examples, geo-targeted social media ads and featured listings on social review sites—like Yelp and TripAdvisor—and tourism websites can be very effective if well-designed.” That said, Barrows doesn’t discount word-of-mouth press. “Of course, good old-fashioned relationship building and referral programs with hotel concierges, who still act as the trusted voice for many potential out-of-town guests, are also very effective,” he says.
Kenmore Square, home to the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park, is always a popular destination for tourists, but restaurants in the ever-growing neighborhood can find it hard to stand out from the many sports bars and increasingly present high-end restaurants in the area. Meghann Ward, chef/owner of Tapestry, a dual-concept eatery, has also found that building relationships is incredibly important when it comes to bringing in business. “We all make an effort as restaurateurs to get to know our local concierges,” Ward says. “We have sent the gifts and gone to meet them several times, which is a great way to foster relationships. Getting into TripAdvisor is also very important for us.”
Alibi Bar & Lounge
Alibi Bar & Lounge is a well-known nightlife destination for club kids (and club kids at heart), located inside the swanky Liberty Hotel in Beacon Hill. However, unless they were staying at the hotel, many tourists wouldn’t think of Alibi as a must-hit spot. Manager Andrew Zimmer says he also takes advantage of IRL relationships to help build summer buzz. “At Alibi, we reach out to hotel concierges, tour guides, and even Uber drivers to get the word out and let out-of-towners know we are the spot to be.”
Leverage your Cities’ Resources
Cities and towns are recognizing how important small businesses are to their communities and economic development. They are partnering with tourism organizations, community development groups and local business leaders on initiatives that go out of their way to attract, promote and support your business.
So how do you find these citywide initiatives and get involved? Start with local government websites and see how these cities are doing it:
This small Northeast city has a friendly, informative Economic Development website that makes it clear that small business is a priority, stating “Comprehensive assistance is available to businesses at every stage of development and growth, whether just starting up, expanding or relocating to the City.”
The city website also includes tourism, shopping and cultural information that links directly to PortlandMaine.com, the website for Portland’s Downtown District, a not-for-profit organization that “acts as a leader and facilitator in the support and promotion of the economic vitality of downtown Portland and is funded by a tax assessment on properties within the boundaries of the District.”
They’re very hip to social media and blogging in addition to having directories, a mobile app and event listings for tourists. This site is great for small businesses in Portland because they can contribute blog posts, promote events, and participate in other community events listed.
Cities are studying ways to invest better and the City of Providence Department of Art, Culture and Tourism demonstrated a need and put some ambitious plans into action.
A report published in 2007 (available from their website) on the Arts and Economic Prosperity clearly demonstrated the community and economic development benefits of investing in the Arts. Any businesses that sells art or artisan goods can take an active role in city initiatives for growth and investment.
For Providence, this resulted in a campaign called Buy Art, which connects many arts-related small businesses together with a great promotional website and directory, marketing materials, and events.
It’s similar to how a neighborhood association would act, but instead promoting state-wide and regional visibility and results. For this campaign, they went beyond just studio tours and galleries to recognize that pieces of art and artisan goods can be found in a variety of small businesses like Eno Fine Wines, Heir Antiques and Homestyle.
It probably doesn’t occur to many small business owners that don’t deal with selling original artwork, that they could still be somehow involved in local arts initiatives, but the opportunities are there for all kinds of businesses!
A badge on the front page of the city of Philadelphia website brings you directly to the Visit Philly site, created by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, a nonprofit with many board members from the local business community.
In addition to this site, which acts like a guide for out-of-towners, they also have other dynamic partner sites aimed at local residents that focus nearly entirely on small local businesses and happenings.
Philly Homegrown (a partner site) features suggested food tours, profiles for local restaurants, bars, cafes, cheese shops, breweries – anything and everything local food-related. They also do special profiles on the “makers”, which is a fantastic opportunity for customers to get to know the stories and personalities of some of their local food business owners!
Again, getting acquainted with organizations and their blogs and online resources is tremendously beneficial for small businesses. Check out Louisiana’s official “Culinary Trails” resource for another example of opportunities for small businesses to get on the good side of their communities.
Discovering regional initiatives similar to this isn’t just a way to get listed on a pretty fabulous blog or website, but is also immensely valuable to your local marketing, online networks and opportunities to collaborate in your community.
Check out Upserve’s Restaurant Customer Service Handbook!