Tangoo Talks Episode 4: Restaurant Marketing in the Fall & Winter
Tangoo Talks is run by the restaurant community for the community and revolves around successful restaurateurs serving up expert advice on how to make your restaurant more popular. Episode Four focused on what marketing channels are delivering the highest value and how they can be pointed towards initiatives that are meant for fall and winter. We linked up a panel of all-star restaurant industry professionals to speak about how they leverage marketing to solve their problems and connect with today’s digitally connected customers. Our esteemed panellists included: Melissa Tolentino, Social Media Strategist at Hapa Izakaya and AntiSocial Solutions; Emma Shaw, Marketing Manager at Blueprint Entertainment; and Karri Schuermans, Principal at Chambar Restaurant.
To kick off the night, the CEO’s of Tangoo and Ready App presented Trend Reports on the online and technology worlds.
Panel Learnings & Takeaways:
- How a restaurant’s unique brand adds to the overall customer experience
- How off-site events become a major focus when restaurants shift gears from summer to autumn
- How digital ads and proven ROI channels are overtaking marketing budgets
- How restaurants are using digital mediums to overcome their staffing problem
What makes you unique in terms of customer experience? And how do you contribute to the community, in terms of making it better for everyone?
Melissa: For Hapa Izakaya, the most unique part of the restaurant is that we’ve taken the “Izakaya” part from Japan to Vancouver. Izakaya is like an after work kind of bar where you can share tapas, drink sake, and hang out with your coworkers. We brought it to Vancouver and glammed it up a little bit. In the beginning of the Hapa years, 13 years ago, we had very traditional Japanese people working there. Now, we’ve hired people from all cultures and taught them basic Japanese. We yell things all the time. When you order a drink, they’ll yell it out to everyone right afterwards. It’s a good experience.
For community wise, Hapa likes to get involved in a lot of charity work. We donate gift cards to different charities and communities. We are very picky with the organizations we choose – just because they have to be on brand as well. We give to a lot of Japanese organizations, and a lot of other charities that we really believe in.
Karri: It’s probably in terms of external and internal for the business. Internally, we do a lot of things in terms of mentorship – people can move up and develop and scale up; we try to mentor people who are the shining stars and to really believe in them and see them through. There are nine restaurants (these include Juke Chicken, L’Abattoir, Save on Meats, Bao Bei to name some) in Vancouver that have opened up that are former employees of ours that we’ve tried to support in some way – going over business plans and passing them over, etc.
For charity work, how do you say “no” when someone is asking for money for a great cause? It’s really hard to say no. But we really started evaluating because we were so overwhelmed and bombarded with requests. For example, “Can I have a $500 gift card for my child’s kindergarten fundraiser class at Collingwood?” You know, I can’t say yes to that – we had to really start evaluating and looking at our personal values. And we named our values and only would take cases that really aligned with this criteria. We found a foundation that was doing all of that that we agreed with – every two years we do a 24-hour fundraiser where everyone works for 24 hours. It was a sh*t show, but we raised $80,000. And its built a keep facility that has helped deforestation, and farmers that can’t earn enough based on the climate, now can be trained in other fields – for example, bees keeping. And they’re now supplying honey to supermarkets all over their areas. It’s been an amazing project. We wanted to see 100% going to the cause too with no administration fees, which is great. I do a lot of charity work outside of Chambar too.
Emma: What I think make our bars unique is balancing that big events brand (night clubs and music festivals) to these smaller community bars. We want small community bars that are authentic and not carbon copies of each other. We had our brand, we had our mission statement, but we really wanted the neighborhood to shape us. The way that we did that – for example, when we opened Colony bar, you go to Colony in Kits and Colony in Main Street. They are the same place but they have different vibes to them. We listen to our neighborhood and listen to what people want. For example, Kits we have a lot more student/UBC events, and Main we are close to the breweries so we are a lot more craft beer focused. Our slogan for all of our bars are, “Keep good company,” so that’s how we try to guide everything. We want people to feel like they’re at home when they’re with us. Casual community bars and just being able to be with people who they feel comfortable with.
How are things evolving as you shift from summer to autumn in the restaurant?
Emma: To touch a bit about what I was saying before, it depends on who is your target market is and how things would shift for them. For example, in Kits we have a big student base so I’m looking at their winter example schedule. I’m not going to put a big event when they’re deep in the middle of exams. Of course with the holiday season coming too, and sports season, all of these things are huge season markers. Season change is pretty clear.
Melissa: For Hapa, when fall hits, we go heavy on off-site events. We are a part of so many different catering organizations. We do a lot of collaboration with the Vancouver Aquarium and Ocean Wise. That keeps us super busy September to January. There’s Toast to Coast next month, which is pretty big, it’s probably our most important event. Once it gets colder, walk-ins are less and less. So this really helps with our promotions too. We like to push event bookings and holiday parties. We like to send out newsletters and boost our Facebook posts at this time.
Karri: This is definitely a heads down time. It’s all about food. It’s the harvest season and the time wine is made. We spend a lot of time with our suppliers at this time of year. We have a forager who only brings us these crazy things from the forest and we work with what he gives us and work our menu around it. This is the most exciting time of year in terms of menu changes. We just really connect to the food now. Also, we’re almost fully booked for holiday parties already.
How are you allocating a monthly budget (print to digital ratio)? And what channels are you investing in? Are you getting ROI and how are you measuring ROI?
Melissa: When I took over Hapa Izakaya’s marketing, we were doing some print ads but it was really hard to measure the reach and engagement. I focused the entire budget on digital, and stopped almost all the print, unless it was print for the Japanese community. Facebook and Intagram are both really great. We like to always be up-to-date on the apps and the trends that are going on. A good thing we like to do, because we have such a big following on Facebook, but we get more engagement on Instagram, we like to A/B test. Try different campaigns on different platforms. Say, a little bit of ad campaigns and a series of posts. We are giving things out, asking users to tag their friends, offering them things.
Karri: We had an unfortunate loss of our Facebook page; it just disappeared. I geared up and had all these campaigns and videos and had nowhere to put them. Our website was pretty crappy at the time. I got left behind with the technology of social media. So instead of going to social media, I went the complete other way. I did this archeological food workshop in Italy. Flowers were grounded, and there’s this ninety-year-old man who has made cheese his entire life. I was like okay – this is connection. The rest of this is useless. But it’s a necessity to business. So how do I make this meaningful? How much of this is real? Okay, we got all of these likes. But how does it translate into sales? So I built this forecasting tool, and now before I do anything, I test it to see if it will translate into sales. It’s about creating real nice, tactile things. Meaningful content. Something that people will care about. It’s more about a mix of creating video and meaningful content. Not like, we do this, and we do this. But we are ABOUT this. And making sure to show them value. You need to keep bringing back too though, engaging with people and keeping the loop going, not just constantly putting it out.
Emma: I’d say that I shifted about 80 percent of our advertising to digital. In reality, we don’t have a big budget to play with. Digital is cheaper on average, and the ROI is a lot clearer. For Facebook for example, the cheapest and most effective marketing – the targeting is uncanny. Also with Facebook ads, $50 can take you a long way. Twitter is still valuable for me in terms of real time stuff.
Staffing is a really difficult thing – are you developing some of your staff? Are you helping your staff with marketing and empowering them to learn more about social media? And/or are you putting up a Facebook ad about hiring? How are you using technology and Internet to recruit and retain – if you are at all?
Emma: We definitely use social media to recruit; especially since Blueprint is such a large company, we have hiring fairs and use social media to get the word out there. In terms of retaining, I think that’s just where good old-fashioned people skills really come in. People like to feel valued, people liked to feel like they’re going somewhere. Having one-on-one check-ins. I don’t deal as much with the operations side with staff, but I know this is what we do and the best way to do it and keep staff. You can have all the really fancy implications for hiring and promoting, but I think it’s about making people feel valued and making sure their values are aligned with yours.
Melissa: I agree, and for Hapa Izakaya we use digital for hiring. It’s so hard to find good people and keep them once they’re trained. It narrows it down to one of our marketing pillars, which is internal staff lifestyle. We will be posting a lot about that. Everyone who works at Hapa is a tight knit crew; they all hang out outside of work together, some live together, some travel together, so we actually use a lot of UGC (user-generated content), because it’s a personal touch to the brand. The people that we usually hire are actually friends of friends. Sometimes our digital ads don’t work well as we get random people who don’t align with us. Referrals are usually what works best.
Karri: I’d say building culture is definitely the biggest attribute. It was an unexpected challenge from having a staff of 65 grow to 150. It’s definitely been a challenge to communicate and let people know, as things are changing so quickly. We have different wine, seasonal items, events, etc. things that are constantly changing and moving all the time. Everything used to just be word of mouth as it was such a tight little family. The culture thing is really important – promoting that. We used to always be hiring friends of friends, but moving to the new location required us to not be in the business operationally as much as we did before. We had to hire a General Manager. But when you hand over operations to somebody, you need to let them do it their way and lead their way. And it was devastating. We lost a lot of good people. We had someone who did leadership differently than us. So we had to re-evaluate. We have a bunch of tools now, like a character assessment tool. Similar to Myers-Briggs – but way better. Skills can be learnt, but character cannot. What’s the cost of recruitment versus training? We’re hiring the right characters now, and we’re teaching the skills.
Emma: It’s really just kind of a mentality and vibe that we carry throughout. We don’t really have a specific outlined mentorship program. But our turnover rate at Blueprint as a hospitality venue and at the head office is actually very low. So it shows we’re doing something right. We just hire people that really care about Vancouver and the arts and entertainment industry here. And we also take a lot of feedback from our employees.
Tangoo Talks Episode 4 had an awesome panel that shared some fantastic ways to maximize on different marketing channels and tactics during that tricky transition from summer to fall and winter. Meanwhile, still making sure you are aligned with your unique customer experience and fostering lasting patron relationships.