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Appetizing picture of burger and fries

Menu change can be daunting.


But using LTOs (limited time offers) can provide a culinary playground for adding innovation without the commitment. Successfully executing an LTO offers a potential sales lift of as much as 20%, and can bring back old customers while enticing new ones.


LTOs are an opportunity to offer your customers a new experience while giving your operation a great testing ground and increasing your marketing opportunities.


So, how do you make LTOs work for you?

Start with Purpose

First ask yourself why you are you adding an LTO. If you don’t know what you want from it—new customers, increased check size, acceptance of bolder flavours on the full menu—how will you know it was successful?


Shalit Foods Business Development Chef Kira Smith reminds us that to be successful, “You really have to do LTOs mindfully.” The seasoned chef, who works directly with operators to integrate new and engaging ingredients and menu items, understands the formula to win big.


Smith remembers a Mini Cheesecake Dessert Parfait a casual chain in Western Canada used as an LTO that was so tasty it moved from temporary to the permanent menu. Why did it work? “It fit with consumer interest, was easy to execute, was within their back-of-house capabilities…and was profitable,” she notes.


“There’s no point in doing an LTO if you can’t do it well,” Smith stresses. “And it must be profitable. Because what if it is successful? If it can't be done profitably don't add it.”


Plan and Execute

“For an LTO to be successful, an operation must plan in advance,” notes Kyla Touri, corporate chef, Canada, for Unilever Food Solutions. “Operators must also be attuned to trending menu items, product/ingredient availability, and, most importantly, maintaining their brand image.”


Push at the boundaries acceptable to your customers’ preferences by experimenting with bold flavours or new cuisines. Change doesn’t have to be crazy. Start smaller and work up to bigger flavour experiences. 


There is more than just the food to consider. LTOs also offer important marketing possibilities. Think of them as conversation starters: at the table or counter, online, via social media, and business to business. Plus they’re an opportunity to increase engagement with your customers and employees. Ensure the message about your LTO is clear and consistent across all your communication channels. 


Expect to increase the pantry list, add to the skillset and push the kitchen’s ability to execute the LTO. Your entire team needs in on the plan to ensure consistency without compromising the existing full menu.


Get the Timing Right

The frequency with which you implement LTOs will depend on your operation. However, at a minimum, Tuori suggests, “Every season. This timing gives an opportunity to plan properly and execute.”


Customers are programmed to search for change seasonally. So a seasonal LTO naturally allows for use of local and seasonal ingredients that might be too expensive to use on a full menu.


LTOs need a defined end date. “There is power in scarcity,” says Kira Smith. Use your customers’ fear of missing out to your advantage and time your LTO. It doesn't mean you can't make it a permanent addition – adding an LTO to the full menu gives you yet another conversation starter.


Talk and Listen, Measure Results

As you wipe your brow and flop in a dining chair on the final day of your wildly successful LTO, remember you aren’t finished yet. Due diligence is necessary. Was all the extra work worth it?


Talk with your customers and your front and back of house employees. They will have something to say. Listen and learn from their observations. “If you are communicating about your LTO, which you should be, you have to follow up,” Smith advises. Listen to the praise (and criticism) and respond.


Consider using a social media survey to ask your customers for their feedback. Offering a gift card to your restaurant will sweeten the incentive for them to volunteer useful comments – and come back for another meal.


Finally, return to the original purpose of your LTO. Did it meet your criteria? If not, what didn’t work? How would you do it differently next time? If you did meet your goals, pat yourself on the back and then start planning the next one. And if you won BIG going off menu, you might need to change your old menu after all. Now are you ready for the playground?


A seasonal LTO naturally allows for use of local and seasonal ingredients that might be too expensive to use on a full menu.


Top tips to roll out a successful LTO

  • Give your LTO ample planning time as you may need to source new ingredients, plan for menu changes, and pay for advertising.
  • Consider using customer comment cards, then focus on providing something new that people want.
  • Utilize social media and your restaurant’s email marketing as a tool to promote your limited time offer.
  • Keep it simple. LTOs don’t need to be complicated; the easier they are to describe, promote and sell, the better.


Article by Cherie Thompson


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Hand holding phone and taking picture of their food

As long as you post on social media, whether it be Twitter, Instagram or Facebook or a combination of any channels then you’re good, right?


Not necessarily! Posting is a great start, but engaging your followers is how you create strong brand awareness, encourage repeat visits from loyal customers, and attract new guests to your establishment.


What is social media engagement anyway?

It’s not about interacting with every single customer. It is about building relationships with your customers over time, much like we do offline.


Social media is where people connect, relate and learn from each other and businesses alike.


How can you increase your social media engagement and promote?

There are hundreds of ways to grow your business using your social channels; we're sharing ten that you can implement today.


1. Post frequently, when your followers are most active

Check the analytics of each of your social accounts (a helpful explanation by Twitter on how to check your analytics) to learn when your followers are most active, their basic demographics and more. You can do this for the major social platforms. 


You'll discover valuable data that can help shape your posts to your target audience in terms of content, timing, and type of post (video, photo, etc.).


Social media is like a plant, you have to keep "watering" it (with content) to grow your audience and increase engagement. The more accurately you can do this, the better it'll be for business.


Sweet & Sticky Inc. posted this soup suggestion at 3:34 PM, right around the time their followers are wondering what to make for dinner. 


Posting a delicious entrée photo at a similar time will help convince your followers to skip making dinner altogether and go out to eat at your restaurant instead.


Example of a social media post showcasing a bowl of soup


2. Invite followers to join the conversation

One of of the best ways to drive engagement is to ask your following a question.

Conversion shouldn't always be the goal of your social channels. Engagement in itself is just as important; your followers are a community, and people enjoy sharing stories and offer thoughts and opinions.


Here are a few things you can do to get the conversation started:


Pose a question alongside a photo, or just as a post on its own

  • "Local or organic? Why?"
  • "We're serving up our homemade macaroni and cheese this chilly Friday afternoon. What is your favourite winter comfort food?"
  • "It's the first day of summer! How are you celebrating today?"

Ask for photo shares ("Asparagus season is here! Show us how you’re cooking Ontario asparagus at your house.")

Use Twitter Polls to collect some insight, or use it just for fun

  • "Which of these two menu items would you prefer to see as part of our Canada Day special?"
  • "Help us settle this debate once and for all: is a hot dog considered a sandwich?"

Sapsucker asked their Instagram followers how they're celebrating the long weekend as the caption to a beautiful photo of their Sapsucker Lemonade (with a recipe, too!):


Social media post sample with refreshing lemonade


3. Show appreciation

Social media is a two-way interaction, not just a one-sided conversation. 


If you're looking to increase foot traffic to your restaurant and strengthen (or maintain) the relationship you have with your customers, showing your customer appreciation on social media is a effective way to reach a wider audience above and beyond the four walls of your operation.


Here are a few ways to let your customers know that you're grateful for their business:

  • Reply to a customer who posts a photo of your product - Use “@” to reach more of their followers
  • Give a shout out to customers celebrating an event at your restaurant (with their permission, of course). Maybe you have a group celebrating a milestone birthday or a company holiday party; ask for a group photo and share the celebration; they'll be likely to share it on their own pages
  • Please and thank you go a long way; if a customer expresses how much they enjoyed a meal, say thanks!
  • Offer an exclusive deal to followers of a certain social network

Vancouver Island Salt Co. gave their Twitter followers the chance to win a branded hat and their smoked sea salt product by asking them to post a specific photo on Father's Day:

Social media example by Vancouver Island Salt with a picture of a hat (free giveaway)

Bay Meats Butcher Shop offered this exclusive deal to followers of their Facebook page:

Example of a social media post offering a limited time deal


4. Stay connected, stay current

Whether it’s around the globe, an industry event, or holiday, people love to get in the spirit and be involved.


At the Restaurants Canada show in February, Henry's Tempeh shared a post with photos of their booth and the products they had sampled (which we tried—delicious!). They tagged Restaurants Canada and let followers know to stop by if they happened to be walking the show.



5. Acknowledge mentions, questions, and yes, complaints

Whether you have a few thousand followers or a few hundred, each follower likes to feel as though they have a voice and can contribute in some way.


If one of your customers has taken the time to express a thought, good or bad, reply with a personalized message. It lets your customers know you care.


Acknowledge any complaints as soon as possible with an apology and offer to sort out the issue offline ("Message us your contact information and we'll be in touch with a solution to resolve this issue.")


When we promoted 1847 Stone Milling products on Twitter as a supplier of the Flanagan Market, they responded to the post with their thanks:


Social media example of saying thank you to someone who mentions you in their post


6. Promote your partners

Some ideas about giving your partners some recognition:

  • Post about a great time you had hosting an event together
  • Share with your customers how your partners have influenced or impacted your business
  • Thank them for their contributions

Here's an example of Rootham Gourmet Preserves sending thanks to their partner Barrie's Asparagus on Facebook, while also promoting their seasonal Asparagus Smokey Antipasto and Honey Garlic BBQ products:



Social media example post where one business helps promote a partners business


7. Use hashtags to connect

Hashtags are used to index a specific topic on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Clicking a hashtag brings up a collection of all posts with that hashtag. You can now even follow hashtags within an Instagram account.


Try the following:

  • Create your own signature, branded hashtag
  • Use existing hashtags that relate to your business on whichever social platform you're using (#OntarioFood #OntarioProduce #TorontoFood)

Top Shelf Collection's use of hashtags during Game 6 of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs put them right in the centre of the conversation, reaching not only their followers but a like-minded community of hot-sauce-loving hockey fans:


Example of social media post using hashtags to connect with audience



8. Post the good things happening in your community

Raise awareness about causes your restaurant is passionate about (it's also great to see the faces and personalities behind the scenes of your establishment!)


Share photos of your staff participating in events. It connects you to your customers and is a way to promote your brand's reputation as giving and a contributor to the community.


We proudly shared our experience volunteering for Habitat for Humanity in 2018 and 2017 on our social channels (you can find that blog post here):

Example of a social media post where business uses social media to promote community involvement



9. Ask for feedback

Test a new product idea and ask what your followers think. If you can't decide on something, let your followers choose!


Pose the question using Twitter Polls, ask followers to answer in Instagram comments on a post, or in the comments of a Facebook post.


10. Host a "Chat with [Your Business Name Here]" session

This is an exciting method of generating engagement, especially on Twitter. Post and tell followers that for 15 minutes, they can ask you anything and you will reply.



It helps people connect with you on a more personal level and encourages a high level of engagement from your followers. It's fun to participate in real-time.

Try hosting a live video on Instagram and engage with your followers who are "tuned in."


If you have suggestions about growing your business using social media, we'd love to get your feedback—share your thoughts in the comments below.


This blog post was originally created and published by Local Line. Vendors listed in this post can all be found on the Flanagan Market, though their delivery cities may vary; not all suppliers on Flanagan Market deliver Ontario-wide. If you have any questions, contact


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Fine dining lamb dish


For many restaurants, February 14 is the busiest day of the year.


From high school sweethearts looking for as much of an impression as can be made with limited income to older couples who have gone to the same restaurant every year for the past several decades’ worth of Valentine’s Days, it’s a day for couples to go out and enjoy each other’s company.


“One of the big things with Valentine’s Day is that people usually go out to treat themselves and each other,” says Jackie Oakes, Marketing Manager at Flanagan Foodservice.


Most restaurants put in a bit of extra effort to attract customers for Valentine’s Day, and customers in turn recognize this and are more likely to revisit a restaurant that made them feel special.


Oakes says that the effort should start from the moment the customer walks in the door. “As customers arrive, have the hostess greet them with a glass of wine,” she says. “Have flowers or candles on the table to help set the atmosphere.”


When it comes to food, many restaurants already provide special Valentine’s Day menus, and with good reason. Couples are looking to make the dinner special—not only compared to what they regularly eat at home, but compared to what they’d normally eat at a restaurant. Spending a bit more than usual is common, and restaurants can take advantage of this by offering some more gourmet options, knowing that their patrons will be interested.


“It’s a very common day for indulgence,” notes Oakes. “Think outside the box and change it up with some variety.”


Surf-and-turf combos are a popular option with Valentine’s Day diners, though there’s still plenty of room for variety. Oakes suggests that only offering one combination of seafood and steak isn’t enough, as it doesn’t take into account the differences between your guests' eating habits.


“Guests enjoy a variety of different meats,” she says. “Some may have the tenderloin steak, versus others who'd prefer a rib-eye. Proportionately, you can get a five-ounce tenderloin. Five ounces of beef is a lot. But when you put it next to a five-ounce lobster tail, that’s 10 ounces right there. That’s a lot of protein. Some will likely eat the 10-ounce or 14-ounce rib-eye plus the five-ounce lobster tail. For others, that’s just too much.”


At the end of the night, most Valentine’s Day diners will be looking for a little something sweet—even if they normally wouldn’t be. And more often than not, they’ll also be looking to share.


“Consider a special dessert menu for two,” says Oakes. “A very popular trend right now is mini-desserts. They’re a perfect solution for someone looking for a sweet treat to finish off their meal. They’re attractively priced, and customers enjoy sampling two or three different desserts.”


Even those customers who might opt to skip dessert could likely be tempted by a specialty coffee.


Beyond the menu, Oakes says that with Valentine’s Day competition fiercer than ever, restaurants can stand out from the pack by partnering with local businesses to offer holiday packages (think spas and theatres), providing strong advertising on outdoor signage and social media, and maybe even running the menu for a couple extra days on either side of February 14th.


“It’s one of the busiest days for restaurateurs and some people will shy away from the crowds,” she says. “Extending your Valentine’s menu for a weekend or a couple of days prior to the actual holiday can bring more people into your establishment. Make sure you get the word out. Draw as much attention to it as possible.”


Above all, though, it’s important for restaurants to remember that while they’re expecting the busiest night of the year, their customers are expecting the exact opposite.


For most Valentine’s Day diners, the night represents one of the few times all year when they can get away from the normal hassles of everyday life. Childcare has been arranged, other commitments have been set aside, and most couples are simply looking forward to a nice, slow-paced evening of enjoying spending uninterrupted time with their significant other.


The last thing they want is to feel is like they’re being rushed through dinner so that the restaurant can make more money by putting a second couple at their table. If that happens, it’s a sure bet that they won’t be back the following year—and neither will anybody they talk to about it.

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Colourful biodegradable straws in a row


A compostable straw option, biodegradable straws oxo-biodegrade rapidly after disposal and will subsequently oxo-biodegrade with no harmful residues. When discarded in soil in the presence of microorganisms, moisture, and oxygen, the straws will achieve 60% oxo-biodegradation, decomposing into simple materials found in nature within 20 to 24 months.³


It’s estimated that Canadians use more than 50 million plastic straws every day (typically for only a few minutes).¹ These straws then live in landfills and in the earth’s oceans for hundreds of years.


More than 330,000 pieces of plastic waste were picked off of 2,800 kilometers of Canada’s shoreline in 2017, including more than 15,000 straws.² Sea birds, fish, and sea turtles are among the three marine animals hurt most by the discarding of plastic straws. Because straws are relatively small, it’s not likely that they are properly recycled once consumed. In fact, 91% of plastic within Canada is not recycled.¹


Canadians are becoming more conscious of the single-use plastic problem, and some operators have taken a stand and banned plastic straws altogether (like The Last Straw initiative on April 21, 2018 by Last Straw Canada).


Though it is possible to completely evade the use of straws within a foodservice establishment, it may not be that simple or feasible. Consider a more mindful approach and shift the perspective of your customers, too.


An alternative to completely banning the use of straws—and reducing the environmental impact of single-use non-degradable plastic products—is the use of Stone Straw’s biodegradable straw products.


Promote the use of your biodegradable straws as an alternative to single-use plastic. Be not only on-trend (or ahead of the curve), but positively perceived as an environmentally-conscious operation.


Advertise Your Biodegradable Straws

1. Website

Feature your decision somewhere easily visible on the hub of your digital presence; your website.

Some restaurants have a lightbox pop up within seconds that describes the harmful effects of plastic on our planet, and their decision to use biodegradable straws as a way to reduce their plastic footprint.


2. Social Media

Spread the word on your social media accounts and maybe consider creating a clever hashtag for your initiative.


Run a social media contest for customers who post a picture of their biodegradable straw beverage; participants can be entered in a draw to win a gift card to your restaurant. The photos spread your restaurant’s name across guests’ own social channels and starts a positive conversation at the same time.


3. Table Tents

Educate guests as soon as they’re seated.


4. Wait Staff

When taking beverage orders, have your wait staff ask guests which straw they’d prefer. Coupled with your table tent and any other promotion customers may have seen, it could help them make a conscious decision to choose biodegradable.


¹, Last Straw Canada
², 'Banning Plastic Straws'
³ As described in American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) D5988


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Hand holding a smartphone with the Twitter app visible onscreen


Don’t restaurateurs have enough on their plates?


From faltering economies to fickle diners seeking new food trends and tastes, restaurant owners and operators have enough to juggle without adding something called social media to the list. But it might be “because of social media” rather than “despite social media” that restaurateurs could see improvements to their bottom line.


Given the right set of circumstances and proper applications, social networking phenomena like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram drive traffic to your website and generate leads.


Let's review how these top 3 major social media platforms can be used effectively to build your brand awareness, connect with customers, and ultimately increase your bottom line:



With roughly 126 million daily users (as of October 2019), Twitter is the most popular and powerful social networking and microblogging service.


A cost-effective method of lead generation, Twitter is a great way to engage and connect. Follow industry leaders, customers, and small businesses within your community to build some local connections and network within your industry.


Twitter by the numbers:

  • 81% of users say Twitter impacts their purchasing decisions more than television
  • 23% of Internet users are on Twitter
  • 72% of brand followers are likely to buy in the future


Tweets with images see 18% more clicks, 89% more likes, and 5X overall engagement

Set up your Twitter profile with a profile photo of your logo, an eye-catching header that shows off your restaurant, your website URL, and an informative bio.


Initiate conversations and use Twitter as a platform to communicate. Yes, it's a great way to be self-promotional, showcasing daily specials and your products and services, but the primary (and most successful) purpose of Twitter is to connect.


Post a balance of promotional and engaging content to build trust and establish a good reputation of your restaurant and brand.


Examples of engaging Tweets:

  • Behind-the-scenes photos and candid shots of your staff
  • Simple, fun questions that your followers can answer quickly (using the Twitter Polls feature is great for this; offer creative multiple-choice options to a question such as "Do you want Sandra, our junior chef, to dance to 'Billie Jean' or 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go?'")
  • Ask for input on new menu items
  • Periodically post random tips your followers may find helpful (including numbers to your tips add interest; "#YourRestaurantTip 46: _____")
  • Post fun videos of your restaurant or menu items
  • Celebrate various food days with a Tweet such as, "Happy #InternationalPizzaDay! Celebrate with our seasonal Prawn & Pesto Pizza" (don't forget a delicious photo!)
  • Offer sneak peeks into new recipes, menus, or locations
  • Respond to tags, mentions and questions



Older by a few years, Facebook currently has 1.89 billion (!) daily active users as of October 2019. It defines itself as a “social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study and live around them.”


Just like Twitter, make sure your account has a quality header, shining "About" section, and contact information.


While Tweets have a lifespan of 20 minutes—allowing you to post quite frequently—Facebook posts last around 6 hours. (Instagram and LinkedIn posts last approximately 24 hours.) Though 6 hours does not seem like a very long time, posting more than once a day may clutter the News Feeds of your followers. Limit posts to once per day, or 4 to 5 times per week.


Facebook, like other social media sites, costs exactly $0 to sign up and use the platform. However, spending $20 or $30 per paid advertisement is an extremely cost-effective and targeted way to reach a wider audience. Even without paid ads, Facebook is a great tool to generate leads; share content that links to a reservation form on your website (direct lead) or share a link to a blog post or page on your website with a call-to-action at the bottom (indirect lead).


Lead-generating Facebook content ideas:

  • Simply send followers to a reservation form on your website with a post that has a functioning link, a compelling image, and a clear call-to-action such as "Reserve a table now!"
  • Fun videos to promote offers or events (video posts have 135% greater organic reach than photo posts)
  • Facebook Live videos of behind-the-scenes in your kitchen or when testing a recipe; these videos are meant to be a little bit "scrappy" and informal, so they're less time consuming than traditional marketing videos; people comment 10X more on Facebook Live videos than regular videos


Piggy-back other accounts

Another particularly effective Facebook strategy is “piggy-backing” on other websites. As a bar and grill, for instance, you might present live music regularly and feature bands that have their own websites. Link to these bands' Facebook pages or create a post that lets your followers know the band is setting up for a weekend gig. You'll generate increased awareness of and traffic to your restaurant. Apply the same idea if you're a restaurant that caters—be sure to link to various aspects of the wedding industry and venues around the winter holidays.



If you've yet to set yourself up on Instagram, you'll want to match your username to your other branded social profiles for discoverability (if possible). Make sure your bio is filled out completely, and match your (logo) profile picture to your other profiles as well.


Instagram, like Twitter, is a great platform to gain insight into what your customers are saying and posting about your restaurant. The best way to check this out on Instagram is to share a photo of your restaurant and tag your location; once it's posted, you can click the link above your photo that will then bring up all other photos shared at the location.


Instagram by the numbers:

  • The average price tag for a sale referred from Instagram is $65 (compared to $55 for Facebook and $46 for Twitter)
  • More than half of all millennials are active on Instagram every day
  • Sushi, steak and pizza are the most popular food photos on Instagram
  • 90% of Instagram users are under 35
  • Engagement with brands on Instagram is 10X higher than Facebook and 84X higher than Twitter


Instagram is an entirely visual platform. Ensure that whatever you post has a consistent look and feel. Not sure what the subject matter of your photos should be?


Instagram photo ideas:

  • Photos that have nothing to do with your products or restaurant; instead they convey the feeling behind your brand—for example, photos of your community or staff out celebrating a coworker's birthday
  • Customer photos they've shared of themselves at your establishment (with their permission, of course)
  • #ThrowbackThursday photos from memory lane; old logos, previous décor, or your very first burger
  • Profile an employee; let your followers meet your fantastic waitstaff and chef(s)
  • Photos from an event that was held at your restaurant


Though you may not experience an immediate increase in restaurant visits by promoting on social media, it's about creating and maintaining a relationship with your customers over time to see long-term benefits.


Use social media as another strong touchpoint for customers to interact with (and be exposed to) your brand outside of your four walls.


Sources: HubSpot Marketing Blog; Hootsuite Media Social Blog, Shopify Blog.


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Restauranteur on an iPad

Our world is increasingly becoming one of convenience.

With access to so much information at our fingertips and the ability to have consumer products shipped directly to you same-day, today’s consumers want what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and it’s no different when it comes to their meals.

It’s more than simply being on the right apps. Your customers’ online ordering experience will include all elements and actions from their initial search to their last bite of food.


It’s time to get on board with food ordering apps

Technology has made a huge impact on the behaviour of your customers and how they choose to enjoy their meals.


50% of Canadians now use their smartphone to order food and drinks. Having a presence on third-party delivery apps like Skip the Dishes or UberEats it’s not only convenient to your existing customers, it’s advertisement to potential customers who are debating where they should choose to eat.


The apps themselves make it easy for you, too. Long gone are the days of complicated software platforms that are more hassle to use than they are worth. These apps present easy-to-use interfaces and make the process smooth and simple to receive your orders, coordinate delivery times and accept payment.



Is your menu on ordering apps and your website up to date? The biggest let down for a consumer is to discover that the food they want to order isn’t actually available. SkipTheDishes and UberEats make it as easy as possible to update menu items within seconds and as often as necessary. It’s important to note that though your menu should be up to date on third party sites, your entire menu doesn’t have to be included.

Choose a few easy and portable menu items—like sandwiches, soups or salads—and feature those as delivery options to still benefit from the brand exposure on the platform and additional revenue stream.


Delivery charges

These are determined by you. Yes, you do want to make sure that you are covering your costs, but you also need to think strategically about these. If someone can order something similar from multiple restaurants, their determining factors are going to come down to final cost and delivery time. Remember, today’s consumers don’t have the same level of loyalty as previous generations and will easily switch to somewhere new if it means a more enjoyable experience.


Delivery time

Skip the Dishes and UberEats allow you to set your own prep time and easily control the pace of your kitchen. You can adjust prep times whenever you need, such as at peak times or on days when you are down staff. UberEats will also adjust it automatically based on order volumes, time of day, and order size. Ensure you stick to the determined delivery times as closely as possible. You don’t want a customer to be waiting longer than expected for their food to arrive, nor do you want their food to arrive cold because it was prepared too early.



Don’t underestimate the art of good packaging! No one wants to have their order delivered only to find that something has leaked out of its container, or that food has gone cold and soggy. Your food is travelling a journey to get to its destination that could easily include bumps in the road and big swerves. Proper packaging is key to ensuring that your establishment’s eating experience transfers to the home, as this is a reflection of your brand and your commitment to your diners’ whole experience.


Maintain a strong digital presence

Don’t forget—your online presence goes far beyond the ordering apps themselves. Consumers are looking to a whole host of digital mediums when deciding where to order their food, whether they’re eating on or off-site. Making food decisions is usually an ‘in-the-moment’ choice with over half of all dinner decisions being made day-of. Having a strong online presence is imperative to being selected when consumers are doing their last minute (and hungry) searching.

Things to consider to ensure a seamless digital experience for your customers:


A responsive website

That is, one that will adjust in size to display nicely on a mobile phone without users needing to zoom in and out. This should include easy navigation to view the menu and contact information, specifically address and hours of operation. Think about using the website from your customers’ point of view and try to get them to the important information in as few clicks (or taps) as possible.


Social media accounts

Social media continues to have a huge influence over people’s food choices and having an engaging social presence is vital to staying competitive and promoting your brand. Check out these tips to help you in best leveraging your accounts.

Well-developed Google business page


This is the first thing that will appear when someone Googles your restaurant name (Approximately 75% of all internet searches are conducted through Google). It contains information on your location, phone number, hours of operation, and user submitted reviews and photos. Ensure that this information is up-to-date and complete with pictures and information that you want to be showing. Remember, this is free advertising in a high traffic place!


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Flanagan Foodservice Our Ontario


Since the influential book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating was published in 2009, the idea of local food has been studied, refined, argued over and embraced. Whatever might be said about local food and the shapes it can take, the concept remains popular and has wide consumer appeal.


“This is not a trend. Local is here to stay,” says Phil Amaral, Territory Manager at Flanagan Foodservice, in defining local.


“The idea of local does have to do with geographic range, but a lot of it also has to do with being a small operation and a smaller business practice with options that aren’t often offered by larger operations. It can be something within a 20 mile radius or a 100 mile radius. It could be all of Ontario.”


Flanagan's local food program

Flanagan Foodservice Our Ontario logoFollowing the Foodland Ontario definitions for Ontario food, Flanagan Foodservice has more than 650 local products currently listed as part of its Our Ontario local food program–from produce, dairy products and cheese, eggs and potatoes to proteins including poultry, beef and pork.


Flanagan’s local beef products are sourced from fifty Ontario farmers, and produce comes from Bayshore Vegetable Shippers, a cooperative that represents more than one hundred local growers.


Amaral notes that Flanagan Foodservice features artisanal cheese makers such as Woolwich Dairy. “They make some excellent cheeses, and are about 80 kilometers away from our distribution centre. It’s that kind of tie in that a traditional broadline distributor wouldn’t bring in. The smaller producers offer unique products that we like to be able to share.”


During the summer months especially, when fresh produce is abundant, Amaral says that he thinks of Ontario first and Canada second when it comes to local. His family background gave him a good sense of local food grown and produced in his community. “It’s how I got interested in food, how I was moulded, and the natural way I think about food,” Amaral says.


Economics, health and the stories behind the food

Eventually, his work as a chef in the restaurant business told him the importance of the movement. “I firmly believe in real food, food that has a story behind it. You know the farm family and perhaps your kids went to school with their kids. It’s that kind of connection that ties things together. It makes sense,” he says.


Economically, it makes sense too. Supporting a local community and its producers and keeping money in the area is a hallmark of local, says Amaral. “And then there is the health aspect. We all know it’s often better for us than something that is picked half ripe from half way across the world and brought here.”


Local can boost operator revenue

The step to more local ingredients is a small one but perhaps unfamiliar, according to Amaral. He states realistically that the decision can be a positive one when incorporated thoughtfully into a restaurant’s food purchases. “It’s challenging at first, especially when costs are involved and it’s easy to go cheaper with a product from Texas,” he says.


However, once customers see the effort a restaurant has made in choosing local, the pay back can begin—but with informing and promoting.


“Push it. Talk about it. Be proud of it,” Amaral says. “Make sure that there is signage and list the names of the local farms that you are dealing with. Train your staff to understand local and be able to talk about it.”


The current interest in local continues to increase among features that many, many diners look for when making a restaurant choice. They want quality products more than ever; they want to know about the livestock, the feed they are getting and producers’ stewardship of the land. “More customers are asking these questions about local. They’ll support the businesses that are putting in the effort to offer more local ingredients and foods on their menus.”


Finally, Amaral’s experience tells him that passion is what motivates smaller producers and why they care. “That passion can translate into a restaurant and its menu,” he says of the stories about producing local food. “Often, there is not a lot of money to be made for small, local producers. But there is pride that drives their business. These producers believe in their food and they want to improve and get better each day.”


5 reasons to buy local

Fresh and nutritious: Shorter travel distances can mean fresher and more nutritious food.
Community oriented: Local farmers have families in the community.


Environmental sustainability: Local farms help preserve land, water, natural resources.
Selection: Heritage varieties, non-GMO, natural, organic choices.


Boosts local economies: Farmers get more money for their food so they can grow and thrive.


Learn more about Flanagan's local proogram


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Loaves of bread with chalkboard sign

When running a restaurant, you can have the best food, the lowest prices and the most courteous staff, and still not find people coming through your doors as often as you’d like.


That’s due to one final missing ingredient:

No matter how good a restaurant is, great food and great staff mean nothing if nobody realizes your restaurant truly is a great place to eat.


Taste, price and service can go a long way to building a strong reputation, but the puzzle doesn’t fully come together without a bit of marketing, advertising, or any of the related activities best described as branding.


“It’s important for a restaurant to understand what their brand is. It’s probably one of the most important things for them to do,” says Flanagan Foodservice Marketing Manager Jackie Oakes.


Branding is key

Think about any restaurant you know. What comes to mind? The fast-food chain that operates like clockwork and gets your food to you right away, at a good price? The local diner that pairs large portions with affordable prices and a family-friendly atmosphere? The Italian place that clearly makes every dish from scratch and wants you to enjoy every last bite?


None of those reputations were created by accident. Indeed, they’re all products of concerted efforts –combinations of decorating, menu design, advertising, marketing and other conscious efforts to define what sets those restaurants apart from dozens or hundreds of competitors.


What brings customers in and brings them back again and again is the first thing any restaurateur should consider in order to achieve success, Oakes says.


“What happens with a lot of restaurants is that they’re trying to focus on building a restaurant by looking at the cost of goods, as opposed to servicing the customer. If I’m going to build a brand of a restaurant, I’m absolutely going to be cost-controlling the product I’m buying, but I’m really going to focus on the image my restaurant is creating for the customers who dine at my facility,” she says.


“Why did they come to my restaurant? Did they enjoy their experience? Was the outcome of their experience good enough for them to come back?”


A branding exercise can be as simple as maintaining a brand for a long period of time or as complex as an integrated multimedia advertising campaign, and both methods can be effective. It all depends on the target market -- a local restaurant can’t afford the money or time to run a big advertising campaign, but it also doesn’t have to convince people across the country to give them a try the way a chain does.


Networking in the community

Therefore, says Oakes, since independent restaurants only have to worry about building their brand within their community, they can do it by focusing on a few community initiatives, such as sponsoring a minor sports team or hosting a fundraiser for a local cause.


“One of the big things to help a restaurant build a brand is networking in the community,” she says.


“If you’re going to build a brand, you need to have great, friendly service and staff, and you need to work that into your local advertising so you build your brand whether it be sponsoring local soccer teams, doing things like billboard advertising, having good promotions, serving high-quality foods.”


On an even smaller scale, having an owner or manager stationed by the door to chat with customers on their way in and out of the restaurant can help build a brand, as it leaves the customers with a friendly feeling about the restaurant.


Utilize social media

Social media helps too, and many restaurants have taken to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to help build their brand -- but social media should be used in conjunction with other methods, as it is difficult to attract those who have yet to try your restaurant through these channels.


Customer comment cards, loyalty programs and e-mail marketing are other easy ways Oakes suggests to help build a brand.


“You need that feedback from your customers to understand that you’re building the proper image or brand for your restaurant,” she says.


“It’s really about customer follow-up and customer retention. In the restaurant business, the worst thing you can do is have a customer try a restaurant once and not come back – because that means you haven’t given them an experience with a reason to come back again.”


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Heart shaped waffles with a berry sauce


Mother’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants. This creates not only an opportunity to boost business on the day itself, but also for repeat business. You’ll serve guests who may not frequent your restaurant, but are looking for something special. If they have a positive experience, they are likely to come back.


Offer more than just a great dining experience

When it comes to Mother’s Day, simply providing a pleasant dining experience isn’t enough - it’s about creating a memory. There are many ways to make the day extra special for mom. For example, moms could be given a card, a gift, a chocolate, or a flower, courtesy of your restaurant.


Occupy children

Mother’s Day also means there will be lots of children, and it’s hard for moms to enjoy themselves if the kids aren’t happy. Keeping children entertained could mean providing the usual crayons and colouring pages or you could go the extra distance by providing a craft that the kids could make for mom.


One possibility would be to decorate cookies with icing and sprinkles. (Of course, be prepared for the potential messiness of the craft.)


Feature a special menu

Create a memorable experience by having a special menu - for example, a pre-packaged special which includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert and coffee at a good price. The same can be done for a brunch menu.


Another option is to add interest to common foods by using heart-shaped pans or using sprinkles to make something colourful and fun.


Put service first

Service is just as important as the food when it comes to a Mother's Day meal. Schedule lots of staff so you can serve people quickly and efficiently, and be prepared for the volume of people. It will come back to you ten-fold.


Promote, promote, promote!

There are many ways to get the word out about your restaurant and special Mother’s Day promotions. Though it does depend on your audience, here are a few ideas to get you started:


  • Using social media (such as having a fan page on Facebook or sending messages using Twitter) is free and can be a good way for smaller independent restaurants to advertise. Post messages about specials or have printable coupons
  • Updating your website with information about your Mother's Day promotions is a must. Having a page for your social pages to link back to and share the same message is crucial
  • Don't dismiss print advertisements and radio, as these more traditional forms of marketing are still effective


With some forethought and planning, restaurants can capitalize on Mother’s Day. By offering special menus or kids’ activities while being fully prepared with sufficient staff for one of the busiest days of the year, restaurants can create a memorable occasion for families that will keep them coming back time and time again.


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Hand holding a cell phone with a picture of a pastry

317,865,626. That’s the number of #food hashtags globally on Instagram, rising minute by minute.*


To say that Instagram’s food community is an impactful marketing channel for your restaurant business is an understatement. Restaurateurs need always to be thinking about how every element and square inch of their restaurant can be used to create their unique brand and be “Instagram worthy.”


The more potential photo opportunities designed within your restaurant and menu, the more diners will want to snap and share, and the bigger your following will become. It’s that simple.


First off, who is your customer base?

Of the current 800 million Instagram users, the majority are Millennials with 90% of the Instagram user base 35 years and younger. That’s not to say Instagram can’t be effective connecting with a mature restaurant clientele, you just might experience slower growth through the platform.


Cater your Instagram content to your demographic by sharing photos and messages that will matter to them.


Out of the average 80 million daily Instagram posts, #pizza is the most popular Instagrammed food, followed by steak and sushi. #Nomnom


What should restaurants post?

Before it was just about food, now it's about sharing everything about your restaurant that is consistent with your brand.


#Food #Drinks

When designing your food and drink menus, create three to five items that will become your "Instagram stars" in addition to your other items. The "Instagram stars" should be unique to your restaurant--for example: in their presentation, the ingredients, or the way they're prepared or consumed. Snap these items with a consistent aesthetic to your brand and add a custom hashtag so you can track how many times they are posted.

Your "Insta Stars" will be the key elements that get you the most #instalove, and are likely to be snapped and shared the most, garnering your brand the most attention. Try to create new Insta Star dishes seasonally so Instagrammers and diners continue to come back to see what’s new.

The people behind popular dessert shop Sweet Jesus in Toronto are pros at getting Instagrammers to snap and share almost identical photos of their ice cream cone creations on the shop’s branded turquoise backdrop. It’s often difficult to know if it was a post from the brand or an Instagrammer, that’s how well they have influenced Instagrammers.



Your restaurant’s design and décor provide endless opportunities to incorporate Instagram-worthy elements that are consistent with your brand.



Consider messaging in tiles or signs, unique wallpaper, interesting colour palettes, feature photo walls, and themed sitting areas.


Exterior to interior design, nothing should be overlooked as Instagrammers flock to restaurants for the trendy design photo opp, but then stay for the food. San Francisco-based restaurant, Media Noche, is a design haven for Instagrammers. When you search the restaurant online, images of people and pets posing in front their infamous Pink Flamingo wall mural are the first to appear even before food pics.



Action shots of your chefs cooking or plating, servers sharing their favourite dishes, bartenders shaking up fancy cocktails are all great photo opportunities. It is an Instagram fact that photos featuring faces get 38% more likes than those without, according to



A professional photographer will always take the better shot and edit it to perfection, hands down. But for restaurateurs who are managing Instagram in-house it is most effective to have one team member manage the process for consistency. 


Photography Tips

  • Take your shots in natural light or bright, well-lit spaces
  • Purchase a Selfie Ring Light to attach to your phone for immediate lighting
  • Avoid using a flash
  • Use a tripod built for phones
  • Figure out if the shot will be of one item or a few items to create a scene
  • Use props to help fill in the shot
  • Try different angles
  • Add a human element
  • Maintain a consistent filter
  • Instagram is a restaurant’s gateway to the influential food photo frenzy community who are flocking to restaurants for the best opportunity to share, one plate at a time.


Content Tips

  • Organize your Instagram feed as a story of 6 posts. Each post should depict a different part of your restaurant or brand:
  • Team
  • Menu item
  • Décor
  • Drink item
  • Service
  • Brand element
  • Hashtags
  • Hashtags allow users who are searching that hashtag to connect with your post. Hashtags allow your posts to be part of a trending topic and allow you to track the number of posts associated with the hashtag, for effectiveness.
  • Create unique brand-specific hashtags
  • Post hashtags that are relevant to the image and message being posted to capture the RIGHT follower attention
  • Be aware of the trending food holidays on Instagram, like National Taco Day (October 4), to join the conversation when appropriate for your brand


By Kate Engineer


*as of January 28, 2019 at 4:00 p.m.


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Alexie Reilly
March 20, 2020
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Flanagan Foodservice
December 5, 2019
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Jackie Oakes
November 19, 2019
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