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Rae's Bistro weathers the COVID-19 storm...and so can you

Person carrying take out bags in hand.

 

Until March 2020, 4,800-sq. ft. fine dining restaurant Rae's Bistro, in North Kildonan, Winnipeg, was a popular spot offering fusion comfort food. Co-owned by Jillian Flynn and Danny Van Lancker, Rae's was noted for its 50-bottle wine list, 12 craft beers, scotch flights, and a premium atmosphere appealing to an adult clientele.

 

"We were known for our service and fresh feature chalkboard (rotated weekly), and guests would come in to hear our staff 'romance' the 10 features to them. It was almost a form of entertainment," says Danny.

 

Before March 17, Rae's Bistro did not offer any takeout or delivery

 

"We were just too busy to seek other revenue streams. We were on track to do $1.5 million in sales our second fiscal year. We were busy all the time (from 11 a.m. to midnight or later, if demand was there), with lineups, reservations, loud bar top, funky new age music, cool looking staff."

 

All that changed on Friday, the 13th - auspicious!

 

By Monday, March 16, sales had declined 60%. On the next day, Rae's Bistro closed to the public for dine in.

 

"On Monday, we reached out to the local health authority for advice and spent the day researching the science behind the pandemic and looking at the leading scientists' predictions/models. Pratt's (a great partner to have) obtained proper viral sanitation products for us.

 

"We jumped into action immediately. We laid off 22 staff by issuing emergency payroll and ROEs, and all staff applied for EI by Friday. Our first reaction was concern for the Rae’s family. It was completely devastating to think about taking away 22 people's source of income."

 

Ramp up for takeout

 

Rae's kept on a core staff – culinary, suppliers, the CFO – to adapt to the new reality. Within a matter of two days, working around the clock, the team approached their task with military precision. They created a takeout menu, bought Safeway thermal boxes to launch the service, designed banners for the windows, printed temporary menus, completely revamped the website to focus on the takeout menu, and branded takeout bags with personalized messages and menus.

 

All packaging is recycled brown paper, and even the takeout cutlery is wood, as the co-owners are committed to respecting the environment. (In fact, that is one of the reasons they had not considered offering takeout before.)

 

"By Friday, March 20th, we realized this might work, with two takeout specialists on staff, two drivers, and an additional kitchen employee we brought back. Much to our surprise, by Saturday, it was working and offering a flawless experience to all guests. Our delivery team is now our two veteran servers and bartender. We take responsibility for each order, text when on the way, and follow up with guests...treating them as a table and not a delivery. I personally close every box and write a thank you note to this day. I insist on a proper food chain of command. Safety officer/expo is my new position."

 

Create an effective menu

 

You need to accept that your regular menu likely will need adaptation. The Rae's team streamlined their menu to focus on high quality sandwiches, snacks, pizzas, pastas, steaks, ribs and fish.

 

"Stuff that travels well, and a lower price point for our entrées (not a discount, just not over-$30 items). People are going to be eating comfort, and more often now. We need to focus on our lower priced items without sacrificing our commitment to quality."

 

Rae's takeout/delivery challenges

 

Labour modelling, having to do it day by day as there is no past to use for forecasting.
Infrastructure, going from a single (phone) line to multiple lines with busy signal.
Communicating continued relevance to the public.
Delivery tracking, estimating and planning.
Installing mobile POS terminals for at-door payments.
Figuring out how to translate personalized service to guests in a different way.

 

Success!

 

By pivoting quickly and effectively, Rae's was able to turn around the operation from dine-in to takeout/delivery – and see significant sales increases.

 

From a modest beginning on March 18 to see if takeout and delivery would even work, Rae's is now up to nearly $7,000 in sales on the weekend and $1,000-$1,700 on weekdays. A scheduled postal drop of advertising may see even higher numbers.

 

 

Rae's top takeaways

 

  • Take care of your team first and foremost, do the right thing and lay them off so they can apply for EI.
  • Get proper sanitation measures in place. This is a serious thing, so don't do half measures. Get higher grade quat sanitizers.
  • Offer over-the-phone payment and curbside pickup.
  • Carefully consider your delivery model. Try to use existing staff for delivery rather than turning to a service that may charge a premium.
  • Get your social media game on. Do daily posts and reminders that you are open and relevant. Put some money into social media ads to farm page likes and get followers.
  • Use (old school) mail/email. Junk mail is now prime reading material, says Danny. Take advantage of this phenomenon, do flyers, post notices in your window.
  • Look at this crisis as an opportunity. "Remember that a bomb was just dropped on our industry. Independents are at a level playing field with mega chains. This is an opportunity to beat these entities to a new emerging market. Nothing will go back to normal. Don’t wait this out. Act now."
  • Be your best self. "Just get out there and be the best damn takeout and delivery business you can be."

Focus on the personal touches

  • Keep your brand front of mind. "Within a week we created the most amazing branding on our bags; every box, bag and container is sealed with Rae’s Bistro branded labelling. They also have spots for the guest's name. I got the idea when I opened a DVD this week and it had the frustrating plastic circle sticker on it. I couldn’t get it open, had to get up and find a knife. The feeling of 'this is brand new' as I sliced it was satisfying and I knew I had to bring this feeling to our guests.
  • Raise customers' spirits. "All bags get a takeout menu with a personalized message of good will." Treat your guests as a table and not a delivery. They will appreciate the service.
  • Talk up your menu, even though it's takeout. "We still romance our features over the phone to our guests."
  • Ramp up your social media. "We now have full-time social media and email monitoring. A daily feature wall is now posted daily with fresh content for the guests eating multiple times a week." But "old school" window signage is also attracting new takeout/delivery business. People have the time to stop and look.

 

This post was shared in connection with Brand Points Plus, a FREE loyalty program for independent operators.  Easily collect points for amazing rewards, if you're not a member - we highly recommend you become one.

 

 

Learn more about Brand Points Plus

 

 

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Ontario Pork Supports Local Restaurants


Ontario pork producers know that supporting local restaurants through these uncertain times is the right thing to do. Whether that support is through ordering delivery/take-out or buying gift cards online, we should all come together to ensure local restaurants have a steady income into the future.

 

This is why they are offering free social media advertising — paid for by the producers — to eligible local restaurants that serve Ontario pork in the province. This Facebook and Instagram ad will target over 5,000 or more customers in their area, and promote that their restaurant has delivery or take-out options.

 

Ontario Pork is offering to support local restaurants with promotion of their business.  Contact jeremy.yim@ontariopork.on.ca for more info.

 

They are talking about an actual paid and targeted ad, not just a normal social media post.

 

Professional digital marketing is an area that many restaurants can’t normally tap into (even in normal circumstances), so they are offering our team to support.

 

All they need from restaurants is a high-quality photo of a pork menu item, and they would do the rest— so you can focus on running the business.

 

Please contact Jeremy Yim, Retail and Food Marketing Specialist at Ontario Pork for more information and to sign-up to the free branding program.

 

Together we support local.

jeremy.yim@ontariopork.on.ca
1-519-766-7893

 

 

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Sample Menu template from Must Have Menus

How to Design a Takeout Menu with MustHaveMenus

 

With takeout as the only option for hundreds of thousands of restaurants during this health crisis, it’s important to have a to-go menu that’s optimized for your food and your restaurant. MustHaveMenus, an online design tool for restaurants, makes building one quick and easy.

 

They have hundreds of professionally-designed takeout menu templates — for both trifold and half-page — that restaurants can customize in moments with their intuitive v3 editing software. If you run into any questions, you can simply hop into a chat window with one of their friendly and experienced customer service reps. They’ll help guide you through the process from start to finish, and give you best practices for takeout menus and more. 

 

To help combat the crisis facing restaurants, MustHaveMenus also put out a Coronavirus Response Kit with all their latest templates for takeout and delivery. It also includes helpful guides for pivoting overnight to a takeout business model, plus creative ideas and ready-made marketing materials to get the word out.

 

Sample take out Menus from Must Have Menus

 

MustHaveMenus’ Free Plan comes with unlimited access to their library of templates and design features, plus professional printing and social media marketing. Right now, they are offering their Pro Plan for just $12.95 a month (If you're a member of Brand Points Plus, there is a special offer for you!  If you're not a member, talk to your sales representative about how to join). That includes access to high-res downloads, removal of watermarks, organizing folders and more.

 

We recommend you use the software to design their menu, get a PDF file and send it to your local printer or Staples location to have it printed.  This will save on shipping and duty from the United States.

 

Visit MustHaveMenus

 

 

 

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Brand Points Plus logo with hand reaching for a take out order

Making Food Delivery Easy

Turning to Takeout

 

by Jane Auster

This post was written by Jane and the Brand Points Plus team.  If you're not a member, this is an amazing, no-cost loyalty program.  To learn more click here.

 

Flexible restaurant operators are converting from eat-in to takeout during the COVID-19 pandemic. And whether they're fine dining, QSR or casual eating establishments, they're finding it's not as hard as you may think to revamp an eat-in operation. Also, according to infectious disease specialist Isaac Bogoch, the risk of contracting the virus from takeout and delivery is "so extraordinarily small" – good news for consumers and restaurant operators alike.

 

Here are the top takeaways to ensure your takeout is a success:

 

Make ordering and payment a snap. Many diners, especially Millennials, are already conversant with online and app ordering. Make sure your web and app menu allows for easy ordering and that you're capable of receiving text message orders and app orders from mobile devices. Then add a pre-payment option to make the whole process seamless. Companies like cloud-based commerce platform Lightspeed POS Inc. have set up special resources during the crisis to help restaurants who are converting operations to takeout and delivery.

 

Change up your restaurant layout. Without the need to provide tables and chairs for traditional eat-in dining, you can easily convert that space into takeout/delivery work stations. Think assembly line in the way you organize your takeout operation.

 

Revisit your staffing. There's no doubt you will not need the same number of employees as a full-service restaurant requires. But you will want to retain as many as possible to keep you up and running professionally and prepare for a return to more normal operations. Now is the time to redeploy your talent. You'll still need cooks (short order especially), cleaners, order takers and payment processors, delivery staff, and quality control personnel. You may also need a person assigned specifically to answer customer questions about your menu, takeout and delivery options, payment, and so on.

 

Carefully consider your menu. Not everything on your regular menu will be suitable for takeout and delivery. A takeout menu is more a snapshot of your full offerings. Confine your takeout to top sellers (as long they're not too elaborate or time-consuming to prepare), dishes that will transport well in takeout and delivery, and entries that will still give you a good return on investment.

 

Use the right packaging for the job. No one likes to pick up or receive soggy, leaking, messy or unattractive food packages. Companies like W. Ralston, Novolex and Polar Pak feature packaging specifically for foodservice operations that include takeout and delivery, and also packaging that's size-appropriate. “The packaging a French fry requires for travel is different than a pasta dish. And packaging will also depend on the miles or time it needs to travel,” says John Veder, director of innovation - paper for Novolex North America. Also consider packaging that can be easily reheated without having to be transferred to other dishes.

 

“With takeout, the customer is in control of when that food is consumed,” says Veder. “For delivery, the customer is at home, waiting. Their expectation is that the food is ready to eat. Not soggy. Not cold.”

 

For more info:

View Flanagan's Take Out Essentials catalogue.

 

Image of Flanagan Take Out Essentials Guide

 

Make delivery easy. "Delivery was a growing market segment prior to COVID-19," says foodservice principal Jeff Dover of fsStrategy Inc. "Restaurants have been adjusting delivery menus to include products that hold well and working on takeout containers that hold the food well. Increasingly, they are looking for tamper proof containers. If a restaurant hasn't worked through this yet, they may want to think about it before going full delivery. If they don't normally do takeout or delivery, they will need to get the packaging."  

 

If you're new to delivery, you may want to partner with an established foodservice delivery company like Uber Eats, DoorDash, Foodora, or Skip the Dishes. Uber Eats has announced that the company is waiving its normal delivery fees for customers who order from independent restaurants and allowing restaurants to receive payment daily instead of on a regular billing cycle in order to help their cash flow. Door Dash has said it will be not be collecting service fees for the first 30 days for a new restaurant client. Restaurants who partner with delivery services also benefit from the online exposure on food delivery sites.

 

Do it yourself? Some restaurants are choosing to do their own delivery by training their regular waitstaff to become delivery door-dashers. In the short term this is a great way to continue employing front-of-house staff. But don't forget to check your insurance to make sure your staff are covered for "other" employment within your operation.

 

Plus, ask yourself these questions:

 

What kind of vehicle will you need? Motorized, bike delivery, or via public transit?
What's your radius? How far are you willing to travel for your customers? During this difficult period, literally going the extra mile will make a huge difference and help retain loyalty.


How's your branding? What kind of branding will you use to stand out? The big food delivery companies are able to advertise themselves through their distinctive, logo-ed carry-on packaging. Like the big guys, your new visual identity as takeout and delivery food providers matters. Consider branding your takeout packaging with your company logo and tagline or marketing messages. Market and promote the service on your website as well.

 

Ramp up your social media. Never has your social media been more important. It's your direct conduit to customers, a way to let them know that you are still in business and you value their patronage and support. If you're adding takeout and delivery, you need to spread the word. Social media such as Instagram, Facebook and other community pages can let people know you are open and active. Don't be afraid of doing something different and a little crazy on your Instagram. Get personal, do a virtual meal in your restaurant and film it, sing an aria outside your restaurant and post to your Instagram.

 

You may also want to create an old-fashioned paper flyer with your takeout menu and have a staff member deliver it to your local area. Sometimes old school is the best school. The point is to communicate as often as you can with customers to keep them close. And don't forget to thank them. They want to help.

 

Get creative. Some clever restaurants are throwing in extras with customers' takeout and delivery orders. Have any logo-ed t-shirts on hand? Send one with each order. Do you make any branded food items for sale, such as jams? Add one to each order. A restaurant in Toronto is even offering to throw in a roll of toilet paper to food orders made through Uber Eats.

 

 

 

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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.

 

Why?

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 flanaganmarket@flanagan.ca.

 

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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 laststrawtoronto.ca, Last Straw Canada
² CBC.ca, '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:

 

Twitter

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

 

Facebook

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.

 

Instagram

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.

 

Menu

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.

 

Packaging

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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