Eschelon Experiences, a quickly expanding group of six upscale restaurant concepts based out of Raleigh, NC, like most restaurants, places a high level of importance on marketing. But unlike many restaurants, marketing director Tara Zechini and her team have a strategy that is focused primarily on guests that have already visited their restaurants. “Retention marketing has been one of the critical drivers of our success” says Zechini. “Our focus on guest relationship management has enabled us to create a better experience for our guests.”
So what exactly is guest relationship management? It’s the end result of a shift in restaurant marketing mentality over the last few decades. In the ’90s, print advertising was king. Restaurant marketing was dominated by direct mailers and newspaper / magazine advertising, while email marketing was just starting to become relevant.
Acquisition marketing was front and center in the industry, with most restaurants focused on using marketing channels to attract new customers and letting great food and service drive repeat traffic. In the 2000s, daily deals and online advertising became top priorities for many marketing departments.
However, many of these types of acquisition tactics failed at generating true brand loyalty. They often cheapened brand value, influencing many guests to dine once for a low price, but then never to return and pay regular menu price.
Over the past few years, some restaurant groups like Eschelon Experiences have shifted their focus to retention marketing and the guest experience. “As time has gone by, I think the industry has realized that great restaurant concepts are brands that are built on stellar loyalty and guest retention,” Zechini says. “A huge part of that is understanding what your guests think and entering into an ongoing dialogue with them both in-person as well as online, via email, and via social media.”
This holistic retention marketing philosophy has been coined “guest relationship management” or “GRM” for short by restaurants across the country.
Bareburger, a group of 18 restaurants based out of New York City, has built a burger brand built on organic, fresh ingredients and an eclectic variety of meats. Earlier this year, it was named one of Nation’s Restaurant News’ Breakout Brands of 2014. According to franchisee George Mathew, one of the big reasons for that is their GRM philosophy. “At Bareburger, we are all about the end-to-end guest experience, both in and out of the restaurant. We go beyond just delivering a quality product and great service. We care about guest opinions and value personal communication with our guests across all media channels.”
Front and center of the guest relationship management revolution are technology companies who seek to streamline the process for restaurants to manage their guest relationships. Both Bareburger and Eschelon Experiences use Raleigh-based Tuee for all their guest relationship management needs.
Tuee is a tablet system that captures guest data at the point of sale and then automates personalized email, social media, and loyalty campaigns for restaurants. According to Mathew, “Tuee enables us to collect immediate feedback from more than 80% of our guests. But rather than just stopping there, it enables us to use that data to enter into a dialogue with our guests. If a guest has a great experience, we can send them a different email than a guest who has a poor experience. Also, if a guest is upset, we get instantly alerted so that we can resolve issues in-house.”
Zechini sees value in the emails collected by the system, but also sees great potential in social media and loyalty. Says Zechini, “When a guest leaves a stellar comment on Tuee, we share it with our Facebook and Twitter followers. We’re also using Tuee to build a custom loyalty program so guests can get rewarded for entering into a dialogue with us. It really closes the loop for us.”
The concept of GRM has been around the restaurant industry for a few years now. Many restaurants use either comment cards, email marketing, social media marketing, or guest loyalty programs – some even use all of these guest relationship management tools. However, until recently, these tools weren’t integrated, causing marketing and operations departments to pour hours into data analysis and transcription.
“Operationally, we can now resolve issues while guests are still in our restaurants,” G Patel, president of Eschelon Experiences, notes. “From a marketing standpoint, we now have the ability to personalize communications with our guests across so many marketing channels. The digital revolution is here to stay, and we know that platforms like this will help us stay at the forefront of it.”
The digital revolution is here to stay. Tablet and mobile usage continues to skyrocket while email and social media usage continues to rise. In this digital age, it’s critical for businesses to embrace technology and use digital solutions to better interact with their customers. For restaurants, GRM systems just might be that solution.