For many restaurants and taverns, the beginning of the New Year is the end of the private parties and catering events. The private party business goes from a raging river of booked events to just a trickle. Hotels go through a similar dry spell, but it does not last very long. Within weeks after the holiday season hotels have their function space filled. How do they do it?
Simple, they combine technology, relationships and savvy marketing to keep the catering revenue flowing all year long. The first step for restaurateurs to take is to invest in technology. Technology is the secret weapon of hotels. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software comes in many different shapes and sizes, but it is critical if you are to manage your private dining business. With a CRM system, you’re able to collect data on all your customers: name, address, phone, e-mail address, plus other important metrics, like how often customers come to your restaurant, what his/her average check is, and so on.
In addition to collecting invaluable information, CRM systems can also receive leads, and speed your response to a prospective customer. Unfortunately, most CRM solutions are built for large corporations and their features do not apply directly to the restaurant industry. While there are solutions that do have a Hospitality spin to them, they are very expensive, complicated to install, require on site IT services, maintenance contracts, and, above all, they’re difficult to use.
The good news for the restaurant industry is that there are web-based software applications. Web-based apps require zero hardware or software, plus you pay for the service as needed versus dropping a boatload of cash on an initial hardware purchases and set up.
That’s what Tripleseat is. We’ve developed a web based CRM/Private Dining application specifically for restaurants. This approach levels the playing field and allows independent restaurant to have the same features and benefits that a large hotel or restaurant brand might have – but at a fraction of the cost.
The technology is available, it’s cheap, and it’s time to leverage its benefits. Hotels use CRM systems to find prospects that they can reach out to. This proactive step insures that they keep their spaces booking. Restaurants need to do the same. Restaurants can also keep their pipeline of prospective private dining customers full. Restaurants need to call or visit their customers and ask if there are any other events that they might be able to assist with.
Restaurant managers should look for customers who have booked private events on behalf of their company. Odds are that this person is responsible for other events like Board Meetings, Sales Meetings, Anniversary Lunches or Dinners. Hotels go to great length to visit their customer, even jumping on an airplane if the occasion calls for it. The relationship should not end when the customer leaves; it should be the beginning. Continue to build the relationship, and always be adding value to every encounter, for example letting them know about a great new wine or dish. As the relationship grows so will your private dining business.
As you build the relationship you should be tracking it in your CRM system. By keeping notes and entering all your activities you can apply targeted marketing. An example of target marketing with hotels is when they send out invitations to prospects who have expressed interest in their cooking for a private dinner with the hotel chef. Another example of targeted marketing: “sales blitz.” Hotels send a staff of three to five people out into the local market to deliver gifts and information about the hotel to companies that have booked with them in the past (but not within the last 6 months). This high-touch approach re-sparks the relationship and has a really high success rate… for little money and effort.
So, why should you care about private dining? Consider this recent press release from Morton’s Restaurant Group:
“Morton’s private dining already amounts to 19 percent of the company revenue, or $58 million annually… We are very focused on growing our Boardroom private dining business… It is one of our key growth initiatives. Private dining at Morton’s has a higher average check than a la carte dining, $103 per person compared with $88 per person.”
Don’t let the lights go out on your private dining business; there is a huge return for you and your restaurant.