5 Key Principles to Help You Connect with Customers
The co-owner of the historic Colony Grill shares his advice for creating a deeper connection with your pizzeria's guests.
Your patrons want more than good pizza; they want to be aligned with good people.
The people who buy your pizza are smart. They have an uncanny sonar for insincerity. Sure, they crave delicious pizza, but they also crave authenticity, honesty, and generosity.
If your pizzeria is only delivering a food product to your community of consumers, then your brand may be limiting its long-term success. Your patrons want more than good pizza; they want to be aligned with good people. Here are several concepts to help build a reputation that complements your secret recipe.
Follow Your Commandments
Know who you are and what you believe in before executing on that belief. Write down a mission or set of guideposts so that you can make decisions that reflect who you are or aspire to be (this may change with time, but putting thought to mapping it out is the first step). If you’re reviewing a sponsorship opportunity, does it feel right, based on what your business is and who you are as an operator? Certainly not everything can be scripted, but an outline of values and principles that are clear and thoughtful will allow operations to reflect an ethic, rather than a disingenuous boilerplate handbook. It will also allow your business to be admired, rather than merely visited.
Make a splash, even if it’s a stretch financially or takes more effort than you think you can give. Be the headline sponsor. Add a zero to the donation. Provide pizza for everyone at a charity event rather than just being one of 10 businesses to give a handful of pies. Be exceedingly generous toward causes you believe in and those most important to your patrons, as that generosity and goodwill likely will come back. Not as a quid pro quo, but as a genuine appreciation for a business that gives as much as it takes.
Take the Meeting
The opportunity for someone to share something that is special to him or her is very important. It opens networks, it shows that you don’t mind extending yourself to people from all walks of life. It shows a willingness to learn and be open to change. Not every pitch that comes across a restaurant owner’s desk will make sense, but being polite and understanding of another perspective, and acting as a leader in your business community across a wide range of topics, will attract people to your establishment over time.
Call people back right away. Answer emails and texts within minutes, when possible. Correct issues with guests in the moment. Don’t be afraid to give out your cell phone number or personal line so that people don’t have to maneuver through layers of gatekeepers. Write thank you notes the next day when someone helps you or does something nice. Not responding or putting off correspondence is a sure way to foster resentment and detract from your brand.
Let Your Culture Be Your Commercial
Hire happy! Look for people who would likely host a great dinner party, who you would want to sit next to on a plane, or would be helpful to a stranger in need. Even the most simple gestures, such as smiling and confident eye contact are so important. Employees who can sort through an issue, understand what someone wants and make it happen are invaluable to both the business and promotion of the brand to others by association. Above technical skill or years spent in the service industry, guests care about friendliness and genuine attitude that is contagious among staff and patrons. As they happen and become routine, these interactions align synonymously with your pizza, your logo and your good standing in the neighborhood. Everything you do (not just what you cook) is going to be inspected and studied by your customer. Make sure what they see is genuine across every aspect of your brand, including your signage, people, product, communication structure, philanthropy and effort to see beyond the purview of your business as a whole. You are a neighbor, leader, example, mentor, host and ambassador, and these ingredients are just as important as what you put into any pie.
Ken Martin is the co-owner of Colony Grill, an 83-year-old chain of thin-crust pizza taverns located in Connecticut and New York. Connect with him at ColonyGrill.com or on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Opinions expressed by PMQ contributors are their own.