Catering corner

As commodity prices continue to rise, competition comes out of the woodwork and the general cost of doing business increases, pizza operators must either slash overhead or develop cost-effective strategies to increase sales.

Since you can't "save" your way to prosperity, understanding and using four walls marketing to build your sales is not an option. It's a must.

We are in an overhead driven business. Once our overhead is covered, we can take up to 50 percent of extra sales to the bottom line. Most operators I consult with have very limited time, energy and money to market their restaurant, but without a marketing focused pizza business, you will eventually hit a brick wall and destruct.

"Never Trust A Hot Blonde In A Short Skirt"

This is my favorite line to describe the advertising reps that used to bombard me with the promises of more customers and higher sales if I'd just give their advertising media a try. Thousands of dollars later, I found myself poorer with no idea whether their expensive mass market advertising worked.

For the average operator, buying TV, radio and newspaper that reaches the entire city is a waste of advertising dollars. It's akin to ordering the buffet at a Chinese restaurant and just wanting a bowl of fried rice. Most of your customers live or work within three miles of your pizzeria.

Most ad reps will urge you to deep discount or coupon to get new customers into your restaurant. Once they try you, the logic goes, they'll become regulars. Nice argument, but it's flawed. The problem is that these "coupons" appear the next week and the next. There's no way to keep the guy who just checked you out from clipping a coupon each week. It's like creating your own brand of addicts.

What's A Pizza Operator To Do?

The first place any wise operator invests his or her marketing money is in four walls marketing. Four walls marketing is the use of point of sale promotional pieces like signs, table tents and banners to increase sales. Because some promotions have permanent places in your restaurant, the cost comes down to dimes a day over the long haul.

There are three ways to build sales: bring in new customers, get your current customers to come back more often or raise your check averages. A well-developed four walls marketing campaign will help you achieve any or all of the three.

Unless you're hidden in a cave, drive-by customers can be educated and enticed to visit with proper banners. Table tents, washroom signs and lobby signs will sell your more expensive specials or bring your existing customers back for an additional visit. These core customers are six times more likely to buy again or buy more than finding a new customer.

Four Walls Marketing Zones

Each month the rent is due whether you use your building to its potential for raising sales or not. You need to start mapping out a strategy. Let's take inventory of the marketing zones you can use: table tops to place table tents, lobby area for signage, pizza boxes for box toppers, parking lot for signage, the side of your building or lot that faces your busy street for banners and your drive thru window lane for signage.

My favorite marketing zone is the restroom: walls and stalls. Odd? Yes, but it's very effective because you have someone's undivided attention. It reminds me of the days kids had no television sets in the kitchen and were forced to read cereal boxes.

Other examples of effective zones are brochure racks up front, message on hold systems, the back side of your business cards and your staff. The right button with the right message can turn your servers and drivers into walking salesmen and billboards.

Now, which zone should you choose when marketing a promotion? I say all of them. It takes about seven impressions for a marketing message to stick and lead to action. Use as many as you can. Your customer may miss the lobby sign on the way in, but reads your table tent while waiting for a dining companion. Leave nothing to chance.

Promotional Ideas

Here's an idea of the types of promotions you can run. Use it as a springboard to create your own four walls marketing campaign:

  • Letting Your Customers Know You Cater – a great profit center.
  • Contests or Giveaways – to bring in new customers and build your database.
  • New Menu Item Rollout – adding new items keeps things fresh and just might attract new folks looking to break the rut.
  • Gift Certificate Sales – perfect around Christmas.
  • Cooking Classes – you can command a high fee and create your own army of pizza evangelists.
  • Promote Your Party Room – bet you have customers that don't even know you have one.
  • Buffets – Good for slower times of the week.
  • Kid's Clubs – get the kiddies in and the parents' wallets follow.

The list goes on and on. Besides investing in marketing books and tapes for more promotional ideas, play detective when out of town. Get a copy of the local dining guide or Sunday paper to create your own "swipe file" of ideas.

How Do You Create Your Four Walls Pieces?

I like to create a four walls marketing calendar for the year. Holidays are a good inspiration, and you can back fill your calendar with more creative ideas. Try to create promotions that last at least a month. Your return on investment diminishes when you have to amortize costs over just one night. Having a calendar holds your feet to the fire and prevents you from losing out on promotional opportunities. If a month passes without a promotion, that's valuable selling you can't get back.

Some operators are gifted in design, and others outsource the creative work. Just make sure all promotional pieces compliment each other. You must carry the theme, colors and design to each component.

In my early years, I would design promotions in Microsoft Publisher. Though they have templates, the end result is still homemade. Your local quick printer should have a graphic artist on site to help, but you'll need to guide them.

Choosing the right headline can make the difference between a winner and a loser. Colors and food photography also play a major roll. Make sure banners are limited to no more than seven words. Anymore and passersby will be unable to catch your message.

If you feel overwhelmed by the process, look into using the services of a company that specializes in four walls marketing for restaurants.

However you decide to proceed with your four walls marketing campaign, it's vital you get your staff on board. On the front end, a brainstorming session will flesh out some creative and effective ideas. Your staff will also point out potential pitfalls to avoid.

Before you roll out a new promotion, make sure to get with your staff and share any selling scripts or ideas for handling questions. Your staff is on the front line, and without the knowledge you both look bad.

Dollar for dollar you won't find a better use of your marketing dollars. Many promotions can be saved and used for a few years. Armed with this information, you'll be more confident of the sales increases you can drive through four walls marketing.