A quick glance at any of our local event calendars here in Charleston overwhelmingly confirms what many of us already know - there’s a lot going on in town, competition is fierce, and our guests have more options for places to spend their time and money than ever.
Not only is this one of the many reasons why it’s crucial that your restaurant is set up to be found by people in town and part of the conversation, but it’s also why we’re seeing so many places host special events.
We see you out there offering us food lovers in Charleston something new and we are here for it!
Experiences like tastings, featured menus, and intimate dinners led by special guests are excellent ways to keep things fresh for your guests, provided they are relevant to your brand and you put in the work to promote and execute them well.
Luckily, there are lots of ways for you to promote your restaurant’s special event without spending all your money on outside advertising. There’s a time and place for that, too though.
Here are ten ideas to get you started, in no particular order:
10. Staff Incentive
Your employees are arguably your most powerful marketing resource. Not only are they the ones interacting with your guests every day, but they also each have their own network of friends they speak to regularly about their work. Encourage this! Help make it easy for them to talk about an exciting, upcoming event. There are a million ways to do that, but most importantly, you’ve got to tell them about it. Consider giving them a ticket to give to their favorite regular or a friend they think would be interested in what you’re offering. Put those POS systems to work and create a contest to track their personal ticket sales, with the person who sells the most the winner of a cool prize or perk. Cash always wins, but it doesn’t even have to be monetary. Maybe they’re more interested in getting a holiday off or the best shifts for a week. Ask them!
9. Find a Local Business to Partner With
Is there a vendor or local business who sells something that’s relevant to your restaurant or of interest to your guests that you can tie into the event? Beyond the obvious partnerships with local distilleries and breweries, maybe there’s someone who makes a novelty dessert item or has a cookbook. Whatever it is, make sure it’s a business that your guests care about… and vice versa. This allows both you and your event partner to broaden your audience when you both advertise the event on your own marketing channels.
8. Leverage Influencers
The word “influencer” has been hijacked as of late, but the concept of a person who can influence and access people you are trying to reach is nothing new. Think beyond only those who have a large Instagram following (your regulars, people in the media, hotel concierges, the mayor!), but don’t discount them if what they share is relevant to your restaurant. Invite your group of influencers to a sneak peek when you’re testing the menu or give them some tickets to give away. Find out what they’d be open to partner with you for and consider spending some money on this. Having an engaged, loyal following (notice, we didn’t just say a big following) on social media is valuable. The people who make it their business are not the same as your cousin’s nephew who’s cat video went viral on YouTube that one time. ;)
7. Hire A Photographer
Charleston has a host of talented, badass photographers at all kinds of price points. Consider hiring one of them to document your event. Not only will you have professional, quality content you can use later in your own marketing, but you can also share the photos with your guests. Or, you can share them only with the guests who give their email address when buying a ticket or sign in at your actual event. It’s an added incentive for guests to have some nice photos of themselves. Meanwhile, you’re growing your email list. They’ll do it for the ‘gram! Need some photog recommendations? Explore some of our favorites here, here, here, and here. Tell them we sent you!
6. Build in a Ticket Giveaway
Set aside some extra tickets for you to give away during the promotion of your event. Slow on a Monday? Take to your Facebook Page and let your followers know Jimmy behind the bar has a pair for the first person that comes in and asks for them. Add some attendees to your event on the house while bringing in some business during your down time.
5. Add Music
Charleston’s music scene is pretty killer. There are artists and agencies here in town that have been in the business forever, with repertoires that can complement any kind of event. They also have followings— people who are always ready to hear them live and interested when they post where they’re playing next. We’re big believers that the music you play in your restaurant can make or break your vibe, whether it’s live or through your speakers. Luckily, there are several bands, DJs, acoustic duos, and solo artists to choose from. Need help? May we suggest our friends over at Ear For Music, who book music all over town.
4. Create an Invitation Video
How often do you post a video featuring your team on social media? Video is one of the best types of content to be seen and shared on social media right now, yet we still see it being consistently underused. Take a quick, casual iPhone video (vertically, not horizontally!) of someone on your team, your Chef telling people about your upcoming event and why they should come. Literally use the words, “we want to invite you”. By the way, you’ll take several videos, but you’ll find you’ll like the first one best. Keep it short and casual, then post with a link to your event site!
3. Make it Easy For Guests to Know About it! Use Your Website, Host Stand, Social
This may seem obvious, but restaurants aren’t exactly low-stress, easy breezy places to work in, so sometimes the obvious gets pushed aside for something more urgent. Still, making it easy for your guests to learn that you’re having this event in the first place is one of the first things you should do once you’re ready to promote it. Add a nice graphic and the ticket link to your website. Create a sign or small flyer for the host stand that people can see when they walk in. Talk about it on social media! Use what your guests are already looking at to let them know something special’s coming up that they should be a part of.
2. Send an Email
Do you have an email list? Hopefully you do, because it’s one of the most effective tools you have to communicate with your customer outside of your four walls. Create a nice looking email to invite your guests to your special event. Tell them why attending will be of value to them, what it will entail, and make it easy for them to get tickets.
1. Make it Unique to You!
You can promote something six ways from Sunday, but if it’s not valuable, timely, and relevant, both to your guests and your restaurant’s brand, no one’s going to care. Just because something seemingly works for the place down the street doesn’t mean it’s going to work for you. And, if your idea for your special event comes from an attempt to drive short term sales, you’ll feel it in the long run.
Instead, start with your guests. Understand who they are and why they enjoy coming to your restaurant. What can you teach that’s unique to the food and experience you serve? What are you known for that you can plan something around (without discounting!)? What are your guests asking for?
Ready to plan a kickass special event that your guests will talk about long after they’ve left the party? Do it! We’d love to see what you come up with and be the first to buy a ticket.
BONUS: Ask for help!
We’ve been helping restaurants put together and plan events like this for quite some time now. If you need a little bit of guidance, we’re here for you. Shoot us a note or DM us and we’d love to help you, too.