In last month's Editor's Space I urged you to “get off your butt and do something.” Hiding in a foxhole is not the answer during tough times, I argued. Consider adding breakfast, staying open longer or opening on days you've been closed. The idea is to capture incremental business. Most importantly, I urged you to be interesting and different to separate yourselves from your competitors.
Not everyone agreed entirely. Restaurant consultant Rocco Muriale countered that now is the time to streamline operations and get rid of excess. Building your business at a time when the labor pool is so anemic is not the answer. “It is a time of consolidating and making your operation more efficient,” he wrote. Muriale makes a good point about the need for greater efficiency. But I believe you can do that while also taking advantage of new opportunities.
That's exactly what the gang at Rocca Kitchen & Bar in Boston has done. In response to my editorial, Michela Larson, an owner, explained that the staff now has twice-a-week meetings to look at every possible marketing opportunity. The most recent idea to emerge from one of those meetings was an online plan to target potential 20-something customers.
Larson pointed out that Rocca shares a building with companies that have lots of younger employees who rarely go to the upscale Italian restaurant. So they invited 10 of those 20-something people in for a focus group, which was run by two 20-something Rocca employees. Out of that focus group it was decided that a Rocca Facebook page would be created to reach younger customers.
Rocca's Facebook page immediately began to offer special promotions, including one called 5@5. The restaurant offered five appetizers between 5-6:30 p.m. for $5 each, which represents a 30-50 percent price reduction. Within days, 150 people signed up for Rocca's page.
For the general election, Rocca invited Facebook users to watch election results on a big-screen television installed in its upstairs dining room. More than 100 people showed up to eat, drink and watch the election. Someone brought a life-size cut-out of Obama, and lots of pictures were taken of people standing with their arm around the cut-out, and those pictures were posted on the Rocca Facebook page. “We had a brilliant night,” wrote Larson.
Now that's what I was talking about. At a time when everyone is reporting that people are eating out less, visiting less expensive places and/or cutting back on alcohol, appetizers and desserts, you can either hold tight and hope the overall economy will improve or you can get off your butt and do something. What Rocca did was brilliant. It spent little money to attract a customer base that just wasn't paying attention to them. Now they are. I'm still looking for more money-making ideas that I'll share on this page or on a Letters page. Email me.