Marketing a restaurant to tourists is both an art and a science. Let’s get the science out of the way.
1. MAINTAIN A WEBSITE... Duuhh! If you didn’t know that, you should sell your restaurant to the next guy who comes through the door and stay away from any future business ventures.
2. GET LISTED IN THE PHONE BOOK... Double Duuhh!! If you’re still considering the phone book, move back in with your parents. You cannot be trusted out on your own.
3. OFFER GOOD PARKING…Duuhh…Duuhh…Duuhh!!! I hope I didn’t have to say that. I really do.
4. UTILIZE SOCIAL MEDIA…This idea is actually an innovation that has recently become an everyday part of tourist marketing science. You can be forgiven if you’re not really up to speed on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, Vine or Dine.com, but you cannot be forgiven if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of social media.
5. GET LISTED IN RESTAURANT GUIDES…No! I have a better idea. Get listed in Real Estate for Sale. Of course get listed in restaurant guides. What other guides would you consider?
Unfortunately, for “marketing professionals,” most of the science of marketing your restaurant to tourists is common sense. The problem is that common sense is exactly that; common sense. All your competition is doing the same thing.
Only the art of tourist marketing will set your restaurant apart from all the rest. What, however, is the art? Just like looking at a Michelangelo or a Rembrandt to try to define art, let’s look at the greatest tourist marketing artists the restaurant industry has ever seen and see what we can learn from them.
FRANK GIUFFRIDA'S HILLTOP STEAKHOUSE
During the 1970s and 80s America’s largest restaurant was located in a little out-of-the-way New England town known as Saugus, Massachusetts. Frank Giuffrida’s Hilltop Steakhouse did three times the volume of the nation’s second-largest restaurant, Tavern on the Green, in Manhattan’s Central Park. The sprawling Hilltop Steakhouse accommodated 1,300 customers at one seating and often served more than 7,800 meals in one day. In 1987, this independent restaurant exceeded $27 million in gross revenues. To understand the magnitude of this marketing accomplishment, one must understand that although the population of New York City exceeded 8 million in 1987, the population of Saugus, Massachusetts was a mere 25,549 people. Frank Giuffrida was a tourist marketing genius. How did he do it?
HE MADE HIMSELF THE STORY. Frank was a butcher who loved red meat. He prided himself on serving the biggest, freshest, prime cuts of beef found anywhere in the world. Cost was no object. Whatever he had to pay for beef, he always charged the customer a reasonable price. He butchered sides of beef in the restaurant, right in front of the customers, and let them pick the cut they wanted. People were astounded by the size and quality of the steak they would enjoy at the Hilltop. They bragged to their friends, and the rest was history...for over forty years.
Businessmen loved to show out-of-town customers the Hilltop. Tourists had it on their list of must-see sites, right alongside the Old North Church and the location of the Boston Tea Party. New Englanders from Maine to Rhode Island made it a rite of passage to take their children for their first visit to Frank Giuffrida’s Hilltop Steakhouse.
Frank decorated the outside of the Hilltop with a huge 68 foot plastic cactus and fake cows. When asked why he placed such a monstrosity right in front of his restaurant, he replied, “it gives the customers something else to talk about.”
Back in the 80s in Boston, “One if by land/two if by sea” was not the biggest story. Beacon Hill, the Back Bay, MIT, and Harvard were not the most sought after locations. The Hilltop Steakhouse in little Saugus, Mass. was the biggest story and the most desired destination. Twenty-seven million dollars in annual revenues is the proof.
PEA SOUP ANDERSEN'S
The original Pea Soup Andersen’s was founded in 1924 by Anton Andersen in Buellton, California. His customers were primarily people driving the main highway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (now highway 101). Anton’s wife brought along her grandmother’s recipe for pea soup and very quickly the soup became popular. By 1982, over 55 million bowls of pea soup had been served.
In 1928 Anton added a hotel and dining room to the cafe. Twenty years later, Robert Andersen, Anton’s son, changed his name to Pea Soup Andersen and added a miniature train, an aviary, and a small wild animal park to the property. Then he bought a series of highway billboards up and down the entire state of California that featured an enormous cutout of Pea Soup Andersen preparing pea soup.
By the 1980s, every California tourist wanted to visit Pea Soup Andersen’s restaurant. No one cared about pea soup, but everyone wanted to eat at Pea Soup Andersen’s because everyone, and I mean everyone, had heard of the restaurant. After they left the airport in Los Angeles, tourists passed a billboard every five miles displaying a happy cartoon character Pea Soup Andersen pouring a big bowl of steaming pea soup. It was the most effective brainwashing campaign since Mao’s Chinese revolution. If you asked a little family from Iowa what they intended to do in California, they would tell you they were going to see Disneyland, Hollywood, and Pea Soup Andersen’s.
PEA SOUP ANDERSEN’S MADE ITSELF A DESTINATION.
Neither Frank Giuffrida nor Robert Andersen ever went to marketing college. But somewhere in their gut, they realized that if they wanted to attract tourists to their unassuming, out-of-the-way restaurants they would have to become both the story and the destination.