Food Business Development: Sales, Marketing, & Advertising

On a typical day in 2013, food services businesses in the U.S. pull in $1.8 billion in sales (according to the National Restaurant Association's 2013 Restaurant Industry Pocket Factbook [PDF]). That's not too surprising when you consider LivingSocial's Dining Out Survey that found Americans dine out an average of 4.8 times a week. More and more people are opting out of cooking at home in favor of the convenience and ease of dining out.

So how can you make these figures work in your food business's favor? Let's explore some ways you can drive traffic to your business through marketing and sales techniques.

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Marketing Your Food Business: Know Who Your Customers Are

Marketing Your Food Business: Know Who Your Customers Are

Most food business owners have an ideal customer in mind before they open their doors. But truly understanding what makes your target market tick is the key to creating messaging and advertising that resonates. After all, people like to be understood. And even better, they like doing business with folks who seem to know what they want.

First, let's discuss two basic principles that will help you get inside the mind of your ideal audience:

  • Customer demographics.
  • Customer psychographics.

Customer Demographics

Demographics refer to who your customers are and what they do. This category includes information about…

  • Age.
  • Gender.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Income.
  • Geographic location.
  • Education.
  • Profession.

American Fact Finder, a tool provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, may come in handy for compiling this kind of data about your target market.

Customer Psychographics

If you want to know how you target market behaves and how they live their lives, you're looking for psychographic information. This kind of data will fill you in on…

  • How your audience spends their money.
  • What type of music they like.
  • What hobbies they enjoy.
  • What they like to read.
  • The kind of cars they drive.
  • The brands they support.
  • How often they shop.
  • Which factors influence their purchasing habits.

To get a feel for the lifestyles of people in your area, you can search your zip code on Nielsen's PRIZM tool.

Small businesses succeed when they use both types of information to understand what customers want. Armed with an understanding about your target audience, you can tailor your messaging and offerings to their preferences.

Sample Target Markets for Food Businesses

Sample Target Markets for Food Businesses

Because no single food services business can appeal to all walks of life, let's take a look at some major demographics that you may decide to home in on:

  • Generation Y. Also known as the "millennials," this group includes those born between 1980 and 2000. They are ethnically diverse, three times the size of Generation X, and have a serious penchant for quick-service items (namely burgers and pizza).
  • Generation X. This group is know for its strong family values and includes people who were born between 1965 and 1977. Though they tend to favor quick-service restaurants, they also like salad bars and buffet-style operations. Ambiance and a value-based experience are important to Gen X members.
  • Baby boomers. Baby boomers are the largest segment of the American population and were born between 1946 and 1964. They are known for the affluent professionals that grace the group, and so they tend toward upscale restaurants and family-friendly establishments that provide a formal dining experience.
  • Empty nesters. These folks may include baby boomers and younger seniors. Their children are grown and no longer live at home, which means they have more money to spend on leisure activities. Accordingly, they frequent upscale restaurants and care about excellent service and gourmet dishes.
  • Seniors. People aged 65 and older fall into this segment. Many folks in this group depend on fixed income, so they tend toward family-style restaurants that offer good service and reasonable prices.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to segment your market and think about how your establishment might appeal to different groups. Please use this information only as a jumping-off point for your own research and discoveries.

Sales and Marketing Techniques for Food Businesses

Sales and Marketing Techniques for Food Businesses

Now that you have some ideas about the tastes of your audience, you can tailor the following techniques to amplify your sales:

  • Build a customer database. Give your customers incentive to provide you with their information so you can use their contact details to promote your business. You might keep a business card drop box at your establishment or offer promotions for guests who subscribe to your monthly e-newsletter.
  • Offer frequent diner programs. Loyalty programs can be effective for enticing patrons to frequent quick-serve establishments, coffee shops, and food trucks. Many POS (point-of-sale) systems can automate these programs for you.
  • Launch an email marketing campaign. Email is one of the most reliable ways to reach your market and spread promotions. There are many programs that can help you organize your contact list and segment that list based on their tastes and the kind of information they find valuable. Some software programs can even automate marketing emails, newletters, and referral requests based on your sales cycle.
  • Create direct-mail campaigns. These campaigns can be effective for sending birthday promotions, customer loyalty perks, and thank you notes to, say, the couple whose wedding you have just catered.
  • Get involved in your community. You can create good PR and generate buzz about your business by getting involved in the goings-on around your community. Consider sponsoring a charity event or, if you own a banquet hall, offering your space for meetings or serving equipment for events. Maybe you decide to support local sports teams or donate some gift certificates to a local fundraiser. Whatever route your involvement takes, know that your efforts will help raise awareness about your business.
  • Build relationships with other businesses. If you live in an area with considerable tourist traffic, consider establishing relationships with hotel concierges. You may also make connections with the corporate administrators who book the catering.
  • Launch an in-house marketing strategy. Your in-house marketing can be one of the most effective ways to keep your customers coming back. This might include table tents, displays or signage, frequent diner promotions, and menu inserts.
  • Use social media. One of the foremost ways to reach a millennial audience is to connect through social media. Offer "share" promotions that require the user to repost a specific image for a giveaway. These strategies cost nothing and organically spread the word about your business (and your promotional offer!).
  • Invest in advertising. Advertising can take many forms. For example, your establishment's storefront sign is a kind of advertising. So remember that you don't have to spend a fortune on advertising for it to be effective. Instead, focus your efforts on local options. If you're located near a college campus, for instance, consider buying ad space in the campus newspaper – especially if millennials are your target market.

When it comes to marketing and increasing sales, perhaps the best advice is to be consistent. Don't expect immediate results. Instead, keep your eye on the long-term goal: to build relationships with your customers and clients and win their loyalty.

Additional Resources for Growing Food Businesses

Additional Resources for Growing Food Businesses

Check out these articles to learn more about developing and growing your food services business:

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