Friday, December 26, 2014

How Lack of Marketing Communication Killed Off a Favorite Restaurant

A restaurant we used to frequent monthly recently closed. Although we were saddened we were not surprised.

The restaurant was part of a chain, located in a busy shopping mall; it appears this particular concept had been acquired by another company, spun off somehow. It had several stores from Boston to New York but our local place was the last one in our area (several remain in Massachusetts, one in Rhode Island).

I could make a a case for the change in ownership being the core of the downfall and yes, the blame ultimately lies with the owners ... and their marketing missteps that led to the restaurant's closure. I think the managers we spoke to would agree.

The issue lies in the company's lack of marketing and communication with customers. Plain and simple.

Having been patrons since the restaurant's opening many years ago, we were very familiar with the menu and had our favorites. We went one night late in the spring and discovered that everything had changed. Whole new menu, a different (and ridiculous and downscale) pizza presentation, checkered cloths where white tablecloths had been. What the hell? We never saw anything in the local press about a big change coming (an ad would have done the trick); the Facebook page was relatively dormant, nothing on Yelp ...

As soon as we were seated a manager came over, almost apologetically, to ask if we were aware of the menu change and to go over options. A few of our favorite entrees (only a few) were retained as transitional dishes--offered as specials--while the rest of the menu had been overhauled (with fewer choices we would want to eat). Prices were higher in some cases (making the rectangular pizza on a half sheet pan even worse than it already was). We were very disappointed.

We tried a few things and left dispirited. The meal was just OK and our reasons for going had vanished.  The questions we had were: Why was there no news about this big change? How come we never saw an ad in the local newspaper about this? I am a loyalty card holder ... why didn't the company send letters to card holders announcing the menu change?

I took to the restaurant's Facebook page and lodged my complaints. No response.

By chance, a few months later, we decided to try it again. Lo and behold, things were fairly back to "normal." The menu was still more limited but many of the former popular dishes were back (not all). The stupid pizza presentation was gone. We were gladdened but once again, there had not been any inkling in the media that this had taken place; we discovered this by chance, effectively stumbling upon this switch. So therefore, unless a customer had loved the other change (not many did, the manager told me people were complaining and sales were plummeting) or like us, were willing to give the place another chance, why would anyone go back?

Well clearly, not enough people did. And because of no communication, no one knew it was "safe" to return. We tried to go one Sunday in November and the place had closed early due to lack of business. When we returned last week, a notice was posted on the door that the restaurant was officially closed for good.

This could have been averted with some marketing communication.
1 -- Alert your loyal customers that change is coming. As I mentioned before, I have a loyalty card (spend a certain amount of money and get a gift certificate to the restaurant). It would have been very easy for the company to contact all loyalty card holders with a heads up (even better, invite them into the menu process with a survey).

2 -- Inform the public of your news with--you guessed it--a news release. This is true news, I am sure the daily and weekly papers would have run something on this.

3 -- Run large, noticeable ads in local media announcing the makeover and menu change. This could have brought in new customers who'd never sampled the place before or who had been there years ago and now have a new reason to try it. It also would have alerted current patrons to the changes to avert nasty surprises.

4-- Use social media to make your announcement. The restaurant easily could have published the new menu on Facebook among other platforms.Great way to test the waters before taking the plunge (and eventually, drowning).

5 -- Speaking of social media, make sure the people working your accounts understand the importance and value of customer interaction. Social networks are by nature interactive and customer engagement is the name of the game. Big fail on their part.

Communication is a key element to any business' success and lack of it can spell failure. How do you stay in touch with your customers about changes or updates you're making?