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National Restaurant Association - Turn your restaurant into a tourist destination

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Turn your restaurant into a tourist destination

Boost your sales this summer by attracting more tourists to your restaurant. Travelers spend more than $209 billion annually on food service in the United States, according to the U.S. Travel Association. On average, tourism accounts for about a third of fine-dining sales and almost a fourth of casual-dining sales, according to National Restaurant Association research.

Try these 10 tips to attract tourists:

1. Connect with concierges. “The concierge is the first person that hotel guests ask for a dining recommendation,” says Julie Zucker, director of marketing and promotions for Branded Restaurants USA in New York City. “We invite concierges for a meal so they can recommend us with confidence.” The company owns and operates three restaurant concepts, Big Daddy’s, Duke’s and City Crab.

Supervisors from San Antonio’s Mi Tierra Cafe & Bakery visit area concierges weekly, greeting them with baked goods and a stack of “Amigo cards” to give hotel guests. The cards, which feature the concierge’s name and hotel, entitle customers to free desserts. Mi Tierra tracks the referrals, rewarding a concierge for every 20 customers.

2. Plug into social media. As soon as tourists head into Las Vegas and “check in” to a location with Facebook, the ads for local attractions start. Among them is Blondies Sports Bar & Grill on the Strip. “That’s been a great tool,” says manager Catherine Pavesich. “We find it works better than the old-fashioned visitors’ guides.”

Branded Restaurants USA uses Twitter to get the word out. “We look for the Twitter handles that tourists follow and post there,” says Zucker. For example, she might tweet at #nycgo that Big Daddy’s is offering free milkshakes with a purchase.

3. Act as area ambassadors. Build your reputation as a restaurant that welcomes visitors. “We train our servers to talk knowledgeably about the area and the local culture,” says David Cortez, co-owner of Mi Tierra. Some team members are certified city ambassadors through a program a San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau program that develops customer service and area expertise. Similar Certified Tourism Ambassador programs are available throughout the country.

4. Team up for cross-promotions. Work with local theaters, museums and other area attractions to piggyback promotions. For example, Havana Central in New York City’s Times Square, which specializes in Cuban cuisine, found a natural partner in Broadway’s “In the Heights,” which is set in a Latino neighborhood. The restaurant promoted a 20 percent discount code for “In the Heights” and offered a dining discount to guests presenting their ticket stubs. “We also catered their cast party,” says founder Jeremy Merrin. “That was tremendous exposure for us.”

5. Become a “bus stop.” Havana Central brings in the tourists by the busload, usually at off-peak times. “We offer a prix-fixé meal at a discount,” says Merrin. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Building up the tour clientele took time, says Merrin. “Originally we would spot bus drivers on the street and ask them what tour groups they were with.” After some cold calls to tour agencies, the restaurant began to land tour groups. “One you get on their schedule they come back again and again,” he says.

6. Make time for timeshares. Mai Kai, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., restaurant that runs a Polynesian revue show, offers a bulk discount to a local timeshare. The timeshare company purchases vouchers for a fixed-price dinner and show, using them as tour incentives.

7. Manage your online reputation. Monitor what tourists say about your restaurant on review sites such as TripAdvisor. Respond to reviews, especially negative ones, so you control your reputation. For example, if a tourist tries oysters and dislikes them, restaurant staff thank him or her for dining at the restaurant.  “Then we might say: ‘While we think oysters are great, they’re not for everyone. Next time you’re in town, let us know if you want something you don’t see on our menu,’” Zucker says.

8. Become a site to see. Tourists flock to Mi Tierra for its festive décor and strolling musicians, to Mai Kai for a tropical waterfall view and to Polynesian revue and to Big Daddy’s for pop culture memorabilia, such as an autographed photo of the “Bay Watch” cast.

9. Work with your local convention and visitors bureau. These organizations can help promote your restaurant through their websites, visitor centers and more.

10. Find out how the tourists found you. On their comment cards, Mai Kai asks guests how they heard about the restaurant. The responses help guide future marketing decisions.


 

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