Film buffs will remember that in The Graduate, the one word of advice Mr. McGuire offers to Benjamin is ‘plastics’. If there is a single word to offer today’s hospitality leaders, I suggest that word is ‘merchandising’. In particular, I urge the restaurateur to pay special attention to this often unexpected opportunity for added revenue, brand enhancement and stronger customer engagement.
Hotels get it, as they move past the days when guests might purchase the branded robe as a remembrance of a pleasant vacation. The current breed of hotels now sells virtually everything in the room – mattresses, pillows, sheet sets, lamps, vanity mirrors and so on. Marriott even sells shower curtains and showerheads.
Restaurants, not so much. A considerable percentage of foodservice establishments miss opportunities to create that extra revenue stream and advance their brand through merchandising. Good food is only one part of the equation.
In Streetwise Restaurant Management, author John James explains that profits from merchandising head straight to the bottom line since no extra labor is involved. “There’s no food prep, cooking, serving or cleaning up afterward. You just hand over the item and take back the customer’s money with a friendly ‘Thank you, come again.’”
And, of course, benefits do not end after the customer pays for the merchandise. Development of branded merchandise in keeping with identity and quality of the property has a much larger marketing effect. Every time purchasers come across your signature merchandise at home, they are reminded of your restaurant.
Merchandising will take your brand one step further. But, of course, you must make certain the items you offer complement the restaurant’s image. Being true to your brand is the most important consideration in a merchandising effort. Branded t-shirts, sweatshirts and baseball caps are the most common wearable items, usually offered in the casual segment. You might even consider offering a discount to patrons who come in wearing the restaurant’s branded apparel. When you sell clothing with your logo on it, your patrons (walking billboards) are paying to advertise for you, and while shirts and hats may not be appropriate for a Michelin-starred establishment, there are many other possibilities.
Elegant wine glasses, laser-etched with your logo and gift-boxed, provide an obvious item for add-on sales. Guests will be reminded of their visit to your restaurant every time they use your glassware; likewise for artfully packaged steak knives. If your coffee supplier has created a proprietary blend for the restaurant, sell the home-brew beans along with branded mugs. Allow guests to take home specialty bottled sauces, spice blends or salad dressings. You might consider working with a food manufacturer and grocery retailer to get your signature products on local supermarket shelves. The Bravo Cucina chain of Italian restaurants not only provides a special herb-infused olive oil for dipping bread at the beginning of every meal, they sell those bottles of oil to diners at the table, boosting check averages.
One of my favorite characters in the history of hospitality is Sherman Billingsley, proprietor of the Stork Club, New York’s most storied nightspot during the 1940s and 1950s. Billingsley was never one to miss a marketing trick. When he realized guests were pilfering his distinctive, black-and-white Stork Club ashtrays as souvenirs, he put them in gift boxes and sold them by the thousands. Okay, we don’t use ashtrays anymore, but you get the picture.
This brings us to a restaurant’s most effective signature product. A restaurant cookbook can serve as a valuable promotional tool as well as a major source of additional revenue. Jasper Mirabile Jr. of Jasper’s in Kansas City, Missouri has his servers offer the restaurant’s cookbook from the dessert cart. Anthony Daniele of Mario’s Italian Steakhouse in Rochester, New York calls his cookbook a ‘212-page business card’. The restaurant cookbook becomes a permanent fixture in the home, bringing it to your customer’s attention time after time. As a consultant to the development and production of several cookbook projects, I can assure you that the process is less intimidating than you might imagine, and the option of print-on-demand services opens the door to self-publishing with a limited budget.
Finding and offering the right merchandise will provide supplemental income for your brand and increase customer engagement without spending a dime on traditional advertising. You’ll find that restaurant guests are willing to pay for something that has your name on it because it enhances an experience and creates a memory. And best of all, it’s only available at one place in the world.
About the Author
Michael Turback is a former member of Cayuga Hospitality Consultants.