Southeast Restaurants Work to Build Consumer Confidence

Despite tumultuous economic times, rising food costs and high gas prices, many restaurants in the southeast continue to drive business and to focus on the customer. And, whether an established chain or a new independent restaurant, food service professionals continue to grow what they have through creative and resourceful tactics that also benefits their customers.

Come up with Creative Restaurant Marketing Tactics

Many restaurants are learning how to use the Internet to expand their current business base. For instance, Sticky Fingers, a Memphis-style barbecue chain with 19 restaurants in five southern states, offers turnkey meal packages on their web site.

In 2000, initial offerings included barbecue meats and sauces. In 2007, they added side items such as baked beans, Savannah dip, macaroni and cheese, baked apples, and more. Customers now have the option to have complete meals delivered right to their door.

Sticky Fingers’ customers can also enjoy benefits of the "stickeclub." Customers simply fill out an online information form. And, within a few days, tempting offers arrive in their in box; they include coupons for free birthday ribs, anniversary gifts, and more.

Another restaurant, Randy’s Fish Market Restaurant in Naples, FL, is always coming up with new and innovative marketing ideas with the customer in mind. A recent endeavor includes the release of a new cookbook – Randy’s Fish Market Restaurant Cookbook. The book is a culmination of recipes from the past 30 years and its inspiration actually came from their customers.

"I can’t tell you how often someone would ask for the recipe for his or her favorite dish," Steve Hackett, who is in charge of daily operations said. "During the off-season, I’d get calls from some of our ‘snowbird’ customers who were back in Ohio or Indiana; they’d suddenly get a craving for some great dish they had eaten at the restaurant, so they’d pick up the phone and call me."

The cookbook has turned out to be a great marketing tool and also provides customers with the option of making the meal themselves!

"Last summer, for example, when most restaurant owners were singin’ the blues, our numbers were up 20 percent," Hackett explained. "And, I directly credit the cookbook for that. During its assembly, we sent out a series of press releases to local media; that resulted in a mountain of priceless publicity."

Redefining a Restaurant in the Face of a Changing Economy

For many restaurateurs, making simple changes is key. Vincenzo’s Ristorante and Bistro in Asheville, NC has instituted some minor changes that have made some major positive impacts to its business.
The first change was expanding its array of menu offerings. Instead of only full meals, customers can now also choose smaller plate items for less money.

"In talking with people in the community, I learned that people wanted some flexibility in their choices and also in their budget," Dwight Butner, owner of Vincenzo’s, said. "With our new menu choices, our guests can now order a smaller cut of filet mignon for under $20 and they can also treat themselves to a half order of pasta."

Butner continues that this new change has had a positive effect on his business.

"People like to know that they are getting a good deal without sacrificing quality," he said.

Additionally, Vincenzo’s has also changed its smoking policy to accommodate both smokers and non-smokers. Smokers are now permitted to light up after 9:30 p.m., but not before. This allows their non-smoking customers to enjoy the bar and bistro area, listen to music, and have a small plate or cocktail in a smoke-free environment, but it also provides their smoking clientele with the option of stopping in for a sumptuous Italian dessert, espresso, and possibly a fancy cigar.

Another restaurant operator in North Carolina shares her thoughts about what she is doing to combat prices, yet continue to drive traffic into all three of the CiCi’s Pizza Buffet locations that she and her husband own and operate.

"Despite the soaring cost of flour and cheese -- an increase of 60 percent compared to last year -- we have issued coupons to our customers to drive business into our restaurants. We can afford to offer discounts, if volume increases," Janice Kennedy, owner said.

So, while marketing methods may vary, all restaurateurs have one goal in common -- to continue to bring in new business, maintain old business, and work with their customers to deliver quality products that will benefit everyone.

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About The Author, Bryan W. Sullivan
Bryan W. Sullivan, Vice President, Write Away, Inc. specializes in financial, travel, medical, agricultural, and food and beverage writing. He lives in Weaverville, NC. Visit