three smiling customers

5 Free Ways to Get Customers Talking about Your Foodservice Brand

By Jay Baer, published author and social media expert

Skip’s Kitchen is a family owned restaurant in Sacramento, California. It’s constantly packed and was recently named one of America’s top hamburger restaurants. Yet, in the nine years it’s been open, Owner Skip Wahl has never spent one dollar on advertising. How? Word of mouth.

Skip’s Kitchen is popular because its customers are compelled to tell other people about the restaurant. And it’s not because the food is good (although it is). And it’s not because the service is good (although it is). It’s because of a deck of cards.

After you place your order at the front counter at Skip’s, before you pay for your meal, the cashier whips out a deck of card, fans them out face down, and says, “pick a card” And if you pick a Joker … your entire meal is free!

On average, about three people win each day at Skip’s. But when they do … It’s chaos. People take selfies with the joker. They post on social media. They call their mother. All the other patrons clap and cheer (somewhat enviously).

The deck of cards gambit at Skip’s Kitchen is a “Talk Trigger:” an operational differentiator that creates customer conversation.

Most fast-casual operators believe that competency creates conversation. That being “good” equals word of mouth. But it often does not, because almost every competitor is at least good. If you want customers to tell others about your restaurants — and you do — you must be different in addition to being excellent.

My new study about this dynamic is called Chatter Matters: the 2018 Word of Mouth Report. In this study of more than 1,000 Americans, I discovered that 50 percent of Americans rely on word-of-mouth recommendations when making a restaurant selection.

And the impact of word of mouth on dining choices is even more pronounced among younger patrons. This is especially true for online word of mouth via social media, Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor and similar. When choosing where to eat, Millennial and Gen Z diners use online word of mouth 99 percent more than do Gen X and Boomer customers.

The best way to tap into this trend and create customer conversations is to give your patrons a consistent, memorable story to tell.

The Cheesecake Factory, for example, has an exceptional word-of-mouth generator: its enormous menu, which is filled with a total of 5,940 words.

I surveyed hundreds of The Cheesecake Factory customers, and a remarkable 38 percent of them have mentioned the size of the menu to someone else in the past 60 days. The customers of The Cheesecake Factory recruit new customers through their own storytelling.

In the research for my new book, “Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth” my co-author Daniel Lemin and I identified different types of conversation catalysts; specific ways you can create chatter by doing something different in the operations of your restaurant.

1. Talkable generosity
In this style of Talk Trigger, you give your customers a little something extra, Five Guys Burgers and Fries is legendary in this area, as they provide each patron a substantial volume of “bonus fries.” Social media chatter about this largesse is constant, propelling the chain’s growth.

2. Talkable usefulness
Here, you do something for customers that is more useful than they anticipate, spurring them to tell others about the experience. Jay Sofer is the highest-rated locksmith in New York City, partially because of his Talk Trigger, which is to oil every lock in every home he visits, not just the locks he fixes.

3. Talkable empathy
Being more human and empathetic than customers expect is another way to boost conversation. Dr. Glenn Gorab is an oral surgeon in Clinton, New Jersey. Every Saturday, Dr. Gorab calls each new patient who is visiting his office for the first time in the following week, asking if they have any questions beforehand. Such a simple, humanizing gesture! An oral surgeon may have called you AFTER a procedure, but never before you’ve ever set foot in their office. A terrific Talk Trigger! In the fast-casual world, providing patrons with exceptionally thorough and easy-to-understand food allergens information might be a strong, empathetic talk trigger.

4. Talkable responsiveness
Speed matters. Customers equate speed to caring in many cases. The faster you can respond, and the more convenient you are, the more memorable you’ll be. Jimmy John’s uses this conversation-starter by creating and delivering sandwiches with great rapidity.

5. Talkable attitude
Some businesses create conversation just by being a little … different. Perhaps my favorite example is the Sip n’ Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana. It’s a 56-year-old tiki bar that was named “Number One Bar in the World Worth Flying to See” by GQ Magazine. Why?

Behind the bar is a giant swimming pool with glass sides. And from 9 pm until midnight every night, the Sip n’ Dip features human mermaids (and on Tuesdays, mermen) swimming in the pool for all to witness.

Now THAT creates some chatter!

Word of mouth is the most cost-effective way to grow your restaurant because when your current customers tell their friends, you get new customers at no additional cost.

But you have to give your customers a story worth telling. Pick one or more of these five types of Talk Triggers, and get started.

Source: Jay Baer for Fast Casual

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