The Marketing Potential of Restaurant Contests

Customers always like a good contest. Whether it’s a competition or based on luck, customers become a lot more involved when something is at stake. With technology, in particular Facebook, restaurants have access to contests like never before. With this new ability to engage customers, restaurants should add contests to their marketing toolbox.

If a restaurant comes up with the perfect contest, customer relationships could improve dramatically. Although giveaways, raffles, and loyalty program based contests are the easiest, they are the less effective to me because they are passive. People lose interest with rewards based on luck if there is a long time before the announcement of winners.

A monetary prize is supposed to drive business. The loyal customer would be feel a little insulted as they didn’t need a contest to come back to your restaurant. The right contest also creates a spike in word of mouth. Customers are telling other customers about what they are participating in.

No More Big Hurdles Exist With Online Contests

In the past, contests had a lot of logistical problems. Remember the days where you had to send an entry card through the mail for contests and wait months for results. The Internet (especially Facebook) changed all that, so customers can send images and videos without much effort. With online applications, results normally take at most a week, and in the case of competitions, customers can vote to determine the winners.

There is no excuse to not attempt to run a contest for restaurants that have sufficient fans on Facebook.

Will A Contest Pay Off?

At worst, you build a database of customer info. The upsides seem to overwhelm the risk of not getting a strong response: Here’s a rough list of the possible benefits of an effective contest:

  • Database of customer information, like birthday, email and zip code
  • Increased customer engagement (esp. if they can participate to win a prize or vote on the winners)
  • Reward customer loyalty and improved brand recognition
  • Attract media and community attention
  • Spark word of mouth marketing

What Makes A Good Contest Good

  1. Connects with Brand and Concept
    The contest should make sense to customers. Even if the contest is neutral (like a plain raffle), you haven’t really accomplished anything marketing-wise. A recent contest by Coca Cola in Israel shows what I mean by connecting to the brand. The contest involved customers adding recycling bins to Facebook Places. The most active participant won and was declared the “Recycling King.” This highly successful contest makes sense because Coca Cola bottles and cans should be recycled. A seafood restaurant (near a body of water) may have a one-day informal fishing contest. It could be made interesting by the fisherman having to bring the fish to be cooked in your restaurant.
  2. Make The Contest Infectious and Fun
    A contest that gets dramatic media coverage and word of mouth has to be different. One idea is to rely on the creativity of your customers. Often, restaurants have received real powerful response from contests around taking pictures. Not only does nearly everyone have a camera on their phone (many of which can upload directly to the Internet), but the visual element is easier to get engagement with. If you can show the media your customers’ excitement and response, the media is likely to use your contest in a story.
  3. Give Every Customer Something for Effort
    You will probably only a handful of winners. Most times, there may only be one. You don’t want to make the ones who put time into your contest to feel like losers. A very modest consolation prize will demonstrate that you appreciate their participation. It may be only a free dessert or appetizer. For contests with multiple winners (as customers imagine their odds are better), you may even leave out mentioning the consolation prize until the contest is over.  If it is a small freebie, you bring your customers back into your restaurant and probably will break even.
  4. Use the Contest as a Stepping Stone for Other Marketing
    Collecting information about your customers is always the silver lining, even if the contest doesn’t take off like wildfire. Even if it really does catch on, you must follow up. You cannot run another contest right away as customers become tired of them very quick (as it takes some extra effort). Instead, you should back your contest with traditional marketing. You may have obtained their email addresses (and hopefully their birthdays) and permission to use them. You can reach out with more normal promotions and even set up a promotion to be sent for a customer’s birthday. If you have content leftover (such as pics) that would make interesting marketing materials, ask customers to collect it, so other customers find out about the contest. Perhaps, it even becomes an annual event. All your marketing including the contests should work together and build up momentum for your business.

Good Contests Don’t Happen Overnight

You don’t have to force it. Come up with an idea and talk it out with customers and people who will give you a straightforward answer. Once you have decided on something, do some research on what tools you should use (like Facebook apps). Evaluate if you have the resources next. Do you have enough Facebook fans or customers on your email list to give your contest a kick start? Can you make it so that you do not lose money? You may not be able to do it right away but with a little preparation, it is within most restaurants’ reach.

If you have any successful restaurant contests you’d like to share, write about it in the comments.