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How Can a Restaurant Sell on the Web?

Lois Carter Fay wrote in her Brainy Tidbidts newsletter that a small-town restaurant would typically "use a website as a traffic generator while a caterer might use it to actually make sales and schedule jobs."

I took that as a challenge; of course a restaurant could sell directly!

So I wrote back, "Actually, Lois, I can think of a number of ways a restaurant could sell directly from a website, with two safeguards: a notice on the site that says if you don't receive a confirmation message, your mail didn't go through, and flashing/audio indicators at the hostess's computer, requiring an "I've seen it" click.

A few examples:

* Online reservations
* Take-out ordering
* Express service--order 15 minutes ahead, and both your food and your table are ready when you get there (could even charge an extra fee for this)
* Merchandise sales: cookbooks, apparel, sauces, etc. (and that makes possible a non-geographical clientele)
* Partnering with affiliate links to attractions and hotels nearby--or, for chain restaurants, to other locations
* Maintain online customer profiles: favorite foods, preferences for preparation, dietary restrictions--and when you have a lobster special, e-mail all the patrons whose favorite food is lobster
* Coupons, loyalty discounts, and special offers, of course

There's a wonderful article on my site by Rick Beneteau called How Local Storefront Businesses Can "Clean Up" On the Web--it has many other ideas for local businesses to benefit from a web presence. He uses a dry cleaner as an example, and if it can work for a dry cleaner, it's hard to imagine any retail business that couldn't benefit.

I'd like to challenge your readers to improve on my ideas, above. I'll put the best ones into an article for my Monthly Frugal marketing tips, with website links and brief descriptions of each responder. Of course, I'll mention that this was sparked by an article in your newsletter (with link), and it will go out to my 6000 subscribers, and then be posted on the tips archives page. And you'd be welcome to run the article in Brainy as well."

Lois's readers weren't up for the challenge, apparently. But Lois stepped up to the plate:

As Shel Horowitz of pointed out a couple of issues ago, companies like restaurants that haven't traditionally used websites to sell directly are finding new ways to use websites to improve sales. Shel suggested online reservations, take-out ordering, express service, merchandise sales, partnering with other businesses, maintaining customer profiles, advertising special offers and using coupons and loyalty discounts.

Surprisingly, no one responded. Either Shel's ideas were so complete you had nothing to add or you were too busy to answer, so here are my ideas:

* Develop an online and email newsletter to send to an opt-in list of customers. The newsletter can include special offers only good for current customers, recipes that call for using the restaurant's special sauces and products, new offerings, profiles of customers and employees, testimonials from customers, and much more. Subscription management would be handled through the website.

* Start a Dining Club to pair up people who traditionally eat alone but who would love to meet and dine with some of the other customers.

* Offer the opportunity to reserve and plan special parties (holidays, bridal showers, business meetings, etc.) through the website, saving face-to-face meeting time.

* Offer "Cooking Lessons with the Chef" several times a year, for a fee. Customers would sign up on the website.

* Give virtual tours of the restaurant, complete with audio and video, mentioning the history, famous visitors, special techniques and offerings. Anyone who takes the virtual tour would be sent a free coffee mug and a coupon for 10 percent off their next online purchase or restaurant meal.

* Create a calendar of events for the restaurant and add it to the website. It could include entertainment offered, special tours, discounts available for certain days, special parties, menus, and so on. It could also include local happenings outside of the restaurant as a special service to customers, making this calendar THE listing for fun activities in the community.

* And of course, employment opportunities with the restaurant could be added to a special section of the website so that potential employees could submit their application online."

Shel Horowitz is the author of Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, and other books, and owner of

Lois Carter Fay owns and publishes the excellent "MarketingIdeaShop BRAINY Tidbits" Weekly Ezine. Visit her site for e-books on writing business plans and women entrepreneurs.

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