Experiential Marketing for Restaurants

Why? As foodie culture has taken off in the United States and beyond, diners are clamoring to attend interesting food-related events. You can deliver by offering experiential marketing events designed especially for them.

How do you do that? We have some ideas and examples for restaurants experimenting with experiential marketing for the first time, or those looking to increase their use of this popular marketing technique.

Take food sampling up a notch

We don’t always think of product sampling as experiential marketing, but it can be. One of the most valuable aspects of experiential marketing is that it allows consumers to experience products and services with multiple senses. It also allows them to try things before they buy them. If you make all your product sampling event memorable and positive experiences for consumers, they can become wildly successful experiential marketing activations.

In recent years we’ve seen many spirit brands offer semi-private, educationally-focused tastings for consumers. For example, Jim Beam create pop-up “bars” at liquor stores in 14 major markets. Each event featured a bartender who poured bourbon samples, talked consumers through what they tasted, and asking subtle questions to determine which they liked best and how they planned to use the spirits. If the bartender was able to glean information about each consumer’s intentions, he or she could share recipes and personal recommendations on what to buy. The bartenders also encouraged consumers to sign up for a rewards program.

The result? Jim Beam saw a 68 percent increase in event sales from 2013 to 2014.

Is there a way you can add value to your tasting events? Perhaps by providing more personal service, a more exclusive experience, a chance to compare products, or opportunities to share photos on social media?

Connect with foodies by offering unique food experiences

A growing number of consumers value experiences more than materials goods. That’s certainly true when it comes to food. Create a unique food experience for these consumers and you’ll have them eating out of your hand.

Arrange high-end barn dinners, wine pairing dinners or dinners with experimental dishes. Plan lectures, demos or classes where consumers can learn about the foods of a particular culture or cooking hacks from celebrity chefs. Offer consumers opportunities to tour farms, wineries, breweries or processing facilities where businesses mill local grains or shape pasta.

Just make sure all activations stick to the key elements that make experiential marketing successful. Events should allow consumers to experience products with all five senses. Taste and smell are easy for restaurants, but how can you allow consumers to experience memorable textures, sounds and sights?

Any event should offer consumers something of value – besides food. Give consumers knowledge; high-quality products that are branded or useful for cooking at home; a positive emotional experience; or a chance to meet celebrities or influencers. Help them have a positive emotional experience. You know how important customer service is in a restaurant; how can you up the customer service experience even more?

Also, make sure you incorporate social media into your experience. This will help you spread your message far beyond the event itself. People love to food porn. You, more than any business except those who feature kittens and puppies in their activations, should have no problem getting consumers to take photographs and share them with their friends on sites such as Twitter and Instagram. Make sure they’re all participating in the same conversation (and promoting you at the same time) by providing them with a hashtag or encouraging them to take photographs with your name/logo in the background.

Plan a pop-up dining experience

Eventbrite, the popular event registration and ticketing platform, did a study of food and beverage trends in 2014. They found that pop-up dining was one of the fastest-growing types of events organizers were planning.

“Pop-up dinners are one-time food events that offer guests a taste of something different,” Eventbrite shares. “Whether it’s an unexpected location, a personal interaction with the chef, or a unique menu or theme, these events cater to the ‘Experiential Diner’ – who craves not just an amazing meal, but a new and exciting dining experience.”

There you have it. Why not create a pop-up version of your restaurant at a music festival, fashion show, holiday festival or other community event? Sell what you normally sell, but give it a thematic twist: mango salsa on your burgers at a tropical event, or napkins stamped with U.S. history quiz questions at a political event (if you do that, why not have a number where people can text answers to the questions and win prizes?).

Alternatively, sell something you don’t normally sell. It will give your chef a chance to get creative, and show diners that you’re willing to get creative.

Create an experiential marketing event in partnership with another brand

One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in experiential marketing is companies doing events in partnership with one another. You have a great thing to offer any company that’s interested in pairing up to create an experiential marketing event. Everyone loves food! Look for like-minded brands that sell other products and services, and see if you can co-organize an activation that will be beneficial for everyone involved.

Factory 360 has a long-time partnership to plan experiential marketing campaigns for PayPal. One highly successful activation was a cross-promotional event between PayPal and Jamba Juice. Brand ambassadors visited Jamba Juice locations across the company to educate consumers about the PayPal Here service, which allows consumers to use PayPal to buy products at brick and mortar locations. Brand ambassadors helped consumers learn how to use PayPal Here and handed out samples of Jamba Juice products.

Create a positive association with your restaurant

Experiential marketing can be tangentially related to your restaurant and still be successful. The goal of some experiential marketing events is simply to create a positive association between your brand and a consumer. And if that’s what you’re trying to do, you don’t necessarily need to serve food and drinks.

McDonald’s has done dozens of great experiential marketing events over the years, but here’s one that illustrates this point really well. Several consumers that frequented the fast food chain’s locations in London won the chance to participate in a secret event. McDonald’s loaded them onto a double decker bus and told them it was bound for a concert venue.

Instead, pop star Jessie J boarded the bus and performed a private concert just for them. The concert was streamed live on McDonald’s social media channels, which widened the number of people who could “participate.” But the people on board the bus got a once in a lifetime experience that is likely to make them loyal to McDonald’s for a long time. And McDonald’s did it without handing out a single Big Mac or McCafé coffee.

Why not give experiential marketing a try? Factory 360 is happy to help. We’ve been in business for over 10 years, so we know what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to experiential marketing. We can help you plan an event that will reach the consumers you want to reach and help you meet your goals. Contact us today to learn more.