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Guest Value Optimization:  
How to Build an Unstoppable Restaurant Business

This is your chance to own Marketing For Independents treasured collection of restaurant growth checklists. Join other restauranteurs and access our proven marketing trainings, checklists, templates, and more for only $1. Learn more now.

You’ve finally found it…

This resource is designed for those unfamiliar with Marketing for Independents (MFI for short) — and for those salty MFI veterans that want a refresher course on the foundational principles of independent restaurant marketing.

It’s also a road map of sorts.

You see — all restaurant operators are at various levels of STUCK. There’s just so much to learn and so much from which to choose.

From beginner to seasoned pro — we are all looking to get better at what we do — always looking for an edge. It’s our defining characteristic.

This page is here to help you master this restaurant marketing stuff.

And by “stuff” we mean…

The System

It’s the same type of system Starbucks and McDonald’s have used to corner the coffee and fast food markets. It’s the same system Amazon uses to dominate ecommerce. It’s how Best Buy, Beach Body (selling workouts like P90X) and Sports Illustrated have become household names.

This system works for small, medium and enterprise level businesses. It works for mom-and-pop diners and billion dollar chains. It works no matter the food you sell, the prices you charge, or the concept you employ.

It works especially well for independent restaurants...as we have refined and perfected it.​

This system works because it exploits each and every aspect of the irrefutable law of business growth put forth by legendary marketer Jay Abraham:

There are only three ways to grow a business...

  • increase the number of customers,
  • increase the average sale,
  • increase the number of transactions (visits per customer)
Jay Abraham
Marketing Consultant

Taken all three together, we call it Guest Value Optimization or GVO.

Read this page carefully. Read it multiple times and commit it to memory.

This is the stuff they don’t teach in business (or culinary) school.

Learn the Steps to Customer Value Optimization

The following flowchart outlines the GVO system.

(Download a PDF copy of the diagram here)

Print this PDF and tack it to the wall in your office. If you plan to execute any of the plans on MFI, you’ll need to reference it often.

When you’re learning new tactics like Facebook Advertising, New Customer Acquisition or Birthday Clubs, you’ll need to constantly remind yourself of the GVO process. Otherwise, you’re wasting time and money.

This is a warning: There is little profit in understanding, for example, an eMail List Building System or Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in and of itself. But, there is enormous profit in understanding how to apply these  strategies to the GVO process.

Here are the steps,

  1. Identify your Hungry Tribes,
  2. Refine the Story to Tell Your Tribes,
  3. Create the First-Visit Magnets,
  4. Make the Customer Experience a REMARKABLE one
  5. Build Your Connection Lists
  6. Create Content, Connection and Offers
  7. Accelerate the Return Path

Let’s begin with…

Step 1 – Identify Your Hungry Tribe(s)

Business is pretty simple.

We get paid when we can find a group of people who want to buy what we have to sell. 

If you don't know of specific, identifiable groups of customers who are currently visiting, or are prone to visit your restaurant, then ​the likelihood of your success is greatly diminished.

Contrary to what many restaurant owners think, you CANNOT simply identify your customers as "everybody", because:

  • It is impossible to serve "everybody" in a meaningful way.  The Tribes you can best serve have very different needs, wants and expectations than "everybody" else,
  • Reaching "everybody" in your marketing and advertising is prohibitively expensive.  You don't have enough time or money to reach everybody, and you'll go out of business trying.

At MFI, we use the term "Hungry Tribes" to describe the most important customer groups who we can 1) concretely identify and 2) serve meaningfully.

According to Seth Godin (the reigning king of marketing in the US), the key in restaurant marketing is to identify tribes of people who can say "people like us...come to a place like this".

In other words, find hungry tribes who want what you have...then serve them.

So, your first job as a business owner is to concretely and as completely as possible identify the Hungry Tribes who visit your restaurant.  Here are some questions to help you do that:

  • Where do they live?
  • Where do they work?
  • How much do they make?
  • What do they watch on TV?
  • Male or female?
  • What is their political affiliation?
  • What web sites do they visit?
  • How often do they visit your restaurant?
  • Why are they in the area of my restaurant?
  • Are they married?
  • Do they have kids?
  • Do they own their own home?
  • What kind of car(s) do they drive?
  • What do they read?
  • What social media do they use?
  • What other defining characteristic do they have?

You may find you can identify only one hungry tribe (e.g. rich, single males who work in the office building next door and come to my restaurant for lunch 3 times a week.)

It's much more likely you have 3-5 significantly different Hungry Tribes whom you serve.  Write a description of each of your Hungry Tribes and keep it handy.  You'll need it as you create your marketing machine.

(By the way, inside the Marketing for Independents membership site, we go into much greater depth in how to identify Hungry Tribes. )

Step 2 – Tell Your Restaurant's Story

Newsflash: Customers don't visit you
for the sake of buying food…

70 years ago, people visited (the very few) restaurants for one primary reason: they needed to eat.

Those times are long gone...

Now, customers choose your restaurant for a variety of reason, few of which have to do with simply the food you serve.  

...Let that sink in for a moment...

People don't buy your food...

...customer buy outcomes (how your restaurant makes them feel)

You see, restaurants get paid when customers move from a "Before" state to a desired "After" state​.

​In the “Before” state the customer is discontent in some way. They might feel lonely, bored, insecure or unhappy for any number of other reasons.  

In their “After” state — life is better. They feel connected, entertained, full or otherwise relieved of what previously plagued them.

A great restaurant will know how customers want them to feel and will genuinely move them to the desired “After” state...

...and great marketing simply articulates the move from the “Before” state to the desired “After” state.

Getting clear on the outcomes and values your restaurant delivers is fundamental to the success of your business.

Here’s how to get clarity on your customers' before and after states…

The 21 Question "Restaurant Value" Self-Test

It turns out there are 21 different "After States" restaurant customers might be searching for. These desired states are also called "Solutions" in the pyramid below. 

Before you go any further with your restaurant marketing -- if you haven't already done so, take our 5-Minute Restaurant Difference Test.

The results from the test will show you exactly which value you deliver on (and which problems you don't solve) for your guests.

Your guests arrive with a set of needs, and leave with those needs fulfilled.​

Average operators only articulate what a customer will HAVE if they purchase their food. Great marketers speak to how a customer will FEEL, how their AVERAGE DAY will change and how their PROBLEMS will be solved, their needs fulfilled.

In other words, your guests show up in your restaurant looking to solve a unique set of problems (the before state), and leave with those problems solved (the after state).

With the results of your "Restaurant Value" test in hand, you will be able to create an environment, develop products and service, and build marketing systems that will have an immediate, lasting and meaningful impact. 

Your Customer's Before and After Grid:

Before you create another special offer or any other marketing device --- go through this exercise.

Use the results from your "Restaurant Value"​ test and put the top results in the right hand column (your highest scoring values at the top).

After you fill out the right side, go back through on the left side and briefly describe the "before" state for each item.

For example, we've done some consulting for a fine-dining restaurant with an Italian theme.  They are open for lunch and dinner and primarily serve their Hungry Tribe of upper-middle and up-scale professionals who live in a 7-10 mile radius of their single location.

But, they does so much more than serve good Italian food...after guests visit, they are transformed...

  • ​From feeling disconnected and alone, to being meaningfully connected with other human beings,
  • From wanting to experience something comforting from the past, to a satisfied sense of nostalgia,
  • From being bored with the "same old" mundane food, to experience something of a much higher quality,
  • From not wanting to spend a lot of cash, to saving money (compared to the high-end competition),
  • From being in a mundane, uninteresting environment, to enjoying a unique restaurant design and ambiance.

​With this simple  “Before/After” grid, any half decent marketer will be able to create messages that will have an impact.

The marketing copy almost writes itself now that you are clear on the “Before” and “After”…

  • ​"Don't be a nameless, faceless number, we treat you like friends and family." (Connection)
  • "Experience Italian like you remember it...just like they used to make it in the old country." (Nostalgia)
  • "Why settle for chain-restaurant fare? Enjoy real Italian, right next door." (High Quality)
  • Authentic italian meals, reasonably priced." (Low Cost)
  • When you visit, you'll swear you are in Florence." (Design Appeal)

The copy options are endless, but do you see how this restaurant moves customers from their "Before" state and right into the desired "After" state?

It’s powerful stuff.

If you’re not able to clearly articulate how you take your quests from the “Before” state to a desired “After” state — you will have a problem with how your story connects with your target audience, and how competitive you can be.

You either need to redefine the Hungry Tribes you serve, better identifychange the values you impact, or change the story you tell your Tribes.​

The BIGGEST MISTAKE I see with restaurants is trying to be all things to all people...trying to impact ALL the values in the pyramid at once.  

Even Apple (one of the best, most profitable  companies out there)  tries to impact only 9 of the 21 values in the pyramid, even though Apple has unlimited resources for marketing, product development and customer service.  They still don't try to be all things to all people, and you shouldn't either.

Simplicity  =  Clarity  =  Profitability​

If you are seriously trying to attract and serve "everyone" in the four zip codes around your restaurant, don't waste any more time or money here because your failure is almost assured.​

There may be nothing more important than the fit between your Hungry Tribes and the values you impact, simply because every other part of the process is dependent upon having a group of willing and able customers who want what you offer.

In the next step, we’ll dispel the myth behind first-time visits …

(By the way, inside MFI we go much further in depth in choosing your target customers, identifying the problems you solve, and telling a story that resonates.  If you are yet a member, check it out by clicking here.)

Step 3 – A Reliable System to Magnetically Attract "First Visit" Guests

This might shock you but you DO NOT have a new customer attraction problem.

You might have a business model problem, a positioning problem or a measurement problem.

Here’s why…

What if I told you that every time you get a new customer to visit your restaurant you make $10 in gross profit from that customer? Could you get new-guests to show up to your restaurant?

Heck yes you could. You could spend up to $10 to get a new guest to your restaurant and still break even on that initial transaction.

In fact, you’ll be willing to spend much more than $10 when you truly understand the whole of Guest Value Optimization. 

Always keep in mind,

“He who can spend the MOST money to acquire a visit from a new customer, wins!”

Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com, once said (in a tongue-and-cheek warning to his competitors)…

“Your margin is my opportunity.”

Amazon sells to their new customers on the thinnest of margins knowing that once they acquire a new customers, selling them more and selling to them more frequently is how they became unstoppable.

You must look at your restaurant the same way Bezos looks at Amazon.​  He completely understands the GVO model, and so must you.  

You can afford to make little or no money on your first customer visit, because your real profit is in the return visits (selling them more, and selling them more frequently over a long time).

Google, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and The US Post Office (just to point out the obvious) are lining up to sell you ways to reach potential customers.

But first, you need to understand,

  1. How to measure what new customers are worth,
  2. How to extract maximum value from those new customers.

Most restaurant owners ignore the critical job of attracting new customers.  Instead relying on chance, the vagaries of "the market" or they just simply give up.

On the other hand, the operators who have figured out how to create a steady stream of new guests from their Hungry Tribes win the day!

This is why you are frustrated. You have no context. You have no system.

Individual tactics are worthless if you don’t understand the GVO process.

We can teach you to drive new customer visits through tactics like direct mail, Facebook ads or any number of other media. But first, you need to internalize the GVO system and why it works.

The goal, no matter which traffic or media source you choose, is to drive the right first-time visitors into your GVO Funnel.

Become a master of one or two steady new customer magnet systems. Stay focused on those first-visit systems.  Once mastered, add a third, fourth and fifth new-visit source.

The most effective new customer attraction media we use include…

  • Direct Mail (the most efficient, by the way)
  • Social Networks (Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest, etc)
  • Signage and Banners
  • Pay Per Click (Google, Bing, etc.)
  • Organic Social Media
  • Yelp and Other Review Sites
  • SEO

Regardless of the media you use, it all begins with the First-Visit Magnet…

...if you comprehend and execute on this step, you’ll be miles ahead of most of your competitors.

Remember, our first goal is to increase the number of NEW guests. (They are the life-blood of any successful restaurant).  

And to optimize that number, you need to create a "magnet" of sorts to reliably, consistently and predictably attract a steady stream of (truly) new customers.

The First-Visit Magnet contains an irresistible, valuable offer that exists for one reason and one reason only… to convert your identified Target Hungry Tribes into real first time guests

The goal of the First-Visit Magnet is to fundamentally change the relationship from a vague "awareness" to an actual paying customer. The conversion of a targeted prospect to a actual, live guest is magical.

Regardless of the media you use, the key is to make a First-Visit Magnet offer that they are unable to resist.

As you know, your potential customers have dozens (and sometimes hundreds or thousands) of competitive restaurants from which to choose.  

If you only "put your name out there" or rely solely on your "brand" to attract new customers, you'll GET LOST in the thousands of marketing messages bombarding your customers every day.

Sure, you'll inadvertently attract a few new visitors. But remember you are trying to become a MASTER of only a few traffic sources, to have a steady, predictable stream of new customer visits.

That's exactly why a First-Visit Magnet is so important.  It creates predictability and a reliable flow of new customers.​

The most common way to make the First-Visit Magnet irresistible is by offering $10-$30 (depending on your ticket average) to spend in your restaurant with no strings attached.

That’s correct, but DON'T PANIC! — keep in mind; you are not trying to make a living from First-Visit Magnets. You are trying to acquire customers because there is nothing more valuable to a restaurant than a real live first time guest!

When you understand the rest of the Guest Value Optimization process you will understand how a First-Visit Magnet is the single most powerful addition you can make to your business — even though you make little or no direct profit from their first visit.

A classic example of a great First-Visit Magnet offer comes from Columbia Records,

Years ago, Columbia House took over the music market by making an absolutely irresistible "First-Visit" offer (11 records or tapes for $1) because they understood that acquiring new buyers is the name of the game.​

Columbia House is the classic example, but great "magnet offers" are all around us.

It’s the ridiculous flat screen TV deal at Best Buy. It’s the rock-bottom price of a Kindle Fire. It’s the $30 Airbnb gives first time users of their service. It's even the $100 discount on a case of wine from Naked Wines.

The strategy behind the First-Visit Magnet is simple:

Convert the maximum number your Hungry Tribes into first-time paying guests, even at the immediate expense of your profit margin on their first visit.  Understand a paying customer will deliver MASSIVE profit through the continual operation of the next three steps:

  • The Remarkable Experience
  • Continuous Connection and Content
  • Acceleration of the Return Path

Step 4 – Make Your Restaurant's
Experience Remarkable 

The SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT part of your GVO system is a remarkable customer experience in your restaurant.  Without a consistently remarkable experience the rest of the GVO system is worthless.

Frankly, the word "remarkable" is both 1) easy to dismiss and 2) incredibly intimidating.

It's easy to dismiss because "remarkable" it is so widely used it's become meaningless (much like "awesome" or "terrific").

At the same time, it can be intimidating as it seems to indicate an impossibly high bar which few businesses can achieve.

At MFI, we prefer using this short, concise and especially useful ​definition of remarkable.

Remarkable: Something worth talking (remarking) about. 

It makes it pretty simple:  Make the experience in your restaurant something your customers want to tell themselves and others about!

Here's exactly how to make sure you are doing that:

Go back and review your "Before and After" grid. (step 2 above.)  Choose the top 3-5 problems in your grid, and use them as your "remarkability" standard.

It's the standard to which all your products, your service, your environment, your marketing and everything else in your business is compared.​

With the "top 2-5) in mind, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I focus on these top values in everything I create, sell and market?
  • Does the story I tell about my restaurant match the "After" states my customers want?
  • Is the focus of my story  the customer, making them the hero?
  • ​Do I train my staff to live out the values and the story  I want to tell customers?
  • Does my staff "tell" the same story as the rest of my restaurant expresses?

This is how you become unstoppable: Build a system in which you can spend more than your competitors to acquire a customer, and then deliver "remarkably" on the values they deem most important.

(By the way, inside MFI we go much further in depth in identifying the values you should focus on, and  telling a story that resonates. If you are yet a member, check it out by clicking here.)

Step 5 – Build Your Connection Lists

​Lists are BORING, right?

Well they may be boring to some, but at MFI we believe lists are where your biggest profits are buried.​

  • ​List are the way you connect with your best customers (especially when they are not actually in your restaurant),
  • Lists are the way you KEEP connected to your customers...over the long haul,
  • Lists are the way you INCREASE your customers VELOCITY (the speed of their return visit),
  • Lists are the way you get (and keep) your best customers excited about your restaurant.

Here's what we mean when we use the term "list": Any collection of your customers information which can be used for communication and connection.  Lists are much more than your database of emails buried in Constant Contact!

One of the most OVERLOOKED type of list is Social Media!​

You've been bombarded with advice about social media: Be on it or die. All your customers are there.  Social media will make your business successful, blah...blah...blah.,.

And, It's mostly  true...Your customers really ARE on social media, and social media IS important.  (You can see just how many users each of the most popular social media services have below.)

But social media without context, without strategy, without understanding is nothing more than an expensive distraction.

Here's the big secret: You should approach social media simply as one of your customer lists...

...just like your mailing list

...just like your eMail list

...just like the list of customers in your loyalty database.

Sure, each kind of list varies in HOW you use it to communicate (some use pictures, some use text, some use video, some use video, some use a combination). But at their core, each are nothing more than a group of customers who have identified themselves to you.

So, at this point in the GVO funnel you need to decide two things:

  • the lists (social media, email, mailing) most prefered by your Hungry Tribes,
  • how to build the number of customers on those lists.

In our experience, here are the most important and most valuable lists for restaurants (in order of value to the restaurant):

  1. Loyalty System 
  2. eMail List
  3. Facebook Likes / Followers
  4. Customer Addresses and Details
  5. Instagram Followers
  6. Twitter Followers
  7. Snapchat Friends
  8. Pinterest Followers

This may not be in the right order for you, and your list may include fewer or more social media services.  You need to decide the right lists by analyzing the habits of your most important customers.

​Which do they use most frequently ?   (eMail is still almost always #1.)  Outside of eMail and customer addresses, this graphic may narrow down your selection social media:

Choose the top 3 or 4 lists of your best customers, then create a strategy to build users, likes, followers, emails, addresses, phone numbers, etc.

After your guests visit for the first time (and every time thereafter), your job is to keep adding to your selected lists.  Collect likes, follows, emails, subscribers, members, and sign-ups without stopping. 

​Your job is to get as many customers as you can to give you permission to communicate with them in multiple ways.  When they sign up, opt in, follow or like...they are explicitly giving you permission to stay in contact.

By creating these lists, you are filling your marketing toolbox with the tools used in ​the final steps in the GVO process.  

But next, you'll need to build a strategy  to...

Step 6 – Provide Content, Offers
and Points of Connection

Recently I interviewed Seth Godin and reminded him of something he said way back in 2008; "All marketing is content marketing".

Frankly, content marketing can be more than a little intimidating to many operators.  Most like to believe just by offering a decent menu, customers will show up...and keep showing up.

But as you've already learned from the GVO process, simply having a decent product is not enough...it's only part of the minimum requirements to stay in the game. 

Now, in this step it's your job to provide content in the form of photos, video, text, audio, or any combination of those using the lists of your customers. And, do it in a way that connects them to you.

The shape, size and focus of your content will be completely unique to your restaurant, your blocks of value and your hungry tribes.  There is no way I can tell you exactly what to create at this stage of the GVO process.  

You need to match your content to ​your unique building blocks of value.

But I can tell you that key to accelerating the return of customers (the next step) is to create offers which remind and compel them to return.​

The word "offers" may have a negative connotation to you.  I understand, as nobody wants to start on a race to the bottom (like a lot of local pizza joints) by offering discounts and freebies.

But "offers" take a lot of forms.  I can't tell you exactly what offers to make in your restaurant, as your offeres need to be specific to your restaurant and your tribes.

However,  I can tell you the general categories of content and offers which have been most profitable for our customers (in no particular order):

    • ​Limited Time Product Offers 
    • Birthday and Anniversary Gifts
    • New Menu Items or Significant Menu Changes
    • Special Events or Services
    • News, Stories and Information
    • Loyalty Rewards / Bonuses
    • Give Aways, Drawings and Contests
    • Price Reductions or $ to Spend
    • Menu  Item Combinations
    • Special Guests, Entertainment or Celebrities
    • More Expensive Menu Items, Products and Services

Your job to identify which content appeals most to your hungry tribe(s) and have content ready to go when you want to ...

Step 7 – Accelerate the Return Trip

You may remember, way back at the top of this post, I mentioned one of the three ways to increase your profitability is "increase the frequency of customer visits".  

Everything we've covered so far leads up to this important step.  Now, we want to impact the number of visits your customers make a year (velocity), and impact how long they actually remain an active customer (longevity).

We've already identified how important it is to attract new customers, and exactly who to target as a new customer.

We've talked about how it's imperative to create a remarkable experience.

You know how to identify the critical lists and social media tools to use.  

And, you have identified the most valued content and offers for your tribe(s). 

So the only job left is to build systems to accelerate the rate at which your customers return to experience what you offer...again, again and again. 

But first, I have some BAD NEWS.  

Your customers are absolutely bombarded with media, advertising and marketing messages.  Experts tell us most Americans are exposed to 3,000 - 5,000 marketing impressions every single day...an overwhelming amount.

It is an absolute tsunami of images, words and videos.​

The effect of all this is that customers have become experts at IGNORING 99.9% of all that noise..

And worst of all...your customers will often forget about you when it comes time to make the decision on where to eat. (We call that point in time "The Cliff of Decision".)

But, there is good news!​

You've already cut through all that clutter of marketing messages by getting their permission to connect with them in Step 5 above.  They WANT to hear from you and have told you so by getting on one or more of your lists.

And, you already know the kinds of messages, offers and content which connect with them (step 6)

By combining permission with meaningful content, you've built a machine to accelerate the return visit to your restaurant.  

The goal of the Return Path is to have frequent, strategic and meaningful connections with your customers that cause them to visit again and again.

So...What Now

Just by reading this far, you've done far more to improve your marketing than 99% of other independent restaurant owners!

Congratulations!

The single most important thing you can do right now is start to set up, no matter how small and incomplete, your very own GVO system.  Start at step 1 and work your way through the rest of the steps.

If you want help, we can guide you through each of these steps, in depth. But it's too much to include on this single web page (which is now over 2,500 words long!)

​We've created  Marketing for Independents explicitly for owners like you...owners who want a truly remarkable restaurant, and who want an automated, world-class marketing system to go with it!

We go deep in all the topics ​in this "start here" page...and dozens of other topics too.  And, we are always updating it, adding to it, and keeping it current.

So, if you are already a member, dive in and make it happen.  

If you ​aren't a member, you should join now.

Best of all, it's available for 33% off the normal cost.  Click here for all the details. 

About Rod Brant

Rod Brant is the founder and CEO of Marketing for Independents.  Over the past 36 months, Rod and his team have directly helped dozens of restaurant owners achieve their dreams through effective marketing of their restaurants.  He is an "under the radar" restaurant marketing expert who is known as a get-things-done guy, and whose ideas and systems really work.  

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