3 Steps to Boost Restaurant Sales this Summer

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Happy summer, friends! Like most people, I'm enjoying the longer days and warmer weather, but I also know that this can be a difficult time for restaurants. While we're all enjoying grilling at home and heading off on vacations, so are your customers, making it a slower time than most for restaurant owners. 

This is my fifth summer working in restaurant marketing, and I've seen how difficult it can be. From small, independent restaurants to big restaurant groups, the summer slowdown struggle is real. I've spent summers executing it all for the big and small, from large-scale events and intricate loyalty programs to simpler flash sales and promotions. But, there are a few, SIMPLE tried-and-true tips I've learned along the way for increasing summer restaurant sales. We're digging into those today. 

Here are three steps to get over your summer slump and pack the restaurant all season long — and, because we're all about #digitalhospitality over here, you can do all of these online. 

Summer-ize Your Messaging

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No, that's not a typo. We aren't "summarizing" here — we're sprinkling summer sparkle into our marketing messaging for the upcoming months. This may sound simple, but it's so often overlooked. Just like the holidays, it's important to step into the typical customer's thought process during the season and adjust accordingly. Here are my steps that I walk through with clients. 

  1. Make a list of everything that excites you about summer dining, at your place or somewhere else — patios, air conditioning, rosé, summer cocktails, sessionable beers, seasonal produce, grilled meats... you get the idea. 
  2. Narrow your list to the THREE things you do best. (Please don't say "we do all of it so well!" and focus on what your strengths really are.) Keep these as the focus for your marketing messages for the upcoming months. 

Document & Disseminate

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Now that we know what our focuses will be, we need a plan for how to talk about them and share them with others. Under each of your three focuses, make a list of things you can do to talk about them with guests. Go beyond "we have a great selection of rosé" and build upon it in ways that can be educational, informative or entertaining.

Here are a few examples of how to document and disseminate:

  • DOCUMENT:
    • Gather photos of every seasonal summer dish or drink on your menu
    • Take photos of your patio (with or without people) 
    • Make a list of every local farmer you're working with this summer 
    • Get tasting notes and fun facts from the bar manager about drink specials 
    • Boasting as a great place for families or date night? Take photos of families or couples enjoying the space.
  • DISSEMINATE:
    • Use this summer content on your owned channels — social media, email marketing, your website. 
    • Consider your timing. Posting about brunch on Sunday morning is good, but also adding one in on Friday while people make weekend plans is even better. 
    • Create a hashtag to start a larger campaign. Ex. #SummerAtThe5thSense

Spread the Word

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Now that you're rocking this on your own platforms, it's time to get it out into the world. Whether you have a PR team or not, there are plenty of steps you can take on your own to spread the word.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Contact the Media
    • Email the food writers in your area about your big three for summer! Look out for common seasonal topics that you could contribute to — most are writing about the same things we put on our summer list, so look for places you could fit in and reach out offering information on what you're up to. 
  • Contact the Mini-Media
    • Get on community calendars for events and invite local food Instagrammers in to try your summer specialty. Most would love to come in and engage with you, they just like to be invited! (I also always suggest clients comp whatever the treat is)
  • Package It 
    • People are always looking for fun new ways to experience the neighborhood, provide it! If you operate next to a popular summer activity (a theatre, putt-putt, something outdoors, etc.), reach out and see if they'd like to partner on a package deal to offer a full summer experience.

Will you try any of these tips in your restaurant this summer? Have you tried anything that's worked well in the past? Let us know in the comments!

5 Things I've Learned from My Second Year as a Solopreneur

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Last week on July 13 we celebrated year two of The 5th Sense! (And by "we" I mean my husband, my dog Bacon and me.) I'm still operating this business solo, and it's been a wild ride. 

If I'm being honest, when I announced this venture two years ago, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that the excitement was too palpable to idly watch it slip away. So I rode that enthusiasm train for as long as I could. 

This time last year, I shared five things I learned about owning a business in year one, and those major points still hold true — know yourself, prepare yourself, forgive yourself, track yourself and advocate for yourself. Really, everything in that post is just as applicable as it was the day I wrote it, so I encourage you to check it out if you're thinking about starting your own business. 

But, to avoid total redundancy, I'm going to share five new things that this second year of business infancy has taught me.

FIND ACCOUNTABILITY

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Last year, I talked about the importance of knowing yourself — your work style and what environment makes you succeed. This year was about going beyond just knowing myself and also setting that self up for success.

In year one, I learned that even though I love the work I do, I need some accountability to move bigger projects forward... especially ones that are solely for myself and my business instead of directly for a client.

In February 2017, I shared a post about finding an accountability partner to help create an atmosphere of growth. That post still holds true. I still Skype and set/review monthly goals with my accountability partner Kenan, but this year I added a new person to "team Alex" — a business coach. 

If you can get the money together for one, I cannot recommend a business coach enough. I searched for weeks last fall and ended up choosing Sean McCarthy at Colorado Coaching Company. Through a longer in-person kick-off meeting and bi-monthly check-in calls, Sean has helped me totally transform my business. With his help (and much-needed tough love), I was able to double my income and build a client roster that's totally independent from contracted work through other agencies. I now work directly with all of my clients, which was a huge goal for me in year two (but more on that later). 

Bottom line — if you're going to be a solopreneur, you must build an army of support behind you. You cannot go at it alone. Which brings me to lesson #2. 

NETWORK INTENTIONALLY

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Whether you own your own business or not, networking is a critical tool for job growth. Expanding your contacts in an industry will usually pay off in the end, but it can also be a huge, faux-productive time suck if you let it.

In my first full-time job out of college, I had a boss that was arguably the king of networking. He pushed me to do the same, which was a great experience, but I'd often have weeks where I felt accomplished, but all I did was meet with other people. I'd end each day tired and staring down at a totally unscathed to-do list. Networking is important, but it's not your job. Unless you're in sales, it's not your true, "deep work." 

I launched my business and moved across the country at the same time, so building a network in Denver quickly was critical for my business' success, but I knew it didn't pay the bills. It may lead to it, but it isn't an instant payoff. 

I moved from networking every opportunity I got with anyone who would listen to making a plan and executing it. First, I became the food editor at 303 Magazine and committed half of my working hours to it for an entire year. It was a great way to turn networking into my job. I learned a lot about the Denver food scene (my target market) while making important contacts, developing my portfolio and getting paid along the way. 

Now that the year is over (it ended in March), I still write for 303 some, but I'm back to my business full time. I now limit myself to one networking breakfast/lunch/happy hour per week, and I do my best to schedule them out in advance so I know what to expect when planning my week. 

That being said, there were many wonderful people who took meetings with me when I knew no one and nothing about restaurants or marketing. So I always do my best to say yes to the opportunities to give back to someone younger or less experienced when they come my way. Just be careful to spot the difference in true "picking your brain" and "trying to get marketing consulting for free."  

BE KNOWN FOR ONE THING OR BE KNOWN FOR NOTHING

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If I had a dollar for every time someone told me this, I wouldn't need to run a business anymore. If you're going to start a business — especially if you're going to offer services like I do — you need to know two things: 1.) What you do AND 2.) Who you serve. And "everything" and "anyone" aren't acceptable answers. 

You can't be everything to everyone. If you try to be, you'll mean nothing to no one. 

When I started out, I would take any communications work from anyone who asked — photographers, interior designers, doctors... you name it, I probably said yes to it. 

But, the second I started confidently saying, "I help food companies with their communications strategy," more of the "right" businesses came my way. It took time to build that brand and awareness, but it's always paid off. When I bid for client work against someone who helps businesses of all kinds, my specificity in who I am and what I do has always paid off. 

I get it though — it's hard to turn down money. I'm not telling you to do that. But, you can choose how you market yourself and your company publically. Before I hired my business coach, I made more than 50% of my income contracting out work as "Alex Palmerton" instead of "The 5th Sense." I acted more as a remote employee underneath other companies than a business owner. I just didn't advertise it. It was a great, great way to get started, but not the path I wanted to take long-term.

If you'd like to hear more about this choice and how it's paid off, please let me know in the comments and I'll do a dedicated post on it. 

DON'T BE AFRAID TO PIVOT

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(^ 10 points to anyone who loves this Friends episode as much as I do ^)

Although I started out helping businesses of all kinds, my main message has never wavered — The 5th Sense serves food and beverage businesses. However, the details of what goes into those services has changed a few times in two years. 

Don't be afraid to listen to what your clients or target audience need and adjust. After all, there's no point in offering services that aren't helping anyone! 

It's taken several iterations, but I now house what I do under the umbrella of "Digital Hospitality." Basically, I'm willing to come in as a consultant and help you with whatever online marketing a food brand needs — blogging, email marketing, website copy, partnership management, social media, etc. I'm willing to offer pieces of that puzzle instead of exclusive giant packages, because it's realistically what my target audience can afford. And, if a client needs something else that I'm able to do — from writing a press release to planning a media dinner — I consider the situation fully before saying no. 

REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED & WHERE YOU'RE GOING

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 And, finally, anytime I'm losing momentum, tearing my hair out, or wondering why the hell I decided to do this, I pause and remember WHY I started this business and where I want it to go in the future. 

Nothing reignites passion like remembering and reliving the problem that started it all. After all, at one point, it was hopefully keeping you up at night SO MUCH that you had to act on it.

For me, it was wondering how small food businesses can afford marketing help. I was working my in-house restaurant marketing job for a restaurant group that had ten concepts, and I couldn't stop thinking about what the independent owners or startups must do when they can't afford an agency or full-time help. Remembering that "WHY" and all of the 30+ businesses I've helped along the way always gets me going again. 

And, if that fails, I revisit my vision — a private document I wrote to myself detailing what my life looks like in five years. It's a page and a half of my future in excruciating detail, including how this business is a vehicle to get there. If the past can't reignite that passion, envision the future. And, if that doesn't work, consider another pivot until the cycle continues again.


I already said this on my personal instagram, but THANK YOU so much for everyone's support these past two years. Even if we haven't worked together, you're supporting my small business just by reading this, and I can't express my gratitude enough. 

What's the biggest lesson you've learned from your job (entrepreneurial or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments!

The "Why" Behind Mile High Hospitality Hazards

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Tonight is the first meeting for an organization I've been working on called Mile High Hospitality Hazards. Before I can open a meeting tonight encouraging people to have conversations about the tough stuff, I feel like I'd be doing a disservice not to share my own. So, today, I'm sharing the "why" behind this new project. 

I’m one of those lucky people who’s always had an idea of what they wanted to do with their professional life. For me, it’s always been food, writing and marketing. But, if you’re close with me, you know I have another passion that lives within my personal relationships — and that’s mental health. I’ve never shied away from tough conversations, and my life is more or less an open book for others. Even when I was young, I got an inexplicable spark from investing deep in other people’s stories… those conversations that start with, “How are you doing, really?” and then charge on late into the night. I have friends that joke that having a friendship with me is, “I want to know everything, or I want to know nothing.” 

Truthfully, a lot of this stems from my own inner-workings. I wasn’t formally diagnosed until post-college when a stomach ulcer had me in the hospital, but I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. After my dad died, I watched situational depression turn into the clinical kind. I felt the open person I’ve always been shutting down. Although I was outwardly sharing stories of grief through writing, I stopped answering phone calls. I retreated into myself. I convinced myself that my own thoughts and feelings weren’t worth sharing one-on-one, frankly because they weren't positive. I didn't have a solution to offer people anymore. “You’re too depressing to catch up with right now,” was a common thought running through my head every time I watched a friend’s name pop up on my phone.  

Therapy and medication have helped me tremendously, but I still I find more solace in opening up, even when it’s difficult. This period of my life has shown me a glimpse of what other people feel all the time — a true difficulty in sharing. 

In April, I became obsessed with doing something about it. Specifically, I was intent on combining these two passions by becoming laser-focused on mental health within the industry I’ve worked with most closely my entire career — the restaurant industry. I owe my business, my passion, and everything to these folks. I wanted to find a way to give back to a group of people that has given me so much.

The restaurant industry is filled with this epidemic, and I spent weeks researching it for a piece I wrote for 303 Magazine. But, just shining a light on it didn’t feel like enough. My soul was aching for more. So, John Hinman - the main focal person of my piece - and I decided to start a group in Denver to encourage these tough conversations. To build a support group around people who need it most. To take better care of the people who are taking such good care of us in restaurants every night. 

To be honest, I didn't expect much from it. John and I said we'd be happy if three people show up. We were so confident in a low turn-out that we're hosting the first meeting in his very small bakery space. But, timing is a funny thing. The news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide has undoubtedly drug this uncomfortable conversation into the light. And, it happening just three days before our first meeting has been alarming at worst, and confusing at best. The event has been viewed more than 3,000 times. 

I've spent the weekend stressing about finding the right words to say tonight. How do you lead a conversation about mental health to a room full of people who have just witnessed a public suicide of one of their idols? What do you even say? I felt that depressed side of myself creeping back up... like watching the phone ring and not picking up. Again I feared the only conversation I'd be able to carry on would be too depressing for the person on the other line. 

But, this morning, I woke up with a little more clarity. I remembered that it's not about the right words as much as it is just being willing to speak at all. Sometimes, there's power in just standing alongside people who are feeling the same way you do. Throwing your hands up and saying, "What the fuck is happening? How can we be there for each other?"

Obviously, in the wake of a loss like Bourdain, there's been a lot of social media posts saying, "If you're hurting, reach out." And, there's been an equal amount of criticism calling those posts "empty words," pointing out that depressed people are usually unable to take initiative on their own. But, I'm here, as someone who still struggles with that daily, to say that you can't hear "please reach out" enough times. You can't create enough opportunities for people to plug back in when they're ready. We can't beat down the door of every person in the restaurant industry struggling, but we can keep providing a safe space for them to show up when they're ready. And, until we have better ways to handle and treat depression on a large scale, that will have to be enough. 

I promise to share an update of how tonight goes this week, thanks for all of your support. 

What's New at The 5th Sense - June 2018

Hey, friends!

Why yes, here I am, blogging for the first time since March. (insert embarrassed emoji here). 

The past three months have been BUSY. The great kind of busy where time is flying and I'm still accidentally dating paperwork with the year 2017. 

"Busy" is a funny thing, though. It can convince you that there's no time for anything else if you let it. For three months, I kept telling myself that I was too occupied serving my clients to work on my own business — too busy writing blog posts for them to do it for me. Too busy posting on social media for them to do it for me. Too busy writing marketing emails for them to do it for me. Clearly, this is misguided, but it's where I found myself. 

To be honest, I'm the queen of the excuse, "The cobbler's children don't have any shoes." I'm a pro at acting like I'm some sort of martyr because I neglect marketing my own business because I'm helping clients. And, to be totally transparent, it's easy to do when you have a full client load and aren't seeking new business.

BUT, my business coach (more on him next week) has done a great job of talking me out of that. So, here I am, first thing on a Monday morning, putting The 5th Sense first. Blogging again. Posting on Instagram again

In ten days, I'll be popping champagne to celebrate my business' second birthday, and it's given me a lot of time to reflect on everything that's happened since we started. And, boy, have we come a long way. Next week, I'll share the biggest things I've learned in year 2, but today, to get you caught up, here's what's been going on over here.

CLIENTS

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This may be one of the best sentences I've ever written —> I'm walking into year THREE with the best client roster I've ever had. I'm working with some truly passionate folks that push me and inspire me every day. I do some fantastic one-off projects with food folks too, but I have to give an extra thank you to the partners that work with us every single month — THANK YOU, The Spice Guy, The Regional, Highlands Square, Jim's Burger Haven & St. Kilian's Cheese Shop. I couldn't have dreamed you any better. 

I'm currently booked for monthly partners, but if you're a food or beverage business interested in scheduling some project-based digital marketing or copywriting work with The 5th Sense, hit me up  

5 MINUTE FOOD MARKETING

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One of the reasons I've been radio-silent on the blog is 5 Minute Food Marketing. It's a free email series we started that sends you ONE quick marketing tip every week. All tips are a reflection of topics we've seen come up with clients again and again — about branding, messaging, customer loyalty, digital marketing, blogging, photography, social media and more. (Hint: Most food businesses face the exact same problems that you do.) To sign up, click here

MILE HIGH HOSPITALITY HAZARDS

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For those of you who didn't know, I spent a full year serving as food editor at 303 Magazine. (You can see all 168 pieces I've written so far here.) Although I decided to put that official position down in March to focus on my business full time, I'm still writing a few stories a month. That step back has allowed me to focus on bigger editorial pieces and passion projects like this one. 

I spent all of April and May this year researching mental health in the Denver restaurant industry. After speaking with more than 30 chefs, I published the beast of a piece late last month. I was so inspired by the entire process that some chefs and I decided to launch a group called Mile High Hospitality Hazards. MHHH will host free, industry-only gatherings for restaurant staff to hang out and discuss the struggles of life inside and outside of the kitchen. Our first event is Monday, June 11, and after such a positive response to the article, we can't wait to see the turn-out at the event. Click here for more information

SPEAKING

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In addition to turning another year older and doing some traveling of my own, I also hosted a webinar while on the road this spring. The World Food Travel Association invited me to speak at their online summit about millennials and food travel habits. We had a great time talking with business owners across the world about how to market their culinary tourism opportunities better to a younger audience. You can download the full webinar here for $15

THE FUTURE

As we head into year three, I'm so humbled and excited. Basically, it's time to get the cobbler's children some shoes. Expect more FREE TIPS, writing, blog posts, emails and social content from us — after all, it is what other people pay us to do! And, we're working on a VERY exciting project with some friends for you. If you're trying to grow your food business online, you'll want to stay tuned for that major update later this year! 

As always, thank you for your support and the love for me and this business. Stay tuned for next week, and I'll share how our first Mile High Hospitality Hazards event goes!