Seven marketing ideas for the back-to-school crowd

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By Diane Chiasson

Back-to-school is one of the busiest times of the year for retail stores, as families stock up on new clothes, backpacks, pencils, notebooks and other items. Amidst all the chaos and frenzy of trying to get ready for school, families must also eat.

As a restaurant or foodservice operator, there are several ways you can help busy families make the transition from summer to fall by offering meal deals to help make life easier.

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., a restaurant and foodservice consultancy firm in Toronto, offers these ideas on how to take advantage of the back-to-school market:

1. Family meal deals

The first few weeks in September can be very hectic and chaotic for many families, as they try to establish a regular routine. For many busy families, getting dinner on the table in time can be a crux. Consider offering a back-to-school family-style meal deal that is available for dine-in and take-out. Include a main course, healthy side dishes and a dessert. Allow customers to pre-order their meals online or via text messaging so that their entire meal will be ready for pick up as soon as they are finished work. Start advertising during the summer so that customers will think of your operation when they are wondering what to do for dinner that night.

2. Distribute coupons to schools

Most schools send home an information package during the first week of school. Contact all the local schools in your area to see if they can include a coupon for a free appetizer or a small discount. For every coupon that is used in the restaurant, you can offer the school $1 towards fundraising.

3. Kids eat free

One promotion that many large chains have successfully launched is the Kids Eat Free Day with the purchase of an adult meal. This is an easy marketing idea because it does not require customers to sign up for anything or print a coupon, and families are always looking for places they can go to save money.

Kids can be picky eaters, and many families do not feel it is worthwhile to pay for a meal that their child may not eat. But if the meal is free, it might entice parents to come to your restaurant. Also, since they are saving on the kid’s meal, parents may feel the freedom to spend more and order that second glass of wine or beer, or splurge on a dessert.

4. Online back-to-school coupon

Create an online back-to-school coupon for which potential customers can sign up. This will not only help you keep track of how many coupons have been downloaded in order for you to stock and staff your restaurant properly, but it will also give you an opportunity to build your database, and permission to email any other offers you have at a later date.

5. Liaise with other businesses

The typical back-to-school regiment usually includes shopping for new clothes and shoes, and getting a haircut. Work with some of the retail stores and service providers in your neighbourhood to help boost each other’s business. Give your local hairdresser or barber shop a stack of your coupons to hand out to all their clients, and in return, give out a $5 coupon for their services to your customers. Make sure you advertise the cross promotion at each other’s businesses.

6. Promote healthy eating for kids on your menu

Revamp your kids’ menu to include more healthy food products. Put fun signs and icons that say “Brain Food” next to dishes that are high in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, or “Stronger Bones” next to dishes that are high in calcium. Use your imagination to make eating healthy fun for kids. You can also include food charts on your kids’ menu to show kids which types of foods are high in certain vitamins. For example, put a picture of carrots under “Good for the Eyes.” This way, you are not only feeding the kids something healthy, but also educating them on nutrition.

7. Have a student’s special for lunch

Parents of older children may prefer to give their kids a weekly allowance for lunch instead of packing them a lunch everyday. Draw more business to your operation by offering a student lunch special. If you operate a sit-down restaurant, be sure to serve the food quickly, as most students have less than an hour to eat. Start a mobile marketing campaign, and have these students sign up for it. Send out a text message blast at 11 a.m. everyday to alert students of what you have on special for the day.

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About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, president of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping restaurant, foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She is recognized as one of the best restaurant consultants in Toronto. Her company provides innovative and revenue-increasing foodservice and retail merchandising programs, interior design, branding, menu engineering, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416-926-1338, toll-free at 1-888-926-6655, or visit www.chiassonconsultants.com.

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