Case Study: The Trouble with Mobile Marketing for a Small Town Restaurant

At Chattan Loch Bistro & Public House in Bellefontaine, Ohio (pop. 13,069), owner Tracy McPherson is struggling to find cost-effective ways to reach customers in her small town. After a promising start with Foursquare in 2010—when customers were checking-in and claiming specials at least a couple days a week—McPherson says interest in the app has waned, in part due to a lack of resources at the restaurant. She now relies on a mix of local ads, email newsletters, and successful beer and wine clubs to get new customers through the door.

How do you advertise or market your business?
We try to use a lot of different types of media. We use Constant Contact to distribute a monthly newsletter. We have a Facebook page. We do Twitter. [We use] a couple newsletters or small newspapers, like the Indian Lake Current, that get mailed directly to people’s homes in our zip code area. As an advertiser, it is a little bit cheaper than the traditional newspaper. They are mailed to everyone and you don’t have to be a subscriber to get it, so I know it is going directly into people’s homes. Also, the local radio station. We are trying more and more to reach outside of our county and do things in other counties around us.

Why is that?
It is an hour to drive to Columbus or Dayton, either way, but people think that in order to have a night out they have to drive. We really struggle locally, so we are trying to draw more attention in the surrounding counties to be more of a destination. Drive to Logan County for dinner, versus driving to Columbus.

How do you decide which publications to advertise in?
We have tried to share the wealth and we have tried to spread it around to different entities. But, we have found that the local newspaper isn’t quite conducive because it seems like it is [strictly] an over-50 kind of crowd. [That crowd] does have a little bit more of the expendable income, however they are the ones who tend to drive out of town [for dinner]. Our target customers are the middle-to-upper income level people. The age range would be from the mid 20s all the way up, and kids come for special events like proms. More than anything we have just been trying to support local, and if we support local community papers by advertising [in them] then they will come in and reciprocate. What we need to figure out, and I have actually been talking to a PR firm recently, is a better source to do that. We have been thinking in the realm of becoming subject matter experts. Like, we have a gluten-free menu section, so if there is an article written in a magazine or a newspaper about gluten, then we would [want to] be someone they would call. Then we could get some PR that way. We are looking at changing it up in that direction.

How did you get involved using Foursquare for marketing?
The original chef that we had, his brother was very much into technology and he was the one who suggested it to us. He saw when they were going to have the national or worldwide Foursquare Day a couple years ago, and we were just pretty much starting out—we had opened that January—so he actually is the one who said, “This would be a great opportunity for you to do something unique and different.” He is the one who encouraged us to try it, and we did. It was very successful.

What constitutes as successful in your eyes?
On Foursquare Day [in 2010] we had so many people check in. We exceeded our target, which was 50, in that one night. I don’t remember exactly how many. With Foursquare, our biggest night was that night. Otherwise, it has just been onesies or twosies [each night].

Do you take advantage of any of Foursquare’s merchant tools?
We haven’t, just because I don’t know how to go about setting them up. We haven’t done it because of my lack of technology knowledge. I think that is the biggest thing. If I had somebody in-house who knew how to do it, I probably would do more of that stuff.

Do you offer any specials online?
Yeah, we have a beer club and a wine club so we do a lot of advertising on Facebook for that. And then in our newsletter what we do is we offer a special coupon that would only be available for the folks who are on that newsfeed. They can just print it out and bring it in.

How are you using the beer and wine clubs to promote your restaurant?
With our beer and wine clubs, you have to sign up in advance and make a reservation. We have events for each club once a month. People come and try different beers and wines that are not currently on our menu, and a rep will tell them where it was produced and the region it was produced in. They sample each of the varieties, and our chef prepares food that goes well with them. Each person rates the beer or wine, and then the one that rates the [highest], we put it on the menu. That is how we are continuing to grow and market the business. When we first started out, there were half a dozen or 10 people [in the clubs]. Now it has grown. It varies from anywhere from 30 to 50 people per month. A lot of [the advertising] is word of mouth, and then we use Constant Contact, put placards on the table, and use Facebook. I think the Constant Contact newsletter and Facebook are the two most useful marketing tools to spread the word about the club. The beer and wine clubs definitely impact our bottom line. A lot of people are coming back in, and the beer club people are becoming regulars.

What do you see as the future of marketing in small towns?
A small town is what worries me. If you are in a big city I totally think it is going to be [about] technology because people are going to have everything on their iPhones and they are going to be bringing it in and showing it to their server, and their server is just going to accept it or there will be a method of scanning it. I definitely think that technology is where it is going to go in the future. In the small town, I am still not so sure. That is what I have seen internally. The folks who are right here, they don’t grasp it. I think that

small towns are still going to struggle no matter how somebody tries to advertise.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.