From education to employment

How to Market a College Restaurant

Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

The college restaurant is an essential part of the catering and hospitality offer in many colleges. And in an age of underfunding it can also be an essential profit generator.

Sadly however, many fail to attract sufficient numbers of customers to provide the necessary amount of experience the students deserve, or the level of income and profit generation expected.

So how can customer numbers and income be increased?

These customer and income problems are no different to that faced by many restaurants, coffee shops, tea rooms and even pubs around the world. And the answers for many are covered in a book that looks at this as a global question.  

A Passion for Food Resulted in a Restaurant Marketing Book

Aside from my normal FHE marketing and management consultancy, I have a passion for cooking and the catering sector. And having advised a number of colleges on how to maximise incomes via their restaurants, I hit on the idea of a book that would address the marketing of the wide range of food and drink outlets that need marketing help.

I believe most marketing is made far too complex, so I wanted the book to be simple and reflect the fact that the best marketing is straight forward and to the point.

How to Market a RestaurantSo, over a couple of years of visits and writing, How to Market a Restaurant, Coffee Shop, Café, Tea Rooms, Pub, Wine Bar and Other Food and Drink Outlets, became a reality and has now been published.

It wasn’t written specifically about college restaurants, I wanted to help the whole sector.

But the advice and examples it contains are highly relevant to college restaurants, and some are already following some of the specific advice given.

It focuses on the food, drink and hospitality sector globally, with advice gleaned from hundreds of businesses worldwide. It’s the result of visits to Portugal, Spain, US, UK and South Africa with additional advice from places as far away as New Zealand. But wherever the advice is from, it is relevant to the hundreds of college restaurants in the UK.

Worldwide Advice for FE College Restaurants

What I’ve discovered is that marketing a restaurant is never just a matter of a few adverts, although advertising can work; the successful places do much more. And it’s no longer sufficient to just use the tried and tested traditional marketing tactics; digital marketing is equally as important. 

Some of the advice included in the book, under Top Marketing Tips, is from catering business owners in the UK. But, like the best marketing advice, good advice has also been found worldwide.  For example, just a few miles from my home I discovered a restaurant that gives customers a copy of the recipes being cooked. This is a tip I’ve shared with the several colleges I’d previously advised and its good to see it filtering out into the real world. And, in case you are wondering, giving away recipes doesn’t mean people cook at home rather than eat with you. They come back to gather more stunning recipes and try to cook them as well as you! It encourages repeat business and can lead to a recipe book .. which is an idea being exploited by a gastropub near my home. 

Further afield, in Florida and South Africa, I saw excellent websites that prompted people to book online and some places that prompted us to review the establishment on TripAdvisor before we left. These owners know how to use review sites to maximum advantage and made full use of them to get positive feedback.

More College Restaurant Marketing Advice

Another piece of good advice we gleaned was based on websites and SEO. I love SEO, as by following some relatively simple advice when you write a webpage, you can have people finding you online for years. It seems too simple to work, so in the book, I conducted an experiment that has had SEO experts around the worlds asking how to achieve the success I had.

You can test this advice yourself and let me know if it works for you.  Please comment below.

Here’s how it works.

Coffee shops are very popular in many countries, which makes it hard to stand out and be found amongst competitors. To stand out many serve particular blends or serve Fair Trade Coffee

So if a coffee shop, in say Florida, wants to pick up the Fair Trade business they need to have a webpage saying they serve Fair Trade coffee. Then anyone searching for this type of coffee will see them on the search engines. Repeat this with Brazilian, Guatemalan and other types of coffee and the traffic volumes start to add up. Bear in mind that mobile searches now account for more than 50% of total searches and that more and more are voice searches on phones and via devices like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

So I produced a webpage about a mythical coffee shop in Naples, Florida to see if I could get web traffic from people searching for Fair Trade coffee, and spent a few minutes focusing on SEO basics. Success depended on being found by people searching for Fair Trade coffee in Naples, Florida.

Does it work?

Well, try the search yourself. Google Fair Trade coffee in Naples and see if you can see my mythical coffee shop. If so check out what I’ve written about fair trade coffee.

Let me know if you found me on Google, and at which position, in the comments box at the end of this article

I set this task on LinkedIn and it was taken up by people, many of them SEO practitioners, with spectacular results. My mythical coffee shop was on Page One of Google in most cases.  And if I can do it then so can any college!

Of course, no form of marketing is 100%, so if only 90% of people searching find your site for the terms you optimise for this is still a great way to get repeated free “advertising” on the World’s biggest search engine!

And better still, it took me less than an hour to put the copy together and post it on my website. Importantly, this principle works for any business, not just college restaurants. The concept works for course pages as well.

Simple Marketing is Best

One of the best bits of advice I was given was to look after the locals.

When I asked for examples I was told that the restaurant concerned specifically marketed to the local during the quiet months. They did things like two for one offers and discounted afternoon teas during the winter. The margin per diner was lower than usual but a full restaurant made up for that and kept cash flowing in.  

How can you market to the locals if you operate term time only? Should you be operating on a full time commercial basis? It would provide more placements for apprentices and full-time students alike. And generate a surplus for college coffers! At least one FE college does this and others are looking at the idea.

Stefan Drew, FHE Marketing Consultant

About Stefan Drew: He was previously director of marketing at two FHE colleges and for over a decade has consulted with colleges, universities and private providers throughout the UK, Europe, Africa and the US. Underfunded Education.

I’m in marketing so … Forgive me if my marketing background shows through at this point. Businesses need to keep marketing and I’m no different. If you want to dig deep into how to market your commercial activities, especially How to Market a Restaurant, Coffee Shop, Café, Tea Rooms, Pub, Wine Bar and Other Food and Drink Outlets then go to Amazon and download the book. It’s priced the same as my favourite drink in a bar overlooking the ocean. 

Related Articles