If you’re in the hospitality business, you already know that competition is high. Your business has to stand out or it will be forgotten or, worse still, never discovered. Launching a business that excites and delights diners involves a creative and strategic process.
I joined the restaurant business in 2019, determined to bring the flavors and experiences of my home country, Hong Kong, to Australia. My goal has always been to transport people to another era through their experience in my restaurant.
Whether you’ve already launched your business or are in the planning phase, every owner needs to constantly reflect on the story they’re telling and the emotion their brand is evoking. From this reflection, the nuts and bolts of the marketing plan will follow.
1. Reflect your online presence with your offline presence
As an event manager and co-owner of a range of exciting dining venues, I always ensure that I create unique offline experiences that my customers want to talk about online.
Focus on creating a sensory experience that your customers cannot help but take photos of and upload onto their social media accounts, tagging your business in the process. This includes your interior design, the visual aspect of the food plating and the activations in your venue that allow the customer to participate in something engaging during their time spent with you.
“Focus on creating a sensory experience that your customers cannot help but take photos of and upload onto their social media accounts.”
You can enhance your customer experience by being in front of your business, both online and offline. Introduce yourself to your customers to create rapport with them and make them feel included in your brand by asking them for feedback and points of improvement.
Extend your presence online by showing your face on your social media accounts to reveal personality and enhance your brand’s relatability. Additionally, if your employees are excited by, and dedicated to, the experience you create, they will emulate their enthusiasm and help your customers buy into your brand story, too.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Kowloon Cafe survived because we maximized our takeaway menu and brought our restaurant experience home to our customers. Our diners felt like they were in our restaurant and some even felt like they had been transported to Hong Kong.
2. Get inspiration from your research
To create exciting experiences, you must embark on your own exciting adventures, be inspired and constantly create.
Traveling to a destination is the best way to find inspiration or research a particular cuisine. I traveled to Hong Kong and was inspired by the food, the busyness of the streets, the loud and bright signage and the heat of the wok.
If it weren’t for my own adventure, I wouldn’t have been inspired to bring the Hong Kong food culture to Australia. Firsthand research helped us build the sensory experience in all of our restaurants, so customers feel like they are in another country or era.
“Traveling to a destination is the best way to find inspiration or research a particular cuisine.”
Perhaps you can’t travel to every country to figure out what you’re interested in, but you can narrow down your preferences to one or two by watching YouTube videos and looking at trends in different countries that haven’t been adopted in your country yet.
Additionally, continually try new restaurants and learn from what they do. The idea isn’t to copy the concept. Instead, it is to see how you can create something that holds the same value to your customers as it did to you.
3. Create a captivating story
Before starting a new venture, we hold storyboard sessions to brainstorm the narrative and concept we want to communicate through our businesses and events.
“Write a story and then figure out how to bring the narrative to life through various online and offline strategies.”
Write a story and then figure out how to bring the narrative to life through various online and offline strategies. For example, if you’re opening an Italian restaurant because you traveled to Italy and loved it, ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of story do you want to tell?
- How can the design of the restaurant participate in this narrative?
- How will the menu tell the story?
- What kind of music will you play?
- What will you name the dishes?
- What will the tone of voice be in your marketing online and offline?
By creating a story, you’re not just creating an immersive dining experience for your customers. You are additionally allowing your customers to relate to your business through their own experiences. By doing this, they will develop an emotional attachment to the story you’re creating for them.
4. Collaborate with brands or influencers
A crucial part of creating an ‘Instagrammable’ brand is looking at what, or who, your audience is following or gaining their influence from.
Collaboration has played a significant role in growing Ni Hao Bar and Kowloon Cafe. In the hospitality space, Chase Kojima is a highly respected chef and fellow restaurant owner. He specializes in Japanese and we specialize in Cantonese, so we collaborated with him last year to create a unique event that was a fusion of both cuisines.
It was a first and, ultimately, we tapped into both of our audiences to market it. This means people found us who we wouldn’t have usually reached and who now know about our brand. You can use this concept with more prominent brands or influencers to grow your credibility and audience.
“Ask yourself if there is an influencer or blogger you can partner with that has an audience you want to tap into.”
Ask yourself if there is an influencer or blogger you can partner with that has an audience you want to tap into. If so, what can you do? An event or social media campaign? A meet and greet event?
Additionally, invest in a PR agency with contacts that can help you grow your brand. There is power in the media to spread the word about a unique product or service, and an agency can help you communicate effectively in your brand’s voice.
5. Be creative and consistent
You need to be consistent with what you’re creating in your marketing campaigns and align it to your business in real life. The experience you develop must match the story, experience and representation across all of your marketing channels. Doing this will create familiarity with your brand.
Continuously be creative with your brand by adapting trends that can work in your marketing and branding. Utilize social events and create experiences from them. For example, when Squid Games was trending, we created a themed event at Ni Hao Bar where customers could dress up and play some of the key games from the show. To embrace the show further, we added decor to the venue including the shapes and the soundtrack of the show.
“Be consistent with what you’re creating in your marketing campaigns and align it to your business in real life.”
By leveraging the trend, the venue was completely booked out. Ni Hao Bar also created social media hype as people dressed up and shared photos of the games they played during the night.
Also, always use high quality, engaging marketing content and products. Our team always uses high resolution, professional quality images for our online platforms, flyers and invites.
In summary, your marketing strategy must reflect a real-life business that captivates your audience by telling an engaging story. Embrace creativity, research and smart collaboration to develop exciting experiences that people can’t help talking about and revisiting.
Howin Chui has a background in bar and nightclub management, where he is renowned for throwing Asian-inspired events around Sydney for 10 years. In 2019, Chui ventured into restaurant management and has now successfully opened and run a range of Asian restaurants across the city.