If the words “restaurant promotion” make you think of printed flyers and mascots dancing on corners with signs, you haven’t seen today’s restaurant promotions. Chefs and restaurants use promotional prix fixes, “secret” menu items, guest chef dinners, wine specials, and more to flex their creative muscles and offer their guests a special experience while adding to their bottom line.

Before crafting a crafting a special menu item or themed dinner it’s important to think about the desired outcome.

“So many people come up with a product idea first without thinking about what they’re trying to achieve,” says Richard Delvallee, Vice President of consulting services at Revenue Management Solutions, a consulting firm that focuses on the restaurant industry. Being clear on the end goal often separates a successful promotion from an unsuccessful one.

Below, Delvallee shares five key steps for creating, executing and evaluating a successful promotion program.

1. Define the criteria for how you will measure success.

One of the best ways to start a promotion is to think about how you want to measure success, Delvallee says. “Do you want to increase traffic or increase the amount of sales overall? Do you want to drive a conversation around your brand or do something unique and different?”

Also, is your goal is to attract new customers or get existing customers to behave differently? Knowing who you are targeting and what you are trying to achieve will help you plan an effective promotion.

2. Determine whether you’ll have a marketing budget or not, and stick to it.

It’s important to think about if you want to invest money in marketing your promotion and, if so, to set an exact dollar amount for how much you’re willing to spend. Sure, you can rely on word-of-mouth, but it might take a little longer to see the promotion have an effect on sales.

Social media posts can be utilized to help get the word out as well, but make sure that promotional posts are spread across all of your channels, Delvallee says. “Make sure your budget’s well-defined because that’s also going to help you realize what’s successful,” he continues.

3. As you define success, pick a quantifiable way for measuring it.

Keep a well-documented sales log so you can compare and contrast sales over a period of time and see the impact the promotion has had.

“You can look at things like increased check averages and top-line results, as well as margins per check,” Delvallee says. This information also clues you into your diner’s habits. “Looking at data tells you what your customers like and what they’re looking for.”

4. Understand the promotion in relation to the rest of your menu.

Owners need to consider how a promotional special fits in with the rest of their menu, especially in terms of price, Delvallee says. “Owners will have an idea for a special item, but its cost is more than anything else on the menu.” That could lead diners to other menu items and not the special that you want them to order.

“When you come up with promotions, consider the cost and the margins and, if possible, test them out first.” Owners should also expect to see the sales of some menu items dip after starting a promotion for a special, Delvallee says.

5. It takes time to create a well-run promotion. Don’t rush it.

Changing consumer behavior takes time, and it may also take time for a promotion to become really successful. “The amount of time it takes depends on the type of promotion,” advises Delvavee. “More expensive menu items may take six weeks to see an increase in sales, but this allows you to drive traffic in order to drive it longer term,” he says.

Above all, Delvallee says owners and chefs should make sure the promotion makes sense for their restaurant. “A lot of the key successful promotions are really about understanding who your customers are and what they buy,” he says. Knowing your customers and what they want allows you to create a promotion program that they can’t wait to be a part of.

Korsha Wilson is a Boston-based food writer and a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. She has worked in front of the house and back of the house roles in restaurants and spent two years working as a cheese maker for an artisanal mozzarella producer in New England. If you want to see her geek out ask her about french fries, the role of restaurants in modern society or “real” crab cakes — she grew up in Maryland.

Original article by Korsha Wilson published at Open for Business by OpenTable