How offering a monthly subscription service to your restaurant can become a revenue stream

How offering a monthly subscription service to your restaurant can become a revenue stream

By Jim Fosina, CEO of Fosina Marketing Group

It is perhaps the hottest category in the subscription economy — food . Americans love to eat and are stretched in hundreds of different directions each and every day. While meal preparation is incredibly important; it is also the area where consumers spend the least amount of their time. 

We see a growing trend in all sectors of food preparation and distribution for offering subscription services that alleviate these planning issues. Blue Apron, Plated, Hello Fresh, Terra's Kitchen and others are taking the guesswork out of meal preparation by offering services that will prepare the actual meal for consumers based on their preferences and deliver directly to your kitchen. Others are beginning to stock these prepared meals in the local warehouse and supermarket venues. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to engaging consumers with such meal programs and services.

As a consuming public, pressed for time; we are also a society that loves "eating out". We have favorite restaurants, pubs, dining establishments who offer an eclectic array of menu choices. Eating out becomes an enjoyable adventure for many of us. In fact, many dining establishments offer "outdoor" dining where diners can enjoy warm weather and great food. That experience is limited here in the northeast and as such…an even better time to offer a subscription opportunity for your customers.

Katz Deli in New York is making news these days in offering its amazing pastrami, corned beef and brisket delicacies available on a "subscription" basis. As much as customers might love heading over to Katz for a great sandwich; signing up for a $150 per month subscription might be a bit more than you are willing to commit. Katz's is offering an annual subscription discount of "just" $1,500 a year for a monthly selection of its product.

There is no doubt that there is real "beef" in the opportunity of connecting with customers who have a love for these specialty delicacies. The real challenge for restaurants and other fine/eclectic dining experiences is the right way to package their offerings in a way that potential subscribers will find appetizing from both a variety of menu selections and pricing. These establishments can make the assumption that their "regulars" will jump on the opportunity to sign up for regular shipments of products. Unlike coffee products that are daily "consumables," specialty foods are just that "special dining" occasion. As much as we might all love Junior's Cheesecake…I don't think that we are ready to commit to a cheesecake a month to subscribe to Junior's.

Restaurants beyond the scope of Katz's Deli & Juniors have a great opportunity to build a loyal base of subscribers by connecting them with more modest offerings at the outset. Don't be focused on filling the belly of each subscriber until they say "no mas" from an offering and/or price point. We need to cater to the needs of customers and give them offers that are easily accepted to kick start the effort. The goal of these efforts should be to "acquire new customers/diners" and then to nurture them along the life of the subscription to an ever-increasing financial and product commitment as they come to appreciate the overall quality and diversity of the menu being offered.

Restaurants can develop different types of subscription "themed" programs — Friday Night Out, Great Holiday Meals, Birthday Bashes, Summer BBQ's — that hone in on why a consumer would opt for a "specialty" meal and/or event. There is an abundance of reasons to celebrate each month and food most definitely takes center stage at these celebrations. Be creative about the packaging of your offering. 

In order for restaurants to build strong subscriber programs, they need to learn a brand-new skill. Most stores are focused on filling seats and driving plates and turns. While many won't admit it, it's not really important who fills these seats rather that they are filled. With subscription efforts; the focus changes to a mission-critical obsession with nurturing and retaining customers in order to build loyalty and lifetime value. Restaurants are well advised in strengthening the persona of the chef(s) in their restaurant to be lead spokespeople in communicating with subscribers. An ongoing effort to build a dialogue with customers is essential to building the type of engagement that will drive affinity, loyalty and stickiness in the subscription program.

No doubt that there is a very appetizing opportunity here for restaurants. The key to success though is for these purveyors of fine foods to think and act differently in customer service, engagement and retention.

Photo: iStock 

Topics: Customer Service / Experience

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