If you own a restaurant near a college, you know doing business in a college town is much more challenging and complicated than what outsiders may think. Sure, the surrounding student population can work as a significant advantage if you understand and embrace the community. At the same time though, restaurants suffer from the seasonality of student demands, where a sales drop is inevitable during vacations and holidays. Marketing to students is never easy, especially when everyone is offering discounts.
University relationships are key to success. No matter what the student population is like, becoming a part of the local university community can produce a lot of business.
Tom Kenney, a part-owner of an Outback Steakhouse location in College Station, Texas- home to Texas A&M- is highly involved in the university community through charity functions and fundraisers for students. He feels his involvement with the university community has paid off in a number of ways, including uplifting employee morale while driving sales. “We have a good reputation here. Our employees feel good about working here, we have no shortage of applicants, and we’ve increased sales every year.” -Nation’s Restaurant News
What can you do to be genuinely involved in the student community?
Offering discounts is a race to the bottom and can adversely affect your brand. Hosting fundraisers, on the other hand, lets students experience your food at full price while supporting a cause they care about. This Local Store Marketing tool turns your slow times into opportunities for brand exposure, community connection, and increased profit. This relationship-based outreach is a great way to encourage new diners to become loyal customers. Bottom line: Fundraising works.
Thanks to technology, many restaurants across the nation have started using websites like GroupRaise.com, where they post their fundraising program online and let student bodies and other local non-profit groups organize fundraisers in a matter of minutes. In addition to independently owned locations, chains such as Jason’s Deli and Johnny Rockets are actively utilizing this online platform and are seeing great results in their community both financially and socially.
GroupRaise.com is very simple to use and free to join. You can add your restaurant and fundraising policy at www.GroupRaise.com/solutions/signup and if you don’t have a policy, the form will help you make one in just a few minutes. The site is focused on helping you build long-term relationships with non-profits like college groups through fundraisers. GroupRaise sends you email requests when groups would like to host fundraisers at your restaurant. The site only charges a small fee if you successfully connect with a community group you’d like to host.
In this day and age, many college students are more comfortable connecting with online tools like GroupRaise.com than picking up the phone and calling to get a fundraiser set up. Being available on the site can really multiply the effect of your outreach and largely reduce the amount of time and effort you have to spend searching for groups in your community. At the end of the day, as a restaurant you want to spend more time building relationships with your customers and less time searching for them.
Take a note from Tom- Fundraisers are a great way to build your brand and break into your local college community. And if you want to be successful, you should really get started now before it’s too late for the coming fall!