Success Stories

Relationship Marketing Weekly: Restaurant Owner Edition

Tony Marciante (a.k.a. Chef Tony) is an award-winning Chef, Restaurateur and business owner in Maryland who, through his love of technology and entrepreneurship, has always carried an extreme passion for marketing and creative grassroots efforts on brand building and business promotion. This week Tony will go into detail how over the past nine months he’s successfully used relationship marketing to add a layer of tangible touch.

Kody Bateman: Hey everybody. This is Kody Bateman. Welcome to a special feature of our Relationship Marketing Weekly show. I’m very, very excited about the guest we have on today, a very unique industry. I don’t believe I’ve ever had a restaurant on before.

So I’m really excited about this show. This is our restaurant version of Relationship Marketing Weekly. Let me introduce to your guest who is with us today. This is Chef Tony. Chef Tony’s name is Tony Marciante out of Rockville, Maryland, owner of Chef Tony’s Fresh Seafood Restaurant.

Tony, welcome to our call today.

Tony Marciante: Thank you so much. I appreciate everybody having me on. I’m excited.

Kody Bateman: Well, we’re excited to have you on. We were mentioning before this call started, I’ve been saying for years I wish that I would – I could see more restaurants actually using our service. In fact I’ve actually been a patron at restaurants before and talked to chefs and talked to the host and what not about the possibility of sending cards out to their customers. It’s like none of them ever saw the vision. It was like how do we do it? And yet you’re doing it with some incredible results.

So all of you that are listening in today, I want you to imagine all of us that are listening to you today. We’re patrons of restaurants. Everybody goes out to a restaurant to eat dinner. So I want you to think about it in terms of if you go to a nice restaurant which you have an upscale restaurant. We will talk about that in a second.

But if you go to a nice restaurant and then you go – and then while you’re there, either the host or if you’re lucky enough, the chef himself comes out and asks you how you’re doing and takes a picture of you. Within a couple of days after that, you get a card in the mail from them and you just think about yourself as a patron and how that would make you feel.

I want you to be – those listening, I want you to be thinking about that as we start this show today. So Tony, I kind of gave a little bit away of what you do. But you do a lot more than just sending cards and gifts to people. Just kind of walk us through the process.

First of all, how long have you been using the SendOutCards service?

Tony Marciante: I’ve been on for about three years, I would say.

Kody Bateman: OK.

Tony Marciante: I started a while. You know, very frankly, I started years and years ago. I did it for a while and I didn’t have a staff in place to really implement it right. So about three years ago, I got started again and I was excited about it and we have a lot of business and a lot of staff now. So I had to wait to officially get it done and we’ve been really, really enjoying it. It has been great.

Kody Bateman: So when did you first get the vision of actually sending cards and gifts out to people that come to your restaurant? How did that start?

Tony Marciante: Well, I mean to me, not to get into the whole marketing discussion but we’re pretty active marketers. I think in our area in the DC market in general, there’s a lot of people that come in for a couple of years and move away and people would come and say to me, “You know, I really love coming here but this is going to be our last dinner.” I say, “What happened?” Well, we’re moving to Idaho.

So there’s always this transient nature. So we have to be actually marketing. I take a lot of [0:03:19] [Indiscernible] market better but the deal is relationships, right? We all want to be recognized. We all want to feel special. We all want to walk in and the bartender says, “Hey, here’s a martini for you,” et cetera, that kind of thing.

But we can’t do that without having a way to capture some information first. So we thought that sending out cards would be an amazing way to capture some of the magic of that night. It’s a pretty simple process and we want to be excited about continuing to build that relationship. So that’s where it kind of started.

Kody Bateman: So the ambience of your restaurant is more upscale, kind of high class. I’m assuming there’s a lot of couples perhaps that come in and celebrate different things at your place. What is the average – if you don’t mind me asking because I want to kind of set perspective for our audience. What’s the average ticket amount at your restaurant?

Tony Marciante: For two people, I would say around $80.

Kody Bateman: OK.

Tony Marciante: Eight-five dollars.

Kody Bateman: And then if they have wine and stuff, it might be –

Tony Marciante: Yeah.

Kody Bateman: OK. So it’s upscale. I mean it’s an upper scale steakhouse, seafood type of place. In fact it mentions here that you were actually part of executive chef for a unit of McCormick and Schmick. So it’s probably similar to a McCormick and Schmick restaurant.

Tony Marciante: It has become – I’ve moved around and come back to seafood. Seafood has always been a passion of mine. It was – we opened up actually 2007. So remember in 2008 the recession happened and that almost killed everybody and luckily we made it through the storm and came out of the other side. But we have come back, yeah, with a daily seafood menu. We offer a lot of fresh products and we put our menu every day.

So the whole thing about us is really engaging with our guests and we do a lot with our website or email with SendOutCards.

Kody Bateman: Well, yeah. You’ve mentioned that you’re very active in marketing. Just kind of give us a rundown of some of the things that you do to actively market to your customer base.

Tony Marciante: Sure. Well, I mean again, we want to capture as much as we can about people in a positive way. So we start – we have a rewards program that we implemented. So we capture – on the end of their receipt, they get a place to fill out a name, birthday, email, phone number and we use those [0:05:46] [Indiscernible]. So we get that physical paper and we save that on file.

So once they’re in our system, we can opt to do a rewards program with them. So we check all the money they spent in here. We email them out on a regular basis and I write in a very personal way. So what I’m – this is an extension of the whole SendOutCards thing is it’s a really personal experience. So we talk to them about life, about food and how to connect to people.

Sometimes we get off-topic and people – I want to ask you Kody. When the last time people came to you and said, “I really loved your last email,” right? In 2018, we get a lot of email. I literally have had half a dozen people stop me and look at me and say, “I love your emails,” and I just have to pat myself a little bit because I speak from the heart and I think a lot of times the market don’t think about it enough. I talk about my family, my dogs, my fish we have in the – all kinds of stuff. The fish that – we don’t eat that. We have a fish …

We have – so we talk personal and we talk about things related to the business. But in general it’s [0:06:50] [Indiscernible]. So SendOutCards made a lot of sense to me to connect on another level in a different way and when you have a physical card and it has got a memory of your dinner here, you’re not going to throw it away ever.

Kody Bateman: So walk me through the process because again, you had mentioned before the show that sometimes the host will actually have an interaction and take a picture and send a card and sometimes you the chef actually would come out and do that.

My wife and I, we love to go out to restaurants. I mean we’re connoisseurs of great food and when we go to a restaurant that we really enjoy the menu, it’s kind of a big deal for us and I got to assume other people are the same way. I don’t know.

It’s kind of a big deal for us, especially if we enjoy the menu, to meet the chef. I mean that’s a cool thing for us. It’s almost like meeting the pilot of a plane.

Tony Marciante: Exactly.

Kody Bateman: Meeting the chef is a big deal. So walk us through a little bit about – you know, on occasion, you go out and walk the dining room. Just tell us a little bit about what you do.

Tony Marciante: Sure. I’m always – we actually changed our restaurant physically when we bought it because we wanted to have it be more open. A lot of restaurants – of course you see more of the display kitchens nowadays. But we want to change the way this particular restaurant was to be more open and more inclusive. So I talk to the guests a lot. We have a walk-by window that people literally go into our back diner and say, “Hey, thanks. Thanks for coming in. Good to see you. Get ready for a great meal.” Then walking out. We say, “Thank you so much.”

My whole staff is really about that. I’ve actually watched people get thanked four and five times before they get to my door. So what I try to do is when I can, I get out to the dining room. It’s a smaller place. You seat about 85 people. But I get out of the dining room. If I see a particular table and that I connected with and they look like they’re having a good time, you know, it’s an anniversary or birthday or any kind of special event, we also – we will get them out to take pictures. We will send them a champagne toast, whether it’s myself or my host. My host is very aware because he has a little bit more time to be all over. Everyone has kind of interactions with the rest of them. Why are they here? What are they celebrating? How is the vibe?

I tell them, “Just grab your phone.” We all have a phone in our pocket, most of us, a smartphone. Snap a nice picture and again he texted to me and sent me the address. He gave me a text, a little piece of paper on my office desk. I log in that night. It takes me five minutes to create a card and I send it out. A couple of days later, they get a card and sometimes a little gift and it’s a great reminder.

Kody Bateman: Wow, that’s amazing. I’ve always envisioned restaurants doing that and you are doing it. I mean do you see – I mean how does it affect the sales? People that listen to this always want to hear about return on investment and those kinds of things. I mean it’s –

Tony Marciante: Well, I would tell you, I wish I could tell you that I brought in X amount of percent more people. I like ROI. I like that discussion. But to be honest, if you’re looking to build a relationship, it has got to be a little bit more than that. I’m a believer in the collective phase, right? When you have – we also do a thing after just – we call every guest after a reservation the next day. We make a physical actual phone call and the only thing we say is thank you. We don’t want to ask anything, anything else. We don’t expect – we’re not asking for return visit. We’re just saying thank you because we appreciate them coming.

I think it’s because we speak from the heart and we’re real about it. So in terms of ROI, I get that. I get that discussion. I know that it brings people back in because they mention it to us. We got a card. We have a guest come back every week, several times a week sometimes.

So I don’t really want to use it to specifically drive traffic back necessarily. I want them to always have it on mind. You know, Chef Tony, seafood, the best, warm, wonderful experience and that’s a win to me. So that’s my philosophy.

Kody Bateman: Well, you have just described what relationship marketing really is. I mean – and it’s so hard to teach that to people because most people want – they want the whole focus to be on ROI. If your whole focus is on ROI, then you’re focusing on the marketing aspect rather than the relationship aspect. We’ve said all along. If you take care of relationships, everything else takes care of itself.

You’re an example of that because you run a highly successful restaurant with a lot of repeat customers that come back and feel appreciated. So, you know, what you appreciate appreciates.

Tony Marciante: Appreciates, I know. It really is because I mean I definitely – I’m not – my mom is an artist and my dad is an accountant. So I got both sides of my brain. There’s nothing wrong with making – being financially secure in your business. But I really truly believe in my artistic woo-woo side. If people feel comfortable, well-loved, the technical aspects of what happens when we get in [0:11:58] [Indiscernible] that’s all important. But when they feel warm about the place, they’re going to come back.

It’s the old Cheers mentality. Give me a different menu. But when you walk in, say, “Kody, good to see you. You like your scotch neat or you like your – you like a soda with an extra lime and a lemon?” You feel important and you feel valued and that’s just another step.

Kody Bateman: So you obviously are on a first name basis with a lot of your customers.

Tony Marciante: Yeah.

Kody Bateman: And your host and yourself and others who work there know who’s coming in the door, which again is so important. My wife and I, we frequent restaurants that know who we are. I mean it’s people – people crave feeling accepted and appreciated and you go put $100 down on a night out with your significant other. You want it to be a special occasion.

So when people are there to take care of you and like you, it adds to the experience. So really cool. I feel like you should be one of – I mean you’re an entrepreneur and a chef combined. You should do one of those reality shows where you go and fix restaurants.

You know, there’s that bar one where the guy goes and fixes the bars. I feel like you need to be one of those for the upscale restaurant industry.

Tony Marciante: I would enjoy it a lot and it’s funny because I had a [0:13:22] [Indiscernible]. We’re talking a lot about the next 5 to 10 to 15 years. You never know.

Kody Bateman: Yeah.

Tony Marciante: I will let you know if it becomes a reality. But I do enjoy working because – working with restaurants because I have empathy. It’s a very, very tough business and it’s a very thin margin.

Kody Bateman: Yeah.

Tony Marciante: So I feel like those that don’t know – I won’t say the secrets but they have maybe changed their mindset a little bit and know some of the technical things we can do to improve our numbers, but also some of the hard things. I think that’s the most important thing. A lot of restaurants that are big and successful and big dollars in them don’t – in my opinion, they’ve forgotten about the hospitality.

We have our style and everyone has got their thing and it’s all kind of [0:14:06] [Indiscernible]. But for me, no matter what level of dining, whether it’s a diner or a steakhouse, seafood house, whatever, everybody wants to feel appreciated. That’s the …

Kody Bateman: So I’ve always wondered that about the restaurant business because I’ve heard that you run on very thin margins. So every time I’m in a restaurant and I hear a plate crash or break or somebody sends their meal back because they didn’t like it – you know, I’m an entrepreneur. So the numbers start going in my head. Like are they losing money tonight or, you know, stuff?

Tony Marciante: Yeah. Well, it can happen that way. To be honest, the general practice of restaurants – I would say between 5 and 15 percent profit margin, usually more towards the eight or nine. I don’t know if either that matches the National Restaurant Association numbers, but it’s pretty close.

Kody Bateman: Wow.

Tony Marciante: But yeah. When a plate breaks, I’m like five bucks just flew away, right? But at the same time, we get a call and a party of 10 comes in. We make …

Kody Bateman: Right.

Tony Marciante: So it works out but it’s definitely a volume business. That’s why you have to – you can’t survive on an empty restaurant.

Kody Bateman: Yeah.

Tony Marciante: You got to be doing the numbers and again the [0:15:13] [Indiscernible] both side of your brain have to be working and I think honestly people who have run restaurants are some of the smartest entrepreneurs around because it’s an incredibly tactile business. You have everything under one roof. Think about you have personnel, you have marketing, you have advertising the product, you have [Indiscernible] customer service. All that stuff is under one roof. So it’s pretty …

Kody Bateman: Wow. Listen, it has been a pleasure speaking with you today. I feel like we can do a two-hour show with you on here because you got so many –

Tony Marciante: I’m game if you’re ever game.

Kody Bateman: Well, we’re actually shifting this program to a podcast. We’re going to be doing podcasts in the near future. So we’re going to kind of shift the format of the RM Weekly show. So when we do the podcast, it will be a little different format. We will be able to do some longer shows. We’re excited about that and I’m going to have you come back on. I would love to have you come back on and we will get into a little bit more detail.

People love this. I mean people love to hear about what different industries – it’s not just people in the restaurant business. There are people on this call today from completely different industries that have picked up golden nuggets from you and the restaurant business. Everybody wants to know how a thin margin business succeeds because that helps us in whatever it is that we do.

So listen, any – well, I always like to close the show by final words of wisdom. So Chef Tony, final words of wisdom for our audience today. The floor is yours. Go ahead.

Tony Marciante: I appreciate that. I want to thank you for having me on. I guess I would say to keep hospitality in whatever business you’re in. Keep the thought that we’re humans and it’s easy to send out 1000 emails and have this show watched by a hundred people, but remember that everything you’re doing in business is one person to one person essentially and that I think the hospitality business has taught us a lot.

We continue to learn because people are people and evolving. But hospitality is ageless and it always has been around ever since we probably had our – a fire and a piece of meat on top of that and we invited somebody over. If you do that in your business and you connect with somebody for real, I think it means a lot …

Kody Bateman: Well, there you have it my friends. No truer words can be said. That was a great way to recap the whole show. So Chef Tony, I appreciate you being on with us. If you would like to find out how Tony does the stuff he does, get back with the person that shared this show with you, that I’m sure they can share with you how he does this stuff. So we will be excited to see you next week on another version of our RM Weekly show.

Chef Tony, once again thanks. We appreciate you. God bless everybody. Take care now.

Tony Marciante: Take care.

To secure your best year yet, you may consider using a service like SendOutCards. In just minutes, you can create a custom card, add a personal message and picture, and do it all right from your mobile device!  You can even include one of their many gift selections like their amazing brownies, their new premium line of chocolates, you can even include a Starbucks card!

If you would like to learn more about how to incorporate a Relationship Marketing Strategy in your business, feel free to call or text me at {LEAD_OWNER_PHONE|}I will answer all your questions and help you build relationships, increase referrals, and make an amazing impression on all your clients, friends and family!

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