If you’ve ever attempted to open a restaurant, or know anyone who has, you know it’s not for the faint of heart.
“Depending on the source, between 50 and 90 percent of restaurants fail in the first three years, and the reasons why can fill a book,” says St. Louis Magazine Restaurant critic George Mahe, who lists “poor marketing and advertising” as one of the chief reasons for failure.
It’s not that budding restaurateurs don’t WANT to be good marketers. It’s usually the case that the person who can create a mouth-watering gourmet meal may not be so blessed in his ability to create a top-notch marketing plan, or that he simply doesn’t have the time to manage the marketing process.
Enter Ola Ayeni, founder and CEO of Dining Dialogue, a Chicago-area startup company that has relocated to St. Louis, bringing with it Eateria, a program to help restaurant owners build customer loyalty.
Trained as a veterinarian, Ayeni moved to the United States from his native Nigeria in 1997. It was after a handful of career shifts and after one particular incident that Ayeni turned his attention to helping restaurateurs. “My family and I liked one particular restaurant in the Chicago area – my wife really liked it. It was an Italian restaurant. One day we went there and the doors were shut, says Ayeni. “The landlord told us the owners weren’t able to pay their bills. He shared with us that they just didn’t have enough customers.”
“A lot of startup restaurant owners,” notes Ayeni, “just don’t understand, particularly in this digital age, how to promote their businesses. Technology has changed everything.”
While many restaurateurs are texting, using social media, e-mail and other electronic means to promote their businesses, Ayeni says they aren’t doing it effectively. To borrow a phrase from the industry, they’re doing it “a la carte”, and on their own. And because they are so busy with other tasks, these restaurant owners are literally handling their direct marketing from the sides of their plates.
What Eateria offers is a bundled package of outreach services. “Everything a restaurant or food service business needs to do in terms of marketing can be done in one place,” he says. “The restaurant operator goes to our website and can sign up for a managed account. Under that program, we give the restaurant a dedicated account manager who does all of the work – the sending out of newsletters to customers, e-mails, working social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter, couponing. We’re a one-stop shop.”
Eateria is a 2013 Arch Grants winner. Ayeni says he currently has a staff of eight working with him in the T-Rex building in downtown St. Louis, with more hiring expected. Ayeni says more than 100 restaurants have signed up for the service so far, including the Robust Wine Bar restaurants and Hiro Asian Bar in the St. Louis area. Restaurateurs pay $199 per month to have a marketing expert do all their marketing for them.
“These (restaurateurs) are putting their heart and soul – and in many cases their savings – into these restaurants, says Ayeni. “When they close there’s a big impact not only to them, but to the economy of a community as well. We think we can help solve that problem.”