Why and how to conduct a history audit for restaurants

History Smiths

You’ve heard of customer service audits — a thorough investigation of every “customer touch point” in your business. Your logo and tag line. Your print materials. Your website. How your telephone is answered. How people are responded to. How people are greeted when they enter your business — and even before they enter. What your décor looks like. And the list goes on. You want every customer touch point to reflect your brand identity. When something is amiss, customers notice and you undermine your credibility. You could have the most gorgeous marketing materials in your industry, but if people are treated rudely…. But you already know this.

Now, let me ask you to stretch your mind a bit, and here I am going to make some assumptions:

• Your restaurant is located in a historical community. • You are interested in that local history, and you understand that it’s a draw for your restaurant or you wouldn’t be located where you are. •. You would like to be part of the historical fabric of your community in an authentic way, knowing that you will retain and attract customers AND support your town’s historical resources (the cash cow for everyone), but you are not a historian and not sure how to go about it.

This is a great start, because here’s what we know.

• People who live in historical communities LOVE their local history. • People who are culturally engaged tend to be well educated and well off. These are good customers to have! • People are hungry for authentic experiences (with apologies for the pun). They are increasingly sick to death of the homogenization, the “malling,” or the “chain storing” of America. Incorporating history — your own and your community’s — into your corporate culture and marketing activities will set you apart. If your restaurant caters to visitors, incorporating local history into as many “touch points” as possible only makes sense. • People are turning away from mega malls and chains toward local eateries and their downtown. You can capitalize on this trend for residents and visitors alike by embracing your local history. • History “says” stature, class, and integrity to customers. That’s not a bad reputation for your restaurant to have! • Every business wants to achieve an emotional connection with its customers. Embracing and supporting your local history will go a long way toward achieving that goal. But then, you ask, What, exactly should I do? How do I even begin to find the information I need, not to mention the time? How can I use this fuzzy thing called “history” in practical ways for my restaurant?

Here are some very specific steps you could take.

• Decide you want to work with a historian to investigate the history that is authentically part of your restaurant — your own history and how your restaurant connects with your town’s historical themes (for example, maritime history and seafood). By taking this route, you will immediately expand your customer base by connecting with your local historical society, museum, library, and historic sites. Each one has hundreds of members and patrons, and there are ways each one can let their constituencies know about your project. And keep in mind that history is fluid. New information surfaces all the time. You want current, authentic information, and not a rehash of the same stories that have been told forever. • With the historian’s information in hand, review your customer touch points with the historian and your marketing people to decide where history could be embedded. Review your marketing materials and website — do they include anything about your restaurant’s history? The town’s history? Why you are there? That you are proud to be a member of your historical community and support local preservation efforts? Look at your exterior design, your interior design, your menus, the restrooms, function room — where are the opportunities for history? The answers could be subtle and visual or more extensive depending on the application. • Once you have “reworked” your restaurant historically, why not host an event to show off what you did? Co-host the event with your historical society or museum, and you will really impress customers. Offer a free martini that evening for anyone who joins the historical society or makes a donation. In the future, you could host or co-sponsor lectures together that have a tie-in with your restaurant’s history (win-win). You want to keep the relationship going, and so should they. You get the idea.

By initiating a historical investigation, implementing your findings, and celebrating with the historical community, you will forge lasting friendships with hundreds of people (and everyone they know) who will appreciate your efforts.

Frankly, you will also be providing real leadership in your community, because most businesses simply write checks to support historical causes. They do not develop this level of relationship, which can only benefit everyone involved for years to come. Meanwhile, all of those happy residents will love you and your restaurant. Visitors who are promised an authentic experience over the other nameless restaurants (think Union Oyster House in Boston versus a chain restaurant) will be delighted, return, tell their friends, blog, Facebook, tweet, who knows?

So…think “history audit.” Another arrow in your quiver of marketing tools!