In times of economic turmoil, operators must re-evaluate their marketing plans to determine what methods are most effective. Many directors, particularly those that have more retail-focused operations, find that point of sale marketing still offers one of the best solutions when trying to increase sales.
Displays: At 50,000-student University of Texas in Austin, Claudia Ashlock, manager of Jester City Limits food court, says she uses what looks like a farmer’s cart to display the daily specials at two of the main entrances.
“We put sample plates on the cart to show customers what’s available from each concept,” Ashlock says. “We found that it is really helpful for our customers because they can just go to one spot and see the specials at every venue and then go directly to that venue. Other locations just have them near the particular venue so the students have to walk around to each to see what the specials are.”
Ashlock says her location offers farm direct produce so she also sets up a cart in the main entrance that shows what produce they’re offering that week. There is also signage that tells what days the produce will be served.
Specials displays are also successful at Halton Healthcare in Oakville, Ontario. Director of Nutrition and Food Services Elma Hrapovich says they take advantage of the marketing materials they get from their vendor partners to market in the survery.
“At Parsons’ Pantry [located at 330-bed Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital] we partnered with [several vendors],” Hrapovich says. “We’ve taken some of their pictures and their POS stuff and we’ve put them in nice picture frames. We’ve staged them in a way that they look like artwork.”
Hrapovich says they also do sample plates of some of the top-selling daily specials at each concept.
“At peak times, we’ve found that doing a variety of the sample plates or display advertising at each station allows for the different ways that people graze for information,” Hrapovich says. “Instead of them waiting in line and getting up there and deciding they don’t want the special, they know what it is beforehand and specials are selling better. I think the [POS marketing] commercializes our operation more, which is especially important in healthcare as we try to get away from the institutional look.”
At 34,100-student University of Georgia in Athens, Pat Brussack, dietary specialist, says her department creates backlit menu boards.
“The main menu display is basically something we produce in house,” Brussack says. “These just have a list of everything we serve at the location and the prices. There might be a photograph or clipart, as well as the location’s own logos.”
Icons: In the past few years, icons have become more and more common as a way to draw customer attention to programs or as alerts. Brussack says they use icons in the resident dining hall to give students information.
“Most of the labeling is for information so they know what the item is called. We do a label if its vegan, vegetarian or heart healthy,” Brussack says. “We also have an icon for this event we’ve been doing for 20 years where we get recipes from parents called Taste of Home. So any of those recipes that we utilize on the menu, we label them with a little envelope.”
Wallet-friendly marketing: Marketing to a specific price point has become more common as the economy has taken a turn for the worse. At 36,000-student San Diego State University, Alexandria Diaz, dining services marketing manager, says the department has been promoting $5 Meal Deals.
“The $5 Meal Deals are our value meal deals,” Diaz says. “They’re usually a meal and a drink. For example, at our salad concept we do a small salad, muffin or breadstick and a drink. We have signage campus wide, and in each participating location we have signage featuring the individual unit deal. We felt with the economy it was a good idea to help our kids out.”
Diaz says the department also uses signage to promote premium items, such as a California turkey club with more premium items on it like avocados.
“The students are hit with everything every day,” Diaz says. “You’ve got to be in their face to get them to pay attention. We use big, bright colors and big numbers to appeal to them. We’ve found it’s really successful.”
Georgia’s Brussack says it’s important for operators to remember POS marketing as a vital part of their marketing plans.
“I think it’s the first step in providing good customer service,” Brussack says. “Especially with our daily specials, the students can see that they change every day, and it indicates that it’s not a static operation. It keeps people interested in returning to the location.”
The rollout of Lackmann's new Under 3 program depends on POS marketing.
Lackmann Culinary Services recently introduced its new Under 3 program, which is being heavily promoted through POS marketing such as menu icons, special packaging and signage. Lisa Lahiji, director of marketing for campus and universities for Lackmann, says the program consists of sandwiches, salads and desserts that are all fewer than 300 calories and priced at $3 or less.
“It got started because there is a perception out there that healthy food is expensive,” says Christian Fishcer, corporate executive chef. “One of my goals was just to take this opportunity to create a healthy meal at the same cost as the regular meal. The goal with this was to have a good portion size, which is 4 to 6 ounces, that was fewer than 300 calories and also structured in a way that we could sell it for under $3.”
Fishcer says he decided to focus on salads, sandwiches and desserts because he’s found that customers looking for healthier options are usually not looking for an entrée. He says they are looking for a light sandwich, salad or healthier side.
“The reason we did desserts is because we wanted to make it a challenge because of the perception that desserts are not healthy,” Fishcer says. “We wanted to show that the desserts we do have, if you prepare them in a certain way with healthy ingredients, you can have them for fewer than 300 calories.”
To market the program, Lahiji says they created a special label for the Under 3 items. The items are kept in the grab-and-go section; however, they have their own section of the case.
“Our entire grab-and-go line has a green label with all the nutritional information and ingredients,” Lahiji says. “The Under 3 line actually has a yellow label with the Under 3 logo on it. The line is highlighted with the labels and grouped together and then there is signage that explains a little about the program.”
Lahiji says they also sent out a communication company wide explaining the program to all of Lackmann’s directors before the program was launched.
“We wanted it to be for our cost-conscious, health-conscious, sustainable-conscious customers,” Lahiji says. “It’s really about creating affordable options for our customers, whether it’s add-on sales or a meal replacement. People seem to really love them.”
The program started at colleges, universities and B&I accounts but has since moved to all of the company’s accounts. Lahiji says the POS part of the marketing plan is the most important.
“I think it’s important to point out that these items are separate,” Lahiji says. “By creating separate labels and easily identifying that these are the items that are fewer than 300 calories makes it easy for someone to grab what they need for a low cost.”
Fishcer says the items will change on a bimonthly basis. So far the program has been a success, according to Lackmann District Manager Mike Franzese.
“The fact that it’s $3 helps the guests out economically, but they’re also very excited about it being fewer than 300 calories,” Franzese says. “We have the signage and posters in all of my accounts. Some of the accounts worked closely with us and did an e-mail blast throughout the whole unit. The labeling jumps out at you because it’s so colorful and people are looking for it now. Wherever I’ve rolled the program out, we’ve had success.”
Marketing manager talks about the importance of maintaining atmosphere while promoting at the POS.
At 30,200-student University of Missouri in Columbia, Andrew Lough, marketing manager, says they use a variety of point of sale marketing methods. However, he thinks it’s important for operators to remember not to overdo POS promotions at the expense of the location’s ambiance.
“We have implemented a variety of POS marketing styles; the type depends on the operation. Some locations have display plates, one has a digital display that offers suggestive selling opportunities, while others use standard print pieces. In each case, we focus the POS material and medium to the target market and atmosphere of the specific operation. It’s uniquely important because your decisions about marketing at the point of transaction set the tone for the interaction between you and your customer. You have the opportunity to make your customer feel comfortable and confident in their purchasing decisions.
If a location is more of a café with a small set menu for the day, or if it’s something where they have a seasonal menu item, we will actually make the item and put it out on display so people can see it. In some locations that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense because spaghetti looks like spaghetti, but if we have something that they might not intuitively know what it is by reading a sign, sometimes it helps to actually see the product. It’s a relatively low-cost solution that offers a good opportunity for some training for your staff. That way they are clear on how to make the item and how to plate it so it looks nice.
We also have one location that has a digital display. It’s at one of our retail locations called the Wheatstone Bistro, which offers more upscale sandwiches, soups and salads. They use kind of a hybrid menu. They have a standard menu board where they can list their menu items, but set inside the menu board is a 42-inch plasma screen that rotates images or whatever we want up there. When we do roll out a new item, we can put pictures up there so we’re not making a display plate every day. We can also do special promotional pricing up there. It gives the location a little more flexibility for promoting items that need it.
The screen also offers the chance to change the menu based on seasonal items that may only be around for a few weeks. It makes it the perfect way to display that type of information rather than having to change a printed sign for only a few weeks. We have plans to use these digital displays at a new student center that is currently under construction. We’re transitioning from an old food court model where everything was central to a modular restaurant model with locations throughout the building. Several of the restaurants have plans to do similar things with the menu boards. It will provide them the flexibility that they’ll need as a new operation to change up menus in a cost-effective way.
I think it’s vital to always think of your customer first when making any marketing decisions. And specifically related to POS marketing, don’t try to force a medium that doesn’t fit your atmosphere or operation. Use POS marketing to support your menu, atmosphere and staff, rather than letting it drive other decisions. For example, we have a coffee shop in the library called the Bookmark Café. That’s a location where it’s important to think before upgrading the signage because at the end of the day, it’s a coffee shop in the library. It’s a very quiet, calm space so you don’t want digital signage, things flashing and bright lights in that location. So we have more subdued colors and lighting on our menus there. We try and keep it as clean as possible because what the customers are expecting there is something that is very fitting with the library environment. We just get a floor stand to highlight any menu items that might change. If we did something big and flashy would it get more visibility? Sure. Would it fit what our customers are looking for in that location? Probably not.”