Why Your Restaurant Should Host an Industry Night

Offering promotions and discounts to other service industry workers in your area can be a powerful marketing and networking strategy.
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Industry nights can help strengthen relationships within your industry while bringing attention to your restaurant or bar. (Photo: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock)

If you’re looking to build some buzz around your restaurant and also make some money during off hours, one often-overlooked tactic is to invite your peers to eat. That is, host an industry night.

What is an industry night?

Service industry nights involve inviting other area industry workers to come to your restaurant for discounted food and drinks, special tasting menus and other promotions.

Attendees often include chefs, servers, dishwashers and bartenders from nearby restaurants (yes, even your competitors), hotel concierges and foodservice professionals from local hospitals and universities, according to Linda Duke, chief executive officer and founder of Duke Marketing, who frequently works with restaurants and stores.

Why host one?

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Hosting industry nights can help establish relationships within your industry, says Grant Tondro, co-founder of 3LB Restaurant Group. (Photo: Grant Tondro)

“The hospitality industry is a tight knit group of folks,” said Grant Tondro, co-founder of 3LB Restaurant Group, a company with four restaurants and a craft brewery in San Diego, California. “We all end up hanging out with each other at one point or another, so hosting an industry night gives us a chance to hang out with our friends while still at work.”

In hosting industry nights at his restaurants, Tondro has found that they allow peers to exchange ideas about menus, talk about local vendors and commiserate about problems people are having in their businesses.

“They have helped us establish connections and deepen relationships,” he said. “I know who I can call on a Saturday night to borrow linens when all of our suppliers are closed because we have relationships with the restaurants around us.”

The events also generate word-of-mouth advertising from the best sources of all: people in the business. “When bartenders and chefs are asked, ‘Where do you go to eat?’ they refer business, and It creates a positive perception that if industry people hang out here and eat here, it must be good,” said Duke.

Industry nights are also worthwhile for picking the brains of your harshest critics: your peers. That’s according to Tanner Agar, founder and CEO The Chef Shelf, a restaurant brand consulting company based in Fort Worth, Texas,

“Your restaurant can get feedback from experienced professionals and create goodwill with colleagues, who may become employees one day,” he said. “It can also be used as a way to test future menu ideas.”

Choose your date carefully

Tondro advised hosting an industry night every month or every few months. “If you do them all the time, they can loose their luster and you won’t have the same turnouts.” Pick a slow night so it’s easier on your staff. (Plus, chances are your slow night is a slow night for other industry workers, too.)

“If you do them on your busiest nights, then seats can get tied up unnecessarily, and you won’t have the chance to interact with the industry folk as you should,” said Tondro.

Consider choosing the same date (the 15th of every month, for example) or day of the week (the third Wednesday, the first Monday) every month so it is easy to remember, Duke advised.

Agar suggested a Monday brunch as an alternative to drinks and evening meals, since servers who work weekend brunches rarely get to partake of brunch. Another option: Host an event after-hours, when bartenders and waiters are finishing their shifts.

Publicize it well

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Industry nights need to be well-thought out just like any marketing campaign, according to Donald Burns, founder of the restaurant consulting company The Restaurant Coach. (Photo: Donald Burns)

Whether your industry night offers a flat discount to service workers, specials such as 2-for-1 drinks, or free items (appetizers, drinks) is up to you, but the most important thing is to publicize it, according to Donald Burns, founder of The Restaurant Coach, a restaurant consulting company in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“If you decide just to throw together a quick menu and market on social media two days before the launch, you might want to save yourself the headache and not do it at all,” he said. “It takes a few months to set up and plan.”

Talk to local chefs in the area, put up fliers in your restaurant, post aggressively on social media and give the night some time to catch on.

“Too many restaurants give up too quickly when they don’t see immediate results,” he said. “Just like any marketing campaign, it has to be well thought out, planned, and executed consistently.”

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