Ritesh Patel is renowned as a marketer specializing in pharma. But today, we ask him about the lessons in digital marketing an up-market Indian restaurant.

Ritesh PatelTell us about this venture and the main goals for your marketing program.

Basically, I selfishly wanted a great Indian restaurant that was nearby. There were three in the area, all at the other end of town, and they were only “ok.” Four years ago a Chinese restaurant disappeared overnight…really, overnight…and it took until July of this year, but now that space is a 34 seat Indian restaurant.

Our marketing focuses on the brand, which is high quality, unexpected, fresh food. We brought in a young, smart chef from New York, and he created a stylish menu that stood out from the usual.

We’re not going to do anything people expect from the run of the mill Indian restaurant, or in our marketing – so we’ve gone strictly digital and social.

What tactics have you tried so far?

We reached out to local bloggers – Baristanet, Patch – worked with them to create content…not ads. Got them into the restaurant, made them fans and those relationships continue today. Also created a video article that ran on Patch, totally targeted to the local area Patches.

In paid media, we’ve focused on Facebook ad units. We’ve tried and tested several, before and after the launch. We tried simple and straightforward (“Coming to Montclair…”) and a bit more creative (“Are you man enough to try the hottest curry on earth”).

All of these have been targeted to within a 5 mile radius. Over time, we’ve narrowed the parameters a bit with demographics and interests. It’s very simple, using the self-service module with cc payment system.  Our monthly budget has ranged from $100 to $150 dollars. The FB banners yield hundreds of thousands of impressions, and a solid .15% click through rate.

Incidentally the “man enough” ad worked great and we combined that with a blog post on Patch. The idea was to create a challenge – an event centered around this really hot curry – and to use FB to push the story. One outcome was that a famous food blogger came into the challenge and wrote it up on his food blog. He picked it up from a FB ad unit.

You’ve been approached by the group discount players – what happened?

Usual suspects all arrived. You need to do a deal! We said ‘no.’ We don’t want to be perceived as a discount joint; our brand is high quality, value-based Indian food. Sometimes we’ll pay for that…a few blog posts had mentioned high prices. But we stuck to the pricing, because it’s fantastic, freshly made food, not the typical Indian restaurant experience. That’s the brand, not discounting.

When we did the analysis, it was a completely losing proposition. Maybe we’d drive traffic but lose money on each sale, and most of those discount driven customers wouldn’t return. We want to build loyalty and generate word of mouth.

I want to control our experiments with discounting. Once we launched, we added a coupons tab on the FB page. We could see how many visitors to the FB page would be interested.  There was huge click through to that tab (with no coupons, just the “coming soon”). Looking ahead, we may implement a couponing system internally…see what’s happening and adjust accordingly. Groupon and similar services take control away from the business owner.

If we maintain control, we can change coupons literally daily, tied to FB offers…lunch specials at noon, etc. We do A/B tests of the ads and can do the same with coupons.

What about other players in local marketing – Yelp, Foursquare, etc?

There have been 20 reviews on Yelp for a 2 month old restaurant.  With Foursquare, we just self-identified, giving tips on what to try. No discounts as we’re still concerned with brand building. Not as many Foursquare as FB Places check-ins. No table cards to remind. A local food writer also posted a video review to YouTube.

How is your local social strategy working?

It’s done wonders. Our 34 seat restaurant is getting 100-120 covers (settings) on most nights, with about 40 takeouts per day. For an established restaurant this would be good, for one a few months old, it’s awesome.

We also see loyalty building and one sign of that is that people are asking us for new products. For example, they’re now asking for catering…and a regular wants to start a custom menu lunch club.

So all of this is without offline ads? Not even an ad in the local paper?

Zero. Though honestly I did call once, and no one called me back. I even sent out a traditional press release.