Day 44 – The Puzzle – My Dream For Restaurant Marketing And What We Are Building

The journey of building this company and the services we offer to restaurants has been quite a journey.

Back in 2015 when I realized I’d created something unique for restaurant marketing, I thought “what if I had a brewery in every state using my system.”  You see, back then I had 9 restaurants as clients, 3 breweries and 6 others.  We had 1 deli style restaurant, a 4 casual dining restaurants, 3 breweries and 1 fast casual concept that we were helping to market.  I was their “at large marketing director” and Ashley was my team member who helped me carry out their ENTIRE marketing plan (my 1st employee and only one then).  I bought their mass media, spending North of $1.3 million annually for them, I created the marketing strategy, I kept them ahead of the technology curve, we did their graphic design, sent their emails, managed their social media and at the end of the day IMPLEMENTED EVERYTHING!

You could say that Ashley and I were their marketing department, and we loved it.  

When I say we did EVERYTHING for these restaurants that would be an understatement.  

CLICK BELOW to check out a Facebook Live in did for them in March 2014, yes we were doing LIVES and video 10 years ago for restaurants:)

 I would do every month for each of the 3 Hobrauhaus Breweries we worked with.  I knew the importance of video marketing back then (you know the stuff most restaurants STILL are not doing) and I also saw the power of using Facebook Live to own our own “media outlet.  So every opportunity I had, I did live and recorded videos for our 9 restaurant clients.  This was the Newport location who had a Keg Tapping the last Wednesday of every month.  I would show up and broadcast it live on their Facebook page from my iPad and then download the file and make a quick video in the restaurant that night to post the next day to hype of the new beer and use as the post for a paid ad that month.   And yes it’s grainy, nowhere close to perfect and it’s really poor editing by todays standards.  BUT we were the only ones doing it and these videos would DRIVE sales and customer traffic.

And on April 26th 2015 all of that changed. 

It all changed with one promotion.

That day was national pretzel day and up until that point I’d never had a promotion that gained such TRACKABLE traction.  Meaning, we could 100% see that it drove traffic and sales.  We saw $18,000 in incresed sales only from that lame “show this Facebook post or email” to get this offer promo.

When I saw how well it did and realized “what if I knew who all of those 500 or customers were?”  


– what if I knew their name

– how often they visited

– when they were 1st time customers

– when they went missing AKA stopped coming to the restaurant

– when were their birthdays

– why they came to the restaurant (bier, music, food, etc)

– And WHAT IF I could use social media to gain the customer data needed to build this program….

The ideas started to flood in.  And I wondered HOW could I take this promo to the next level with all of our restaurant clients.  But more importantly I also realized that much of what worked for my restaurant clients was due to massive insights we were gaining every week by having 9 total.  You see, at this time I was a local marketing firm with 34 clients who had 200 or so locations across 31 industries.  So many times, we were re-creating the wheel for each client every new promotion since what worked for a restaurant did not necessarily work for a car dealership.

But when I did something for 1 of the restaurants, it typically worked for all 9 of them.  

So with this idea I figured there was only one place to go to find the solution I needed, the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago in mid May, just a few weeks away.  I thought that a show dedicated to the restaurant business boasting 4,000 exhibitors and close to 400 marketing/technology booths surely the software I needed build this marketing program.

Below is a picture of my very first NRA show on my Birthday in 2015!

As I walked the show floor I was AMAZED!  

The marketing companies and marketing technology were so far behind.  I had booths bragging to me about their direct mail strategies, ones we were doing 7 years earlier when I started my company.  

There was NO ONE there for Social Media! 

NO ONE talking about customer engagement online!

NO ONE talking about how to gain customer data!

 NO ONE talking about customer acquisition and ROI.

In fact when I mentioned marketing ROI they looked a me like a dog when it turns it’s head sideways. 

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with the only loyalty and technology booth that impressed me.  I told him I was looking for software that could be triggered through a comment on Facebook, which took the customer to SOMEWHERE and we would get them to give us their name, phone number, birthday and email address.  Then we would put them into an email and text marketing campaign that had trackable promotions they could redeem.  Then I could segment the database and funnel the best customers into a loyalty program and the others would be in a marketing funnel based on their frequency.  The guy looked at me like I was on drugs and said “that doesn’t exist and it’s not possible.”  In fact most of the marketers I spoke with at the show could not figure out why I’d want to have a program that showed the sales that came from the marketing campaigns.  They were honestly scared to have their clients understand the ROI.  

I guess the big difference between me and them was the fact that I looked at marketing success and failure the same.  If we were not getting the ROI we needed on a campaign, we optimized it.  They looked at it as “oh shit, this client is going to fire us.”  And now 9 years later I get it, I understand why they were scared to have that level of marketing transparency with their restaurant clients. Restaurants simply did not understand marketing at this level.

So as I headed home to NKY from Chicago I called everyone I knew in the business, excited and bummed by what I’d found out.  First I was bummed since what I went to the show for apparently did not exist. But next I was excited to prove these people wrong and create what I knew could exist.  

It took me 2 years to create it and I called it the ROI Engine. The ROI Engine was a one of kind restaurant marketing customer acquisition took leveraging Facebook and Instagram to build a customer database and then drive them into the restaurant with trackable marketing promotions.  The idea was simple, we’ll leverage the front-end advertising restaurants should be doing anyways (like Facebook ads) to “double dip” and gain customers contact information.  Then we’ll use that to email and text them one off promotions to gain the sales needed on the frontend to recoup our advertising spend and second to prove we had the right customers on our email and text list.  

In fact, my first book, Don’t 86 Your Restaurant Sales, was based on the entire program.  I spent 1st Quarter of 2018 writing the book, 2nd Quarter proofing and tweaking and then it was launched in August of 2018. 

By the time the book was published we had restaurant clients from all over the USA.  From 2015 to 2018 I spent 3 years building a new company 100% dedicated to helping restaurants and winding down my highly successful local marketing firm. It was a crazy tough decision.  I’d become such good friends with my local clients like Evans Auto Care and Jeff Wyler Automotive Group that I didn’t know how to end these relationships and walk away.  Slowly but surely we did it and It was nerve racking. 

And the crazy part was, I found out along the way why all the marketing and tech firms from the 2015 NRA show wanted NOTHING to do with showing proof.  

Since 2008 every local client we helped with marketing viewed us much differently than the restaurants who hired us for the “ROI Engine Program.”  Our local clients viewed us as their marketing partner.  The bad results were not a reflection on us, just the result of trial and error.  And we used good and bad to optimize the marketing plan.  We were a part of their teams and we NEVER LOST A CLIENT!  Firing Matt Plapp wasn’t an option, we were too valuable. 

But that was the exact opposite with our nationwide restaurant marketing program.  You see, these restaurants only viewed us as a vendor, not a partner.  And if there was a bump in the road, YOU’RE FIRED!  In fact we lost all 19 of our first 19 restaurant clients within 6 months.  And what was even crazier about that was their results were great.  

The issue was, restaurant owners did not understand the type of marketing we were doing.  They were so accustomed to either seeing no form of tracking with their marketing or massive shot in the arm results like Groupon.  They were only comfortable with knowing nothing, or seeing crazy results from one of marketing campaigns like Groupon that did not help the restaurant long term, but drove cash in today.  

It was scary as shit for me.  To think that I’d just stopped working with 30 clients that understood our vision and goals to go all in with restaurants that didn’t grasp what it takes to drive sales long term with their marketing.  

In 2020 I got smacked in the face with this harder than ever.  I had a client in Washington who was spending $6,000 per month on radio ads for their multi location pizza chain with zero proof it was working, yet when we showed them how the $30,000 they spent with us and Facebook in prior 12 months turned into $400,000 in sales THEY FIRED US!

Have a look for yourself below at their customer acquisition dashboard.  1 MILLION social media impressions in a year that gained a database of 17,000 and drove 11,000 visits and $400,000 in sales, and that was ONLY THE FRONT END!  I was blown away…sorry the image is kind of dull, it was a screenshot from when the client did a testimonial video on our marketing program while we were in Washington meeting with them after working together for 12 months.  A month after this video they cancelled and my mind WAS BLOWN!  

To be 100% honest with you, it was the biggest gut punch ever.  But not because we lost them as a client. It was tough because I could not grasp how someone would see these results and not think the glass is HALF EMPTY.

The sales we’d driven while also growing a massive database AND getting them the most social media exposure they’d ever had.  CLICK HERE to watch a case study video on their program, it’s WILD.  But like all failures, this was a learning lesson.  This showed me that no matter how awesome our front-end marketing was, we had to be able to show the ENTIRE story, which is why we acquired Repeat Returns in November 2023.  We had to be able to show the customers lifetime journey. 

This was when I truly understood what was wrong with restaurant owners and the industry.  They were so scorn from marketing of the past, so behind the times and so committed to todays results, that they could not understand how to create a long term marketing relationship with a vendor like us.  

Now, here we are in 2024 and my company has grown from Ashley and myself to 64 team members.  And I once again find myself at the NRA Show in Chicago.  It’s 9 years late and the same is true, the marketing companies here DO NOT GET IT!

Yes, there are some badass loyalty programs here.  

There are some POS companies that are highly advanced.  

And yet, no one is talking about customer acquisition.  No one is talking about customer ATTENTION retention, you know NOT being forgotten.  No one is talking about how to leverage social media, email, text and messenger marketing.  

Then it hit me, we are just that far ahead and what comes next from our company will SHOCK the industry.  But honestly they won’t truly even understand that for another 9 years.  

In July we are going to roll out our new company, new brand and crazy new platform.  It will be the product of merging Repeat Returns restaurant marketing software with our marketing services firm Restaurant Marketing That Works. 

We will create an industry first restaurant marketing platform that gives restaurant owners predictable marketing funnels that drive sales EVERY DAY.  They will wake up every morning and have a daily marketing plan built for them that takes customers on a journey to visit more often, spend more when they visit and COME BACK when they forget about the restaurant. 

And maybe in 9 more years in 2033 when I visit the National Restaurant Association Show there will be 10 booths knocking of what we’ve built and restaurants will FNALLY understand what I figured out in 2015.

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