Customer stories with Linda Ringler
If you’re looking for tips to promote your restaurant, Linda Ringler, owner of Chase Creek Smokehouse, is an excellent resource.
Chase Creek Smokehouse has been serving the residents of Lake County, Michigan for over 20 years. Their famous chicken barbecue is extremely popular with the 40,000 customers that they serve every year — which includes a large contingent of motorcycle and snowmobile riders.
Linda runs the restaurant along with her husband, Pat, and together they’ve turned the place into the success that it is today.
When it comes to marketing the Smokehouse, Linda employs a number of unique strategies to bring customers through the door.
We talked to her about her restaurant, how it all started, her marketing strategies, and how she uses PosterMyWall to make all her promotion dreams come true.
Hi Linda! Why don’t you start by telling us how the idea for Chase Creek Smokehouse came about?
My husband, Pat, came up with the idea for the Smokehouse. His mother worked in a restaurant when he was a kid, and when she came home from work, he’d make dinner for her every night. That’s how he fell in love with cooking. His dream was to open up a restaurant of his own, and so in 1999, that’s what he did. I then joined him in 2015.
1. Post eye-catching promotional graphics on social media
Tell us a little bit about your strategy for social media marketing.
We do a lot of online marketing, particularly on Facebook. My Facebook marketing strategy is pretty straight-forward. I post a lot of eye-catching posters with cool graphics that I make on PosterMyWall. We have about 10,000 Facebook followers so I try to create stuff that will appeal to all demographics.
More importantly, I listen to what my customers want. If there’s a particular dish that I know sells well, I’ll post more about it. We’ll offer discounted deals on it too. Similarly, if I’m getting a lot of questions about a particular drink or meal, I’ll make sure to actively promote that because I know it’s generating interest.
What strategies did you use to get to 10,000 followers on Facebook?
Our restaurant burned to the ground in April of 2012. When we were re-constructing, I began posting occasionally, showing people pictures of the construction, our new equipment, and other things. That got us a bit of traction, especially among people who were excited for us to re-open. Once we re-opened, I started posting our daily specials. We did collage pictures and occasional videos of the food.
In the beginning, I responded to every comment and review that people made to build relationships with our customers. Now, I try to keep track of people who make comments about particular specials that we don’t have very often. I’ll message them privately with little reminders whenever that special is running.
With PosterMyWall, I can also make graphics for announcements of bands or events that we’re having. Those announcements have also led to more followers.
2. Determine the best time to post on social media by testing for engagement
A big part of Facebook promotion, or any kind of social media promotion, is generating engagement. Do you have strategies to increase engagement on your posts?
When it comes to generating engagement on Facebook, timing is something that’s very important to me. I usually post between 9 am and 10 am on Facebook, because that’s when I get the most likes and comments. You usually have to figure out the best time based on trial and error. Post a couple of times and see when your audience is most active, then continue to post at that time of day.
If we have a special dinner deal going on, I’ll post about that a few hours before dinner time. That’s typically when people visit our page, to see what we’ve got for them that evening. So figuring out the perfect time has a lot to do with knowing your audience, their preferences, and their routines.
We noticed on your Facebook page that you’re big on online seasonal marketing, especially Halloween. What is your seasonal marketing strategy for Facebook?
We have a robust seasonal marketing strategy for Facebook. We love celebrating Halloween with our customers. This year, because of COVID, we wanted to keep things a little more low key. So we had a candy drive-through.
Kids came into the foyer and we passed out candy. Our goal was to get the word out about this event and so we shared pictures of our decor and happy customers on Facebook. We also designed a poster on PosterMyWall and shared that a week prior to the event.
3. Offer special deals and discounts
Do you offer deals or discounts on special days or national holidays?
We do offer deals on special days. We want people to know that our restaurant is the place to be on any big day — for instance, we have promotions for St. Patrick’s Day, Veteran’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and more.
What other types of deals do you offer to increase foot traffic?
We offer a “Drink of the Week” to get more people into our restaurant. My bartender, Tara, came up with the idea and it’s been a raging success. Every week, we’ll go through our inventory and see which bottles we have left over. Then we’ll mix them up and create a drink of the week.
Some drinks are more popular than others. For instance, “The Rusty Nail”, a classic at the Smokehouse, got a ton of traction. We’ve made that the drink of the week a bunch of times. Some drinks don’t do so well. For instance, the Midori Sour sold very poorly. We make sure not to offer drinks like these again.
The great thing about this strategy is that it allows you to get rid of all your leftover alcohol so that nothing gets wasted.
4. Listen to your customers
What I’m hearing is that customer feedback is important.
Customer feedback is very important to me. We notice what our customers respond to. And then we do more of that. It’s the easiest marketing tactic in the book, but it often gets overlooked. In fact, some of our drinks of the week did so well that they’re now part of our regular drink menu.
My bartender, Tara, is always on the lookout for new drinks based on customer requests. She also regularly checks Pinterest to see what drinks are trending.
Why do you think the “Drink of the Week” promotion has been so popular with your customers?
The “Drink of the Week” promotion is popular because usually when people walk into a restaurant, they have no idea what they want to drink. It’s always a spur of the moment decision. If they notice we have a special drink on the menu, they’ll be like, “Oh, why not give this a try?” So it’s all about nudging the customer in the direction you want.
Let’s go back to online marketing. We talked about Facebook. Do you use any other types of social media to promote the Smokehouse?
I use Instagram a lot for online promotion. I tried Twitter too but honestly, I didn’t understand it. Plus I think the majority of my customer base is spread out on Facebook and Instagram exclusively.
5. Cross-promote across Facebook and Instagram
What does your Instagram marketing strategy look like?
My marketing strategy for Instagram is very similar to my Facebook strategy. I use Facebook for Business, which allows me to cross-promote on both apps at the same time. So I post the same things at the same time on both platforms.
The difference is that I’m reaching different groups of people on each, and that’s a big advantage. The older crowd, people aged 50 and up, are on Facebook. People in their 20s are on Instagram. So this is how I capture both markets.
Usually, brighter colored graphics work better on both Instagram and Facebook. Since Instagram is more visual, images gain more traction on my Instagram page than on Facebook.
6. Sell gift cards through your website
You employ a lot of interesting promotional strategies on your website. For instance, you sell gift cards online.
Yes, I use my website to sell gift cards. Pre-COVID, we used to mail physical gift cards to buyers or hand them out at our restaurant. But now we do it all online. People buy the e-gift cards through our website’s POS system, which is like an electronic cash register. They immediately get a text or an email (depending on which they prefer) with the gift card.
If they opt for a text, they get an automated text with a link. All they have to do is come to our restaurant, and click on the link which takes them to a webpage with a QR code. We scan the code, and they get their meal. If they opt for an email, we send them the email with a QR code, which we scan in the same way.
E-gift cards have been a big hit with our customers because they can give them to friends and family. A lot of our regular customers also prefer using gift cards for their meals because it’s much easier than using a credit card for every purchase.
7. Create a photo gallery and post customer reviews on your website
How else do you use your website to attract customers?
We have a photo gallery of our restaurant and our food on our website to give our customers a feel for our restaurant and an idea of what to expect. We also share the customer reviews we get on Facebook on our website. People trust other customers when it comes to reporting the quality of our food. So this strategy is much more effective than me saying, “Hey, our food’s amazing. Try it!”
8. Host regular events at your restaurant
We talked a little bit about your events. Why do you do events and what are some popular events that you’ve hosted?
We do a lot of events to bring customers to the Smokehouse. For instance, we do a “Wednesday Trivia Night” every week. We invite local musicians and bands to come and perform. We have a little patio area that we decorate. It’s a nice, fun activity to do with your friends or coworkers after work.
We also do “Thirsty Thursdays,” where we bring local talent on stage and run exclusive promotions on some of our most popular menu items. We used a promoter to scout for small bands in the area. Now we have a bunch of musicians that we bring in every week.
It helps to have regular performers; it makes the organizing process easier.
We also have a patio set-up on the weekends. That’s when we get the most traffic at the Smokehouse. We set up a bar, play live music, and put up cornhole boards to keep people entertained while they wait for their food. All of this makes our customers’ experience more relaxed, more fun, and more fulfilling.
We promote these events on Facebook and Instagram a week or couple of days before the event.
9. Create a dedicated Yelp page for your restaurant
The Smokehouse has its own Yelp page. Has this helped the Smokehouse gain traction?
Our Yelp page has definitely put a spotlight on the Smokehouse. Like I said, people attach great value to other customers’ opinions, so we try to leverage that every opportunity we get. Yelp reviews bring in a lot of customers from out of town. You know, people who are staying at Lake County for a couple of nights and are looking for a fun place to eat. It’s expanded our reach a lot.
Plus, people are going to talk about you online. An official Yelp page helps us to keep track of those conversations and use them to improve.
10. Communicate with posters
Do posters play a role in your marketing?
Posters are especially great for advertising new deals. People can just walk in, see the promoted items, and order right away. I usually make 24×36 posters and display them in and around the Smokehouse.
What does your design process look like?
I use PosterMyWall templates to make my posters, as well as everything from seasonal menus to promotional content. I discovered PosterMyWall when I did a Google search for poster templates. I’ve been hooked ever since.
PosterMyWall has made the design process incredibly simple for me. I don’t think I’m a very creative person. So it helps that PosterMyWall has super intuitive design tools that make my job incredibly easy. I love that you can just search for the images or stickers that you want, and then just paste them onto your design.
Once I get all my little elements together, I work with colors that match the theme of my restaurant until I feel like everything’s coming together and looking nice.
I also really love the resize option. I can just resize one poster and make it look great for the TV screens in my restaurant, social media, Yelp posts, and printing.
What is your advice for people who are new to PosterMyWall?
For anyone looking to make posters on PosterMyWall, my advice would be to start with an idea. Once you have a general idea in your head of what you want your poster to look like, it’ll only take you about an hour to put the whole thing together.
11. Be consistent with your promotion
Finally, what advice would you give to other business owners looking to successfully market their businesses?
The advice I would give to other business owners is to be consistent with your online presence. Don’t disappear for weeks on end. Keep posting regularly. Engage with your followers. Let them know that you’re a reliable brand. That’s the only way you’ll get regular and loyal customers.
And of course, create eye-catching graphics. Your content should make people want to engage with you immediately.
Thank you so much Linda. We wish you and the Smokehouse the best of luck!
New to PosterMyWall? Check out our templates and incredible design tools and create your next big marketing campaign today.