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Quick Response Codes Bring Diners Back To Fire + Ice

By Apr 13, 2011

Some businesses can survive with a once-a-year customer visit pattern. Swimwear vendors and Christmas tree sellers come to mind.

Restaurants have a harder go of it.

“We were considered a destination restaurant,” says Rafael Barbosa, marketing manager for Fire + Ice, a small chain of grilled-at-your-table eateries. “Bachelorette parties, birthdays. We weren’t considered a restaurant you would go to every week, or twice a week.”

As it happened, even as little as twice a month would have been an improvement. The chain conducted a series of surveys with each showing the same pattern: The average diner visited once annually.

Fire + Ice has a rudimentary e-mail program in place to combat this. “A week prior to [a member’s] birthday, we send out an e-mail saying ‘you are entitled to a free meal,’” Barbosa says. “I want people to come on their birthdays. Nobody goes out to eat alone on their birthday.”

Over time, however, the surveys did reveal a demographic shift in Fire + Ice’s clientele. The percentage of diners in their 30s shrank, while those in the 18-21 age bracket increased by nearly eight percentage points.

To Barbosa, this meant his clientele was shifting to one that readily embraces mobile technology. And that opened up a wide range of possibilities regarding targeted offerings and data collection.

Fire + Ice has incorporated two dimensional quick response barcodes from CaptureCode into its marketing efforts. These codes have given a boost to a reinvigorated loyalty effort–the chain’s MealsnDeals program.

Code readers are stored on a customer’s mobile device, and customers have to sign up with the program in order to download the reader. Through MealsnDeals, they collect points and earn rewards, such as a $10 coupon after spending $100.

Fire + Ice has begun using the codes within its social media and e-mail efforts. Offer redemption is limited to customers who have downloaded the reader app, which can only happen once they have joined the loyalty program. Managers have been trained to approach tables, ask how diners are enjoying their meal, and offer to enroll them in the program.

“Managers use this as an icebreaker,” Barbosa says. “They say, ‘let me make you an insider into MealsnDeals. I’ll sign you up and I’ll rack up your points right now. If you have a birthday coming up, you’ll get a free meal.’ Ding! Win! Not too many people say no.”

Providing discounts, special e-mail offers and other promotions only to people who sign up and have the code reader neatly skirts one of Barbosa’s personal bugaboos. When it comes to offering incentive, he hates what he calls “marketing to the outside.”

He defines this as undifferentiated promotions: Those that could be claimed by any diner, regardless of whether or not he is able to collect information on them. “Lots of companies like Groupon,” he says, referring to the online deep discounting operation. “But if you are willing to discount [to people] from the outside, what can you do to retain them?”

Barbosa’s strategy seems to be working. The chain’s Boston location has registered 20,000 e-mail addresses during the past two years. Once Fire + Ice introduced CaptureCode, it was able to collect information on each one of these patrons.

CaptureCode’s system was chosen in part because it is easy to integrate into e-mail service programs, Barbosa says. He is near the point where he can start sending out differentiated messages. By the end of the summer, he will be able to offer kid-centric promotions only to appropriate customers, as opposed to the mass approach he now uses.

“I know that 10% of my database has purchased a kids’ meal within the last eight or nine months,” Barbosa says. “I hate sending a ‘kids eat free’ e-mail to people who don’t purchase kid’s meals. They often unsubscribe—but it’s also a highly used e-mail promotion.”

CaptureCode is also making Barbosa more comfortable with offering coupons—a word he hates—to the outside world. By customizing the codes embedded in print ads, he can track redeemers’ spending patterns, as well as which publication spurred the purchase. This will enable him to determine not just how many purchases the Boston Globe ad generated, but how the revenue from those purchases compared with those made by readers of the Boston Herald.