Deadbeats Need Not Apply 07/18/95

In the halcyon days of the eighties a white-tablecloths-and-snooty waiters restaurant such as Zachary’s at the Bristol Place Hotel on Toronto’s airport strip had line-ups for lunch and dinner. Those days are gone and desperate times call for different methods as I discovered the last time I dined there in late summer of last year. Reposing between the salt and pepper was an invitation to join Zachary’s Restaurant Club. The form stated, “If you dine at Zachary’s no less than two times each month…we invite you to enjoy the privileges of membership.” Spaces were left for home and business addresses and phone numbers. A list of benefits included complimentary valet parking, preferred tables, complimentary cakes for special occasions, special room rates in the hotel and a $15 gift certificate for spending $300 or more accumulatively. Who could resist? To their credit, however, the bale-out-of-it-doesn’t-work clause was in the fine print: “Effective to December 31, 1994.” so they wouldn’t be giving away free cakes to members forever.

In late October I received the first mailing consisting of “Food and Beverage Happenings” newsletter, a letter personalized to Charles de Gruchy thanking me for registering, my membership number and a valet parking pass to hang on my car’s rear view mirror next time I drove up to the hotel door. The doorman would “take care of the rest.” The letter hand-signed by the hotel manager and restaurant maitre d’, and the hand-written membership number on the parking tag  added just the right personal touch.

In November the second mailing arrived with the same newsletter as before, a buck-slip promoting Zachary’s Sunday Brunch and a flyer promoting a romantic overnight package combining deluxe accommodations for two and a three course dinner at Zachary’s. Absolutely no mention whatsoever of the Club or it’s benefits!

I can only think the program must have shown some results of some kind because in early February of ’95 the third mailing arrived with a new newsletter, another letter from the manager and maitre d’, this time with neither personalization or hand signatures. The enclosed certificate for $5.00 redeemable in food, beverage and services at the Hotel did, however sport an illegible hand signature (no expiry date on the certificate) And, the letter did reiterate the benefits of membership.

Package number four, in May, enclosed another newsletter with a 10% discount on group business accommodations over $1,000, no letter and a promotional flyer to visit Zachary’s in May and be automatically included in a weekly draw for a one-night room and dinner package (No breakfast. Go back home for that, I guess!)

At the end of June, number five arrived with a buck-slip promoting Sunday brunch in July and a brochure promoting The Business Select Programmme.

The enclosed letter (not personalized, not hand signed) boosted the reward for a $300 spend from $15.00 to $30.00 for the month of July. It’s going to be tricky though because the letter explains that the dining room will be closed for lunch and dinner every Saturday, Monday and Friday in July. If I get my scheduling right, maybe I’ll make it back to Zachary’s this summer. That’s right. I haven’t been back since last year…five first class mailings later! That’s over two dollars in postage alone!

What’s the point of dragging you through all this? Simply to illustrate these few pointers about Club programs:

  1. Qualify your members up front. Don’t waste time and money on tire kickers. Zachary’s program should have only been offered to customers who booked a second reservation in a short time period. And, find out something more about them before you start communicating. Include a mini survey on the membership form.
  2. Don’t start out with a five star mailing package and down-grade the quality. Figure out the real cost projected over several years up front. Then design the packages you can afford.
  3. If you’re going to invest in a newsletter, resist the urge to cram it full of product promotion. In Zachary’s case the Happenings newsletter is cover-to-cover restaurant and hotel promotion. What a missed opportunity to include tips for travelers, table manners, wine guidance, etc.
  4. If you want your customers to come back for more make sure you can track whether they ever showed up in the first place! And, when they don’t show up, let them know you’ve noticed. Zachary’s should have blown the whistle on me by mailing number two. Maybe I’ll turn the tables and let them know I’m a deadbeat!

Charles de Gruchy remembers the way it was

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