Mike Rastrelli is the proprietor of Rastrelli’s Restaurant, an independent eatery in Clinton, Iowa. Rastrelli’s Restaurant began participating in Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, then called the Great American Dine Out, in 2010, when it donated a portion of proceeds from spaghetti dinners and raised $500. Rastrelli used his weekly radio talk show and an endorsement from the town’s mayor to promote the fundraiser. SmartBrief interviewed him on these strategies and the challenges of marketing an independent eatery. An edited version of his answers follows.
What are the marketing challenges for an independent eatery in a nonmetro area? What are the benefits?
The marketing challenge for independent restaurants in a nonmetro area is, I think, the same as a large market, maybe with the exception of word-of-mouth. If we don’t meet our customers’ expectations, word spreads quickly, and that is hard to overcome. We have been in business for more than 70 years and have customers who have been coming to Rastrelli’s for those 70 years. They want that burger or pizza or spaghetti dinner to taste the same today as it did when they first had a meal at Rastrelli’s. It is hard to get people to try new menu items, but we keep offering them at a reduced price, and we win them over.
The benefits are many. Customer loyalty is a big plus, and the fact that we are involved in our community at fundraising events — making donations to schools and other charitable organizations — is a great way to continue to build that community spirit. People know us and we know them by first name. Customers also know that if something is not right, they can tell us in a constructive way, and that is great! We don’t do everything perfectly all of the time, we do make mistakes, and we need to take care of those mistakes.
How did you engage the mayor of Clinton, and why did you think getting his endorsement was vital?
That was easy. I just asked the mayor — that’s a nice thing about a small town — whether I could present a proclamation to the mayor and City Council recognizing the restaurant industry in Iowa and specifically in Clinton for the month of September. In the proclamation, I spoke of Share Our Strength’s Dine Out For No Kid Hungry, a program in which we and many restaurants in Iowa and across the nation would be involved. This was good news and a great story of people helping people — truly a win-win for everybody.
What are the benefits of using local radio to promote an event such as Dine Out For No Kid Hungry? What form did your endorsement take?
I have a 10-minute radio program every Friday morning, and during that time in late August and all of September, I talked about Dine Out For No Kid Hungry and what our promotion for the month would be. It is effective! At least one customer, a gentleman, came in to have dinner after hearing about the program, and he made a contribution on his own. I also had people mail in donations after hearing the show.
What other methods did you use to get the word out and encourage people to come into Rastrelli’s during Dine Out For No Kid Hungry?
We had in-store materials in the restaurant in August and September to promote the event. We did commercials on the radio. I believe the program was successful, and I look for even better results in the future.