Most restaurant and bar owners would love to attract groups of friends who are ready to celebrate and spend tons of money. There’s actually an easy way to bring these people in and most businesses aren’t taking advantage of it: Invite them in on their birthdays. Facebook’s research team discovered 80% of people book a venue or restaurant for their birthday parties. That means they’re going somewhere on their special day, so why not encourage them to choose your place? Once they’re in, you have so many chances to turn them, and their closest friends, into loyal customers.

This marketing strategy is dead simple. All you have to do is send an invite about a week or two before a customer’s birthday and offer an incentive to come in.

How to collect birthday info the old school way

One of the main reasons businesses don’t take advantage of birthdays is they don’t have good customer lists with birthday data. There are a variety of methods you can use to build these lists. The main thing to understand is you have to be consistent with collecting info if you want to really win with birthdays.

The lowest-tech option is to provide customer comment cards designed with a space to fill in birth dates. This method is as old as dirt, but it can get the job done. There are some disadvantages, though.

For customers to get their hands on comment cards, they have to either be presented by an employee or left in an area where they will see them. Neither method is foolproof and if you run out of cards, you won’t be able to capture any data. Another frequent issue with comment cards is anonymity. There is no way to ensure a customer will fill them out completely or provide real contact info.

You’re also up against the problem of our collectively worsening handwriting. Technology has driven a decline in legibility. It’s actually gotten so bad that  33% report not being able to read their own handwriting. Good luck deciphering those hasty scribbles.

Use technology to collect birthdays automatically

It’s easier to use social media to reach people on their birthdays. Facebook and Instagram ads are quite good, but they can be a challenge to learn to use effectively and the people they reach are not necessarily people who have even been to your business. They can also be expensive to run. If you want to take a deep dive, we recommend exploring Facebook IQ, which is basically Facebook’s free ad school.

You can also use your WiFi to collect customer information. Your guest WiFi hotspot can be used to collect email addresses and other data. Many businesses already have a landing page or portal that customers use to sign into WiFi if they want to get online. However, most don’t capture any customer information in return.

Using a WiFi marketing platform like Zenreach (ok, we’re biased) helps you collect emails and birthdays quickly and easily. Email lists are built automatically without the need to transfer data. And you don’t have to learn complicated ad technologies. Just set up your birthday offer emails in a template and let the system do the rest.

What should you offer customers for their birthday?

If you can handle bigger parties, you should offer something that will attract groups because they tend to order more food and drinks per person. Especially when they have something to celebrate.

A free bottle of champagne or a few comped appetizers for parties of six or more can be just the thing to reel a party in. Ultimately, customers crave personalized experiences. Think about what would delight you and your friends if they came in and balance that with what makes sense for your bottom line.

Kids birthdays can also be a tremendous opportunity. Family-friendly restaurants can capitalize on them by offering free meals to the birthday boy or girl. They might also provide some additional incentives like a custom birthday cake or entertainment of some sort. California Pizza Kitchen does a great job with this by offering a fun party menu and classes on how to make pizza.

Add a little theater to the birthday experience

You’re not just trying to create a good impression on the guest of honor. Their friends are going to remember having a great time, and they all have birthdays. The rest of your customers are taking notes, too. Birthdays are a chance for you to demonstrate the best of what you offer.

Little things can help elevate the experience. Everyone usually has some candles on hand for birthday desserts. Why not try those candles that light back up after you blow them out? It’s goofy, but it takes people right back to their childhoods. Nostalgia makes people happy and happy customers return.  

You might want to have your bartender cook up a quick drink special and name it in the birthday guest’s honor. Try a simple twist on an existing cocktail. For example, a regular mojito becomes Jenny’s Pineapple Mojito. Use a premium liquor if you want to make the experience better and add to the check size.

If you have a staff member with an amazing voice, ask them to come out and sing happy birthday. Over the summer I was having dinner at a Mexican restaurant in San Diego. They had a guy in the kitchen who could have been a professional singer. He came out to the table and delivered a mic-drop-worthy performance. The guests were blown away.

Make sure your employees are rocking it

Some people absolutely hate dealing with birthday parties. As a veteran of the service industry myself, I totally get it. If you have a salty team member, make sure they know what you’re trying to do. Letting them know they’re a key player in your killer birthday marketing strategy should give them cause to bring their A-game. If it doesn’t, it should give you cause to start looking at some resumes.

Ensure everything coming out of your kitchen or from your bar is on point because people take tons of pictures at birthday parties. If the guests tag your business on social media, make sure you like their pics and thank them for coming in. The average Instagram user has around 150 followers, which means you have a chance to demonstrate your hospitality to large numbers of people. 

Also, don’t sweat splitting the check. In the old days of handwritten receipts, splitting a check was really irritating for servers. These days, POS systems make it easy. Bad servers, and owners, still give customers grief about it. This seems like such a no-brainer, but don’t let the last thing your customers experience be a war of wills over payment.

Birthdays will help build your business

Birthdays are a perfect time to demonstrate everything that’s great about your business. Getting a few parties a week can boost your sales. And if you’re doing everything right, you’ll turn customers into brand evangelists.

It really doesn’t take much to turn birthdays into strong marketing opportunities. Collect some info, reach out with an invitation and keep everyone happy when they come in. After a while you might even develop a good reputation for throwing excellent parties.

If you want to know more about using WiFi to help build email lists, check out this blog post about a few foolproof ways to do it.