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Hungry for the best restaurant marketing tips? Look no further. We recently sat down with Precious O’Brien, Corporate Marketing and Brand Manager of award-winning franchise PONKO Chicken, for an inside look at the brand’s promotional strategies.
With six locations in the Atlanta Metro area and a food truck— PONKO has made a name for itself with its beloved fried chicken and mouth-watering Japanese-American cuisine. Excitingly, a brand-new location in Duluth, GA is set to open this summer!
We’re also proud to mention that this Atlanta hot-spot relies on Otter to power its delivery and dine–in operations.
Join us as we dive into an enlightening conversation with O’Brien, covering her top restaurant marketing tips. We also discuss scaling the PONKO Chicken brand, and the secret weapon that sets this eatery apart—rice bran oil.
Learn from PONKO’s success, and consider trying some of these marketing strategies for your business.
Q: How did you get into restaurant marketing?
A: For my first job, I started in tech. After two years, I saw that there wasn’t any upward mobility or professional guidance available to me, so I switched careers. That’s when I learned I really liked hospitality marketing – anything where I got to be behind-the-scenes and front-facing at the same time. I always liked hospitality, and I actually went to culinary school! Working for a restaurant is like coming full circle.
Now, I do marketing for PONKO! During meetings, I talk with our general manager about promotions and work with the team to develop ideas for our corporate and franchise stores. I also work with each location to help develop the best content strategy for their market.
Q: Not all restaurants can afford a Brand Manager. What’s your advice for them?
A: Well, if they don't have a marketing person, there are a few approaches I would take. You don't need to set aside money for marketing. You could do everything unpaid. These days, though, with the way restaurants operate, you want to put a little bit of money behind it to attract people who may have slipped through the cracks.
Additionally, I review a calendar of national holidays and see if I can work them into our restaurant’s promotions. I spend time with my team, asking what they see people ordering and what's not moving. I even ask guests what they would like to see in our restaurant. It takes time and effort, but you can do it on your own if you don't have a marketing person.
Q: Can you tell us about PONKO'S backstory?
A: In 2017, the PONKO Chicken founders merged with our current owner, Dr. Patrick Salluro, who was a long-time PONKO fan and medical professional. He loved the food and the health benefits of rice bran oil, which we use. We're still growing, too! Our goal is to become the best overall restaurant in Atlanta.
Q: Wow! So your fried chicken is doctor-approved? That’s awesome. What are the health benefits of rice bran oil?
A: It has a delicious flavor and helps with a lot of stuff. It’s non-GMO, and can help relieve menopausal symptoms, lower cholesterol, boost your immune system and heart health, and more!
Q: What are your top must-haves from PONKO'S menu?
I always say we just need people to taste it once. When they do, it's a done deal. That makes my job as a marketer easier. Our PONKO Chicken five-piece plate is a must-try. I also love our tacos, which can be fried or grilled with different seasonings. They come topped with our sweet OG sauce, PONKO coleslaw, and Jalapeño Crema. They’re really good.
Q: What’s the vibe like at PONKO?
A: Very fast-casual dining. When you visit, you place your order at the counter, and we bring the food to your table. We really prioritize quality control and ensure that every dish leaving the kitchen meets our high standards. We want every customer, whether dining-in or taking-out, to have an exceptional experience with our food.
Q: How do you approach marketing for different locations?
A: Each location is unique, so we sit down with store owners and teams to develop a specific marketing plan tailored to their areas. For example, our Auburn location targets college students, and other locations focus on lunch-hour customers. It's important to consider the demographics and preferences of each area to create effective marketing strategies.
Q: How does PONKO handle delivery service and marketing?
A: Delivery can be challenging, especially with third-party services like Uber Eats and DoorDash. We try to minimize potential issues by ensuring our food holds up well during delivery. We have practices in place to prevent items from becoming soggy, and our to-go containers help maintain the food's quality. There are uncertainties with third-party services, however, so we strive to provide the best experience possible for our delivery customers. We also encourage customers to try our house chips for take-out orders, as they hold up better than fries during transit.
Q: What advice do you have for restaurant owners about social media?
A: When it comes to social media, my advice for restaurant owners is to keep an eye on what others are doing. Take a look at various industries, like car brands or grocery stores, for inspiration. You don't have to copy them, as they may not be in your specific industry, but you can certainly use their marketing to find ideas for your own.
Personally, I often browse social media and come across cool concepts that make me think "Wow, that's really impressive. How can I incorporate something similar into my business?" It's all about observing, learning, and applying those insights to enhance your own brand’s social media presence.
Q: What brought PONKO to use Otter to power their delivery business?
A: What led us to Otter was the lack of customer support and overall ineffectiveness of your competitor ItsaCheckmate. There were constant mapping issues, and when we would contact support it always made the issue worse. Having Otter has changed the headache of figuring out if our orders are being mapped incorrectly. Also, we have a dedicated support team that I am able to use for bigger issues. My favorite feature would be the actual system of Otter. Once our menu is made and mapped, we have no issues, so it allows us to focus on our guests' needs.