“It’s really a combination of the real person in front of you but keeping in touch with them through automated marketing.”

Listen to Chef Tony Marciante’s appearance on the ActiveCampaign podcast.

If you run a restaurant, how do you sell to people who don’t come in to get a table?

Chef Tony Marciante has been in the restaurant business for over 30 years. For the last 12 years, his restaurant, Chef Tony’s, has served seafood in Bethesda, Maryland (just outside Washington D.C.).
Restaurants are a tough business. You need to consistently get customers through the doors, and razor-thin margins make it difficult to spend a lot of money on advertising or promotions.
On top of that, Chef Tony’s opened its doors in 2007, right before the Great Recession. Tony has some tough challenges ahead of him:

  • He needed to memorably connect with potential customers
  • People were going out to eat less often
  • His restaurant was relatively unknown
  • He had a tiny marketing budget

In the face-to-face service industry, most energy is spent serving customers while they’re in front of you.
Tony’s lightbulb switched on. What if he could reach people when they weren’t in his restaurant? What if he could talk to his customers, almost like a one-on-one conversation, even if they hadn’t ever come into his restaurant?
Today, customer expectations are rising. As Thomas Connellan writes in Inside the Magic Kingdom, “Your competition is anyone the customer compares you to.”
Great customer experiences are everywhere – and customers are starting to expect those experiences even from smaller businesses that don’t have the same budget as huge companies.
Tony’s budget was limited. But with his eye on new technology, he turned to marketing automation.

How do you know if your marketing actually wins you customers?

Traditional marketing is expensive. Worse, it’s hard to measure – how can a small business tell if their local newspaper ad was actually worth the money?
Chef Tony’s second lightbulb moment came on a snowy Saturday night. As the storm rolled in and snow piled higher, he started to get phone calls from his staff.

  • “It’s pretty bad”
  • “It’s not safe”
  • “Maybe we should close tonight”

Saturday is one of the biggest nights of the week for a restaurant. To lose a prime night of business hurts, and Tony had to decide whether to stay open.
Ultimately, it was safer to close. But that didn’t mean the night was lost.
In the next hour, Tony put together a new email offer: “Dinner for two for $39!”
A few minutes later, the results started coming in.
Before the night was over, Tony had made over $7000. From one email.

How can a physical business get people through the door with digital marketing?

“Nobody has to show up today. Nobody has to come in… you gotta appreciate every guest because they’ve made a conscious decision to come in and spend money with you.

They worked hard for that money and they don’t go out every day maybe, that could be their one time out in two months.”

How can you connect with your customers if they don’t come into your restaurant?
On Chef Tony’s email list, customers can get offers that don’t exist anywhere else. At the same time, Tony gets a list of people that he knows are interested in his restaurant – and an easy way to reach them any time he wants.
To get people on his email list, Tony offers a free digital cookbook and a $10 gift card.


“…become one of the family.” Who doesn’t want to be treated like family?

What happens when you sign up? He delivers!


Chef Tony sets the table with a personal thank you and specifics on what you can expect.

Freebies AND a genuine thank you video?! I love this guy!
And that’s the point.
After a few minutes this email shows up in your inbox:


Expressions of gratitude and full transparency go a long way to make people feel welcome

A few minutes later, he follows up:


More gratitude, honesty, and hospitality

Another thank you – and if you leave a review, more free stuff.
All this and you haven’t even stepped foot inside the restaurant yet.

How can you make sure people remember you?

“How many businesses have you been to in the last year where you had a good time but you haven’t been back because you got out of the habit of thinking of them?”

After people leave Tony’s restaurant, he needs to make sure he can stay in touch.
To support the email opt-in on Tony’s website, the servers in his restaurant include a short survey with every check.
The survey asks for each person’s:

  • Name
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Birthday

Anyone who fills out this form is added to the email list. Then, a series of automated emails give them:

  • Free entrees on their birthday
    (photo below)
  • Menu and restaurant updates
  • Special offers like 2-for-1 dinner
  • Special occasion emails such as free meals for veterans


You can use this exact automation by importing it from the ActiveCampaign Marketplace

Chef Tony has taken it even further by offering services beyond dining.


Your customer experience is more than just dining.

If you click on any of those options, you’ll get a series of even more personalized emails – focused on the specific service you’re interested in.

Look for ways to expand the customer experience

By focusing on more than just the in-person dining experience, Chef Tony has grown his restaurant and reputation into more than just a seafood spot.
It’s a community.
90% of independent restaurants close during the first year. The remaining restaurants have an average 5-year lifespan. Excellent service and ongoing communication have helped Chef Tony’s stay in business for over 12 years.
The customer experience doesn’t end when you walk out the door. That’s what makes Chef Tony so successful.