A shared meal has the power to connect people in a way that few things can.

The English language doesn’t have a single word to capture the experience, but similar ideas exist in other languages. In Spanish the word is sobremesa.

Sobremesa literally translates to “over the table.” The more meaningful translation is “the time spent together after a meal, chatting and enjoying each other’s company.”

It’s this idea – to create meaningful connections through food – that Chicago Food Planet Tours brings to its food experiences.

Chicago Food Planet (CFP) is the first (and longest-running) food tour company in Chicago. Their mission is to curate food experiences that showcase Chicago as one of the best food cities in the world. In delicious 2- and 3-hour food tours, CFP combines some of Chicago’s best food with the history of its most iconic neighborhoods.

chicago food planetlogo

Chicago Food Planet currently offers 6 public tours:

  1. Gateway to The West Loop. Discover Chicago’s hottest foodie neighborhood as you sample cuisine from the master chefs that started a dining revolution
  2. Best in Chow. Enjoy 4 iconic “Chicago-style” dishes from the eateries that perfected them
  3. Second City Classic. Explore historic Mom & Pop specialty food shops in the Gold Coast and Old Town neighborhoods
  4. The Chinatown Adventure. Enjoy authentic cuisine from the Canton, Mandarin and Szechuan regions
  5. Navy Pier Signature. Built in 1916, Navy Pier has 50 acres to explore — and this tour shows you the Pier’s best food treasures
  6. Wrigleyville Brunch Crawl. Explore Wrigleyville’s unique past, as you enjoy the food and architectural highlights of this legendary neighborhood

Chicago Food Planet aims to create incredible, unique experiences for their customers. They create those experiences through a combination of carefully curated tours and cleverly customized marketing technology. Keep reading to learn how CFP:

  • Went from a 1-person business to the #1 Food Tour in Chicago (with 3,750+ 5-star TripAdvisor reviews
  • Increased private event revenue by 18% after implementing a CRM sales pipeline
  • Uses Conversations to answer questions in real time on their website
  • Created a unique guidebook to supplement the tours – and increase email capture rate by 79%

Watch our All for Small video series featuring Chicago Food Planet:

“We believe food is the universal language that connects people.”

When Shane Kost started CFP in 2006, he wasn’t just a new small business owner — he was the owner, operator, and the sole tour guide. Shane also had to market CFP by himself: mostly through word-of-mouth and SEO. The sales process was similarly DIY — a strategic sales pipeline didn’t exist at all.

13 years later, CFP has been:

  • Rated “Best Chicago Tour” by Lonely Planet
  • Recommended on USA Today
  • Featured on Bon Appetit

How is Chicago Food Planet able to give such amazing food tour experiences to thousands of people each year?

Chicago Food Planet tourYou may meet as strangers, but you won’t be after a margarita at Cemitas Puebla (a favorite stop on the Gateway To The West Loop tour).

Chicago Food Planet believes that by breaking bread together, people of all backgrounds can connect on a one-on-one basis.

With an internal motto to “serve joy,” CFP’s tour guides have 3 goals for their guests:

  1. Leave moderately full
  2. Learn something
  3. Have a delightful time in the city we love

When Randi Alexander joined Chicago Food Planet as Sales and Marketing Director in 2016, she knew she had to find new ways to serve joy. That meant changes to how Chicago Food Planet:

  • Marketed itself
  • Qualified and followed up with leads
  • Tracked data
  • Managed internal operations
  • Maximized her time

“We were running on a feeling, not on data,” Randi explains.

That needed to change — and Randi needed a marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) platform to accomplish her goals.

She quickly found a CRM platform — but just as quickly realized it was the wrong choice for her day-to-day small business needs.

  • Managing the sales pipeline was extremely time consuming
  • As a small business they couldn’t really afford the CRM (which was meant for enterprise companies)
  • The system wasn’t easy to use…but they didn’t want to outsource its management

Chicago Food Planet searched for a new marketing and CRM platform…and found ActiveCampaign.

How a CRM pipeline increased Chicago Food Planet’s private event revenue by 18%

“We booked a private tour for about 12 people and Chicago Food Planet did not disappoint! Amber, our tour guide, did a great job…she was very friendly and even remembered every single person’s name!” – Chicago Food Planet review

As sales and marketing director, Randi helps her CFP team generate nearly a million dollars in annual revenue, and a portion of that is through private food tours. One way Randi uses ActiveCampaign’s CRM is to make pipelines for private and corporate event management.

“I have a lot of favorite parts of ActiveCampaign because it simplifies my job so much. But especially the pipeline function — it’s a one-stop-shop of organization of my client data.” Tweet this!!

When someone contacts Chicago Food Planet for information on a private tour, CFP uses an automation to send a drip email campaign to the people who don’t respond to follow-up calls.

“I don’t have the time to reach out 7–10 times,” explains Randi. “As a small business, time is the most important thing. Because I’m able to spend less time in the minutiae of everyday business, I can dedicate time to areas that will create more revenue — instead of just sustaining current clients.”

Chicago Food Planet tourA private tour has a lot of pre-event logistics: tour routes, number of people, dietary concerns, personal customer notes. A CRM keeps all this data organized.

How much of an impact have ActiveCampaign’s pipeline features made on private tour bookings?

Revenue for private events is up 18% over last year.

“I attribute a lot of that to ActiveCampaign,” Randi says, “because ActiveCampaign has so many versatile functions! We’re able to simplify the entirety of the funnel from the beginning to the end.”

Randi adds: “When I moved from our old system to ActiveCampaign, I freed up about 30% of my time.”

The CRM tasks feature also lets Chicago Food Planet manage their pipelines on the go. Kayla Muldoon is CFP’s Operations Coordinator and private tour guide. That means she has a lot of internal company processes to manage, often while on the move.

“We use Slack for communications for operations within the company,” Kayla says. “If a message is only sent in Slack it can get lost. When Randi assigns me tasks in an ActiveCampaign deal, I get an email. When you’re sent straightforward information, it’s less stressful to keep track of what needs to get done day-to-day.”

When you can have a conversation (directly on your website), no one falls through the cracks

“I was worried that we wouldn’t be the easiest group to accommodate as 1 person uses a wheelchair and we also have a 9 month old in a stroller with us. However, I got a quick, same-day response letting me know that wouldn’t be a problem and the best options for our group.” – Chicago Food Planet review

People have a lot of questions before they decide to book a tour. How does Chicago Food Planet help them get the answers they need, when they need them?

“One thing we use in ActiveCampaign that has helped on the consumer-facing side of the business is the great Conversations feature.” Tweet this!!

Randi explains, “We use Conversations as the chat feature on our website — we’re able to have that personal conversation with an individual to satisfy their needs.”

“Conversations lets guests know they’re not sending questions into the void,” Kayla adds.

ActiveCampaign ConversationsI wonder if I can bring my dog on a food tour?

With Conversations, CFP is able to answer a lot of questions that affect people’s decision to take a tour, like:

  • I have certain food allergies, can I still take a tour?
  • Can you tell me more about the alcohol pairings option?
  • Are your food tours wheelchair accessible?
  • Will I be able to bring my baby on the tour?

CFP’s first attempt at an online chat was EzTix, but they quickly ran into problems. When people reached out, they spoke to EzTix booking agents instead of someone from Chicago Food Tour — and EzTix didn’t save contact information, so CFP couldn’t follow up.

“With Conversations, we can answer in real time and chat with the guest if we’re in the office,” explains Kayla. “If we’re not, it prompts them for their email address so we can follow up with them later. No one falls through the cracks. Since we’re a small business, every single ticket sold really does matter.”

What can you do with conversational marketing? Watch our video below to learn more about how to use Conversations.

“I love data and tracking,” says Randi. “So I love that I can go into a customer’s Conversation. I can track where they visited on our website or their browser info. It completely changes how we target people with Facebook or Google ads.”

When is a guidebook not just a guidebook? When it’s a lead magnet that increases your email capture rate by 79%

“I’ve lived in Chicago for 17 years and have been to Chinatown a number of times to eat, (but) Jim gave us a tour of Chinatown with facts I’ve never heard, food I’ve never eaten, and locations I’ve never been. Don’t miss it!” – Chicago Food Planet review

Chicago Food Planet guidebookWhat do you usually do with a printed guidebook once you leave an attraction or event? If you’re like most people, you probably ditch it.

Once upon a time, Chicago Food Planet had a printed guidebook they’d hand out as guests arrived for a tour. The book would:

  • Cover the tour they were about to take
  • Mention other CFP tours the guest might enjoy
  • Have coupons for future visits to the tour’s featured restaurants
  • Ask attendees to review Chicago Food Planet online (please and thank you!)

Today, the guidebook is digital. Ditching the printed guidebook hasn’t only provided a better experience for guests (and saved some trees) — it’s increased CFP’s year-over-year email capture rate by an impressive 79%.

Chicago Food Planet GuidebookChicago Food Planet uses a Typeform integration that enters captured emails into an ActiveCampaign email drip automation.

When attendees give Chicago Food Planet their email address in exchange for their guidebook, they’re entered into an automated 6-step welcome campaign. The 6 emails sent over the course of a month are:

  1. A digital guide book for the tour they’re about to take
  2. A prompt for an online review through Google or TripAdvisor
  3. Information on a related Chicago food tour the recipient may enjoy
  4. An invitation to follow Chicago Food Planet on Facebook and/or Instagram
  5. A blog post that’s relevant to the tour suggested in email #3
  6. A discount code and a link to global food tours people may enjoy

If your small business lives and dies by word of mouth, and online reviews are the backbone of your success…how do you get people to talk about their positive experiences with your business?

Chicago Food Planet depends heavily on reviews for revenue: a whopping 33% of Chicago Food Planet’s business comes from TripAdvisor, Google +, and other review sites.

That isn’t a huge surprise, because:

  • 84% of people trust online reviews as much as friends’ recommendations
  • 93% of consumers say online reviews impact their purchasing decisions
  • 95% of shoppers read online reviews before they make a purchase

Chicago Food Planet tourChicago Food Planet’s digital guidebook: guide, lead magnet…and a way to outsource marketing to happy customers.

Randi is excited to see what’s next for Chicago Food Planet. “How can you complain when your job is to eat delicious food and showcase this great city?”

Is there anything else she’d like to add?

“I am so thankful our CEO let us move to ActiveCampaign!”