Why Teachers Are a Gold Mine for Your Restaurant

As a business leader, your ideal audience can be hard to identify. The customers who become your loyal brand evangelists might not be the people your marketing plan originally targeted.

If you’re operating a restaurant, for example, you might be sitting on top of a gold mine consumer group without even realizing it: educators. MDR's "Teachers as Consumers" study found that educators, including teachers and school administrators, are 10 percent more likely to eat out at family and sit-down restaurants than the general population. The five million educators in the U.S. frequent restaurants of different styles and sizes, from Olive Garden to The Cheesecake Factory, meaning that no matter what subsection of the food industry you’re in, chances are you’re serving an extra-large number of teachers every week.

What makes this audience truly valuable, however, is the credibility it lends to your brand. People trust educators, making them a reputable advocate for your restaurant. Educators are second only to parents as influencers; individual teachers will have a huge impact on thousands of children and their families over the course of their careers. That means that by tailoring part of your marketing strategy specifically to educators, you'll establish a halo effect that attracts the whole community.

How to Get Teachers Through the Door

Of course, building a relationship with a target audience is easier said than done. Here are five practical steps you can take to make your restaurant an appealing spot for educators:

1. Connect With a Cause

One of the best ways for organizations to connect with their customers is by supporting a cause that's important to them. If your restaurant is already aligned with a specific cause or nonprofit organization, you can use that connection to build trust. Educators are natural activists, whether they're talking about sustainability, recycling, drug and alcohol abuse, diet-related health issues, or anything else. If it’s an important issue, educators have no problem reaching out to their students, peers, and families to get them involved in supporting the cause.

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That’s where you come in. Incorporating social responsibility into your marketing strategy will separate you from your competition in the eyes of educators. They'll be much more interested in a sandwich shop that donates a portion of sales to cancer research than a burger joint that’s only there to sell more fries, so don’t hesitate to let your customers know what you stand for.

If you don’t already have a cause in mind, start with a list of issues your restaurant deems important. As long as you genuinely care about the cause and you’re willing to show your support for it, teachers will take notice. If you can relate your cause to education, that's even better — Buffalo Wild Wings, for example, has donated more than $285,000 to support ProStart, which helps high school students become leaders in the hospitality industry.

2. Host a School Fundraising Event

Your marketing and community service efforts don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A school fundraising event, for instance, can build trust with your local community while giving your restaurant exposure to those who are most likely to become regulars. You can offer to cater a fundraiser at a local school, or you can even offer to host the event on-site. Either way, donating the proceeds to the school or a related charity of its choice can go a long way.

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Start by calculating what percentage of the event's sales you'll be able to donate, and if you're hosting the event on-site, think of something creative for the kids to do that’s unique to your restaurant. When Chuck E. Cheese’s hosts on-site events, it gives out 10 free tokens to students and has Chuck E. Cheese himself visit the school. Finding something only your business can offer is the key to making your event memorable.

3. Hold a Contest or Giveaway

Because they are constantly connecting with digital natives (their students and peers), today’s educators are also more tech-savvy than ever. Restaurants love customers who share photos of their meals on Instagram and Snapchat, and teachers are constantly sharing and searching for recommendations on social media. If your brand isn't tapping into the social media foodie culture (#foodporn), you're missing out on a huge opportunity to reach your target audience.

Hosting a contest via social media can create buzz for your restaurant among many people, but these types of promotions can be specifically appealing to educators. Partner with websites or social platforms that have already established trust with educators, like WeAreTeachers, to promote your contest and increase engagement. You can start by taking a tip from Dunkin's Halloween promotion and simply asking customers to share a photo with a specific hashtag. Then, you can pick one lucky winner to get a free drink or dessert. You could even reserve an exclusive deal for educators who caption their pictures with a clever saying or share a fun anecdote about the subject they teach.

Even if a participatory promotion seems off-brand for your restaurant, remember that it's all about keeping educators invested. They love a good discount, and they especially appreciate being recognized.

4. Provide Free Materials for Teachers

One of the simplest, most effective ways to engage with teachers is to create and distribute free educational materials. Instead of handing out flyers listing the amazing deals you offer, create free digital or printable posters and guides about healthy eating, food science, sustainable farming, or other relevant topics. You'll be using your own expertise in the food industry to help teachers bolster their lesson plans with resources they don't have the time to create on their own.

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Teachers are always on the lookout for free teaching materials, and because some freely available online resources are less than credible, you’ll be lending a much-needed hand. Chipotle, for example, rewards students with free meals for completing a reading log that the restaurant provides. It’s a helpful tool for teachers, who are then saved the trouble of crafting and enforcing a reading program themselves — and they have Chipotle to thank.

5. Give Free Behind-the-Scenes Tours

You might not even have to create lesson materials to impress teachers and educate students. A free tour of your restaurant can be a great learning experience for teachers to have access to. The trick to making it appealing to teachers, though, is to frame it as an eye-opening, educational experience rather than just a fun field trip with free food. Promote the opportunity as a way to learn about the supply chain, commercial kitchens, and other behind-the-scenes jobs in the restaurant business, and they'll be signing up in droves.

Applebee’s, for example, offers students and teachers a tour of its restaurants and a brief introduction to its various staff positions before providing everyone on the trip with lunch. As a result of the trip, students might take an interest in the food service industry, and educators will be appreciative of the real-world experience it provides for their class. When done correctly, something as simple as a field trip to a restaurant can teach students just as much about potential career options as a career day or science fair.

Ultimately, marketing to a niche audience is difficult. Not every teacher is the same, and what might work in one community might not work in another. So instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to attracting educators to your restaurant, consider what makes your restaurant and your community unique. You'll find that educators are equally interested in supporting both.