Just over 60 percent of new restaurants close before their hit their first anniversary — so by longevity alone, East Village Pizza, which has been around since 1997, has already more than beaten the odds. But every year brings new challenges as customers’ tastes and behaviors change — and even established local favorites need to adapt.
When Frank Kabatas took over East Village Pizza in 2003, he had plenty of experience making great pizza, but he says he was “like a freshman” when it came to marketing his business.
He looked around and saw that all of the other pizza places in New York City were distributing paper menus as their main form of marketing. For many years, he too used to go door-to-door, leaving printed menus all around his neighborhood every six months. Customers would keep them on their refrigerator or in a drawer, and when they were hungry they would call East Village Pizza for delivery.
Kabatas says back then, whenever he distributed menus, the restaurant would soon see a lift in business — an increase of maybe 10% over the next few months.
The system worked, so he kept doing it — until eventually, it didn’t. At first, he started noticing in 2008 that the percentage lift he got from his physical menu distributions was dropping. “Either we were doing something wrong, or something else was happening,” he says.
Then, around 2015, after years of decline, his main marketing method just stopped working. He would distribute the paper menus and there was barely any lift at all.
Customers’ habits had changed. People no longer wanted to pick up a paper menu, let alone a phone. Instead, they had migrated to third-party sites and apps like Yelp and GrubHub (and many more) to both discover restaurants and to place orders. He realized that this meant he needed to find a new way to reach new customers and to keep his menu up to date across all of these new platforms.
Looking for ways to capture more people’s attention online, Kabatas started using social media to promote the business, posting on Facebook and Instagram, making his pizza live on camera every night, and getting into conversations with customers.
He noticed that replying to people who left reviews or commenting on their posts created a much deeper connection than any photo he shared — and he started hunting down influential people online and inviting them in to try East Village Pizza’s food, in the hopes that they would share their experiences online.
The more Frank promoted certain items online, the more people asked for them when they came in.
That’s when Frank realized he could set his business apart by focusing some of his marketing efforts around an item that every other pizza shop offered but didn’t promote: garlic knots. He was confident his knots were better than anyone else’s. If he could get people’s attention on them, not only would they choose his pizza shop over a competitor’s, customers would order not just a slice but also garlic knots, increasing his average ticket.
Frank started featuring his garlic knots on social media, suggesting them to customers in-store and highlighting them on his in-store and printed menus. The problem: when you searched for “best garlic knots east village,” his wasn’t the top search result — despite having a leg up because of the “East Village” in the restaurant’s name.
Part of the reason that Kabatas’s garlic knots weren’t ranking high in searches was structural. On his website, his menu was posted as a PDF. He had reasoned that this format allowed customers to download and print it, but he hadn’t realized that this meant the menu text wasn’t searchable by Google, Yahoo or Bing. It didn’t matter how many times he posted tantalizing photos and videos of the cheesy garlic knots on social media if customers couldn’t find them when they searched on Google, Facebook, Yelp, Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor or even on the East Village Pizza website, it created a hole in the customer journey.
He had been diligent about going to multiple online platforms to update menu information and make changes, but the process of going to each of them one-by-one was time-consuming and onerous — and doing so still wasn’t propelling him to the top of the relevant search results.
Then earlier this year, Kabatas started using SinglePlatform to manage his menus — not only on his website but also on sites like TripAdvisor and Google My Business — and he began seeing changes very quickly.
SinglePlatform published Kabatas’ menu to his website, replacing the PDF, and then to Google My Business — and in just five days East Village Pizza was the number one search result in the area. Kabatas was also pleased to discover that he no longer had to spend time communicating with various online platforms to make updates.
And because it has become much easier for him to change the items on his menu online, he does so more frequently.
“The world is now online — and when the world is online you need to control your online menus,” says Kabatas. “And it’s tough to do on so many platforms. SinglePlatform is really helping me and saving me time — at least 40 minutes a day on average. The money that you are paying is nothing. You’re going to save time and make much more money than what you are paying for SinglePlatform to handle your menu.”