I have the pleasure of working in an area of new Dubai that’s awash with great restaurants, many of them smaller independents, and I enjoy taking lunch time walks around the area and picking an eatery that tickles my taste buds. More often than not, I find that a new place has popped up, but sadly, all too often, I also see an old favorite closing down. The city’s F&B scene now resembles a dog eat dog world of competing concepts, almost permanent special offers, and fierce competition for every diner.

I like competition, it keeps you on your toes and, F&B-wise, it’s good news for customers, because there’s always a tasty deal on offer somewhere, however, I recently started to wonder whether there’s such a thing as too much competition. Consumers have become very fickle, loyalty is decreasing, and new restaurants now only have very little time to make an impression and find a steady position in the local marketplace.

Opening or running a restaurant, that offers great food and service is one thing – marketing it successfully is quite another. The perplexing thing is that restaurants today probably have more marketing channels at their disposal than ever before, yet seem to struggle more than ever to reach their target audiences. It’s certainly not easy to decide how to spread the available marketing budget and come up with an effective strategy to get messages and USPs across to the right people, in the right manner, and at the right time. Traditionally this is where marketing agencies would come into play.

Hire the right agency, give them a great brief, and Bob’s your uncle. Alas, what a kerfuffle dealing with advertising and marketing agencies is! Some don’t know their Champagne from their shoes, others don’t even get out of bed for less than USD 10,000/month, yet others take two weeks to send you campaign ideas and creatives. Often, you’ll sit through pitches that would make Coca Cola or McDonald’s executives rejoice, but totally fail to take into account that, unlike these brands, you’re not set for world domination fueled by considerable marketing budgets, but simply want to capture your fair share of diners in your neighborhood or city. So what’s the passion-rich, but budget-poor restaurateur to do?

If you’re running an independent or stand-alone outlet, I suggest, you ditch your agency and activate your employees. It never fails to amaze me how many restaurateurs complain about their marketing agencies, yet have never even thought about the role their own employees play in their outlet’s marketing strategy.

Remember, these days, we’re all in marketing!

It starts with your senior team: Are the all on LinkedIn? Do you have a company profile on the world’s largest professional networking platform, which your employees can connect to? Do you regularly share updates via your LinkedIn company page and do you encourage your team-members to share them with their networks?

Have you ever done an audit of your team-members “miscellaneous” skills? In the past, I found great photographers and skilled writers amongst my associates. I also found very active Twitter user, colleagues who understood Snapchat much, much better than most other people, including myself, and associates who knew a lot more about our guests than all members of the marketing team combined.

Compiling a marketing plan isn’t rocket science and there are plenty of free resources available on the Internet – filling it was live and generating content, on the other hand, is often tricky and, even if you’re working together with an agency, is a task that’s often left to you.

yanFiring up your teams and regularly meeting them with “marketing” in mind can often produce great results. One of my clients has a waiter who his so popular with guests that he has spawned his own hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. Other clients have duty managers who shoot great pictures of their outlets or chefs, who regularly provide great food shots for Instagram.

Equally, talking to your teams, will also result in many very interesting insights which can influence offline advertising and marketing, e.g. what newspapers do guests read, where are guests from, what are they interested in? Answers to such questions will let you define your audience(s) much better, which in turn means you can address them with more customized messages and offers, which are likely to generate more interest and higher engagement.

I also regularly find that associates who work “behind the scenes”, very much enjoy getting involved in marketing and being given the chance to generate ideas that bring in new business.

In 2016, advertising and marketing is likely to go far more “local” than in previous years thanks to new technologies like Facebook beacons and social WiFi – agencies sitting in their ivory towers far away from the hustle and bustle of your restaurant won’t be able to help you much with this. If your operations are large enough to require regional or international marketing presence, agency expertise will come in handy, but if you’re running an independent outlet or a smaller, local, chain, your team-members are far more likely to come up with engaging ideas.