Growth Secrets for Restaurant & Bars that Host Live Entertainment as a Business Driver | OnlineKix Digital Marketing


The "Restaurant Growth Secrets" Interview


(mentioned in the interview)

Diagram of Lauren Dillon's "New Patron Engine"


1) The website is built for conversions with lead capture offers promoting a "VIP Insider Club" style of experience, social proof to earn trust, and follow up email + text messages.

2) Social media offers, rotated content, and social review images help to bring people to the website. Increased posting frequency and social review signals boost search rank.

3) Reviews are key to online visibility and conversion and our system includes website widgets, QR codes, NFC cards and a Leaderboard to encourage staff requests.

Lauren Dillon
Owner at OnlineKix

Call or Text me at (888) 417-2305

Interview Transcript


I’m excited to welcome everyone to the Restaurant Growth Secrets Show, where we talk with the world's top experts at growing Restaurants and Bars.

Today we’re talking with Lauren Dillon. 

Lauren is the Owner and CEO at OnlineKix, an online marketing firm focused on growing restaurants and bars using digital marketing.

In this interview, Lauren is going to walk us through the unique way that she's been able to help her customers grow their monthly revenue using a powerful online marketing strategy.

Lauren. Welcome to the Show.


Hey thanks for having me, it’s an honor to be here and to get to share all the fun stuff we’re doing. I’m excited to get into it!


Ok first big question.

What led you to starting OnlineKix and why do you focus exclusively on working with bars and restaurants?


Well I wish I could say that there was some master plan but honestly I just spend a lot of time in restaurants and bars with my family. My husband loves live music. I don't like to cook. And sometimes it's fun to bring the kids along. 

Over the years I've gotten to know owners and managers at these kinds of places and picked up insights as to what makes a place grow and what holds it back. 

What I noticed a long time ago was that there were so many great places that just didn't advertise themselves well. And it stood out because I've been in marketing leadership putting automated systems in to drive revenue for over 20 years. When I was going out with the family, I couldn't help but notice the good and the bad in their marketing efforts since it's been so much of my life.

I’m lucky I came up at a time where the Internet has just been dominant -- absolutely huge for growing any kind of business, and I've seen that first hand in working with global brands and local family-owned businesses. I have well over 10,000 hours invested in perfecting my craft.

So, along the way I got really focused on giving my knowledge back to local businesses, and specifically growing restaurants and bars using online marketing as the core catalyst. It's all about building a venue an automated marketing engine that works for you while you do other things.

And OnlineKix was just the name we put on the business that just kind of naturally grew out of me helping friends and getting referrals.


So what kind of bars and restaurants do you work with specifically?


We typically work with restaurants and bars that are in bigger cities and really enjoy working with those spots that have a strong focus on live events, whether that be, musicians, comedians or special nights for karaoke, kids, or featured items. Things like that. 

The reason I like these folks is because I love how they are being strategic about hosting live events as a business driver. These restaurants and bars set themselves apart with a big advantage and we really like to work with businesses who are already doing things right and just need a better engine to speed up growth.

So the Advantage that they have over their competition is that they can give potential patrons more reasons than just their food or drinks, to come in. And once they're in, if they had a good time, they will want to be "in-the-know" so that they come back at the right time.

We love marketing food and beverages, and a place's atmosphere, but when you have a location that has multiple events on their calendar every single month, it gives people a reason to come in the first time and then back more often, spending more each time they do.

The problem they are facing though is that social media's reach is declining. The challenge is getting the right patrons to know about the offers and events. There posts are maybe only reaching 5% of an audience.

And it's getting harder to get in the inbox too. They're only reaching about 20% then. 

So in order for this live entertainment strategy to work, people have to know what's going on.

And not everyone uses social media. My husband won't use social media AND he won't give out his email. Actually, he only knows about events when he's in the mood and seeks out the information.

So for a guy that loves live music, he's leaving his fix up to chance. And he gets frustrated when he can't find schedules on a website and can't appreciate that upkeep of website content is a struggle for most local businesses.

Imagine what happened once he was getting text messages from his favorite spots -- he sees their messages over 90% of the time, often within 3 minutes of it going out, and his inbox is not clutter. He has one thread for each venue to reference and it doesn't bother him.

And restaurants and bars with live entertainment are a perfect fit for this marketing automation model because their patrons want to have insider knowledge, and keeping them informed pulls in more predictable and consistent revenue month after month. That's where we come in at OnlineKix.

We have a proven strategy that we've formulated over the years that puts all the right pieces of the puzzle together, to get in front of the right folks, for each restaurant and bar using the internet to get the word out. And we like to get creative about involving the staff and the bands to help fuel the engine.

The best part about this whole thing is that every week you run the system it gets more profitable as the list of patrons in the engine grows. 


I love it. So let’s get to the part everyone is waiting for. I’d like for you to walk us through the exact strategy that you put in place for all of your restaurants and bars that gets them new business using the Internet.

What is the core framework of your system?


So we call our framework the “New Patron Engine” and we focus on overhauling three core components in every restaurant or bar that we work with, which are the website, social media, and getting Google reviews. 

Underneath each of those elements we have systems in place that get us to our ultimate goal of getting more new patrons into the business, and coming back for more...and the owners and managers really don't have to do anything different. 

And what's really cool -- that I just love -- is that when all of the pieces come together, patron's get to have a "VIP Insider's Club" kind of experience, and access to exclusive benefits that aren't available to everyone else. That plays off of some powerful psychology too. People love when they know something or get something that others don't. 

And restaurants and bars that are hosting live entertainment are so perfect for this because their best customers want to hear from them more often. Once they get this engine going, and get the staff and even the musicians involved in fueling that plays right into what the people want -- which is to be informed and never miss something good.

But at the core, a lot of what we do is take a business' website, social media, and review request process and make it actually work harder, instead of just being things that get activated in silos without an overarching strategy. When businesses are like, "well we knew we needed this and we knew we were supposed to do so we set it but but didn't think too much about the details" that means money is being left on the table.

Our job is to recover it.


Ok… so how do all of those pieces fit together?


Sure, so let's start with the first of the three pieces which is the website

Most businesses just set up one because they know they're supposed to. When that happens, the website typically doesn't do much for them because it may be missing some pieces. 

A business's website is essentially just a table of contents. People come to a restaurant or bar's website to find the menu, the phone number, the location, the hours. 

This is the basic stuff that everybody understands and most people get that right on their website. 

What a lot of people miss is what's going on in the background. For a really good website when people come to it, what they're actually looking for besides those core things is the vibe.

I can't tell you how many restaurants actually lose revenue every single year because the vibe of the website doesn't match the amazing things going on inside of the actual restaurant or bar. 

So a lot of our focus is making sure that the branding on the website is insanely attractive when a new person visits. But more important than that even, is making sure that the website has a real core purpose. 

You know all these people are coming to the website to check out the business, maybe to see if they want to go there for the first time, or see what's going on to decide if they go back. But the idea behind this is that the website should be a lead collection tool. 

That's why we equip every site that we build with a way to collect leads and use Insider-Only, VIP offers asd bait to get them to sign up for something. So an example of that bait might be a free dessert, early access, behind the scenes content, or a discount off of their first meal or cover charge. 

Or it's as simple as getting future alerts for that location's event calendar. You wouldn't believe how many folks sign up just so that they can keep up with what bands are playing at a spot the upcoming weekend. 

And once we have all those people on an email or text marketing list, we can send them all kinds of reasons to come in for the first time and to come back again.

The best part is most of those email and text messages are automated so the owner and managers don't have to do anything to make it continue to work for their business. So that's kind of the first thing. It’s really getting that website or that table of contents established and putting the lead capture and follow up pieces in place.

From there we get into the social media piece. 

Potential patrons go to your website to get a Vibe of the place, but they go to your social media profiles to get a peek at what's actually going on inside of the restaurant or bar right now. 

The first key with social media is making sure the branding looks professional and it's consistent with the overall business and website. 

The second key is that we are posting more frequently, and showcase content that relates to all of the things going on in the business. So many businesses lose out on customers because people weirdly assume that if a social media page is dead that the business is also dead... and that keeps people from wanting to go and they pick something else. 

So what we've become really good at is making sure to keep a business' social media page posting good content that's consistent without adding any workload to the staff. Now we just give inside tips here of how we do that, we accomplish this with what we call our 90-10 rule of what to post.

10% of the content that we post is new things that are timely and may only be happening once and it's something that's special that month. 

But 90% of what we post to a restaurant or bars page on social media is what we call rotated content. This is content that catches people's eyes and gets them excited about the business but it's repeated. This gets the job done of keeping the page active without it being a huge time or financial cost for the business. 

So to give an example of that, let’s say you have a steak night every Wednesday. So rather than constantly having an employee post about it and risk the chance of forgetting about it, we have six different steak night posts that rotate every month and a half. Those posts rotate to keep it fresh. 

So it's not something anybody has to think about. It happens automatically and they just rotate so the business looks alive and thriving. 

And the big deal with social media is that it's also always pointing back to the website where we're collecting leads. If we can get them back to the website, then the idea is we can collect those leads with an offer or something and then we can Market to those leads using email and text to get more patrons coming in more often and spending more when they do.

Finally, the third piece is review marketing

One of the most effective tools for growing any restaurant or bar is just what the general public is saying about the business. Your website and social media are sort of what you're saying about yourself. But online reviews are what other people think about your spot and 9 out of 10 people scope this stuff out before committing to going to a business.

So Google and Yelp reviews, there a big deal. 

Now most business owners out there, it doesn't matter if they're in the restaurant bar industry, whatever industry they're in, they hate reviews before we start working with them because they're leaving them to chance. Their only real experience with reviews as an owner or a manager is a negative review and that’s because usually the only reason someone leaves a review is when they've had a bad experience and need to vent. 

This is unavoidable.

It doesn't matter how good your place or service is, you're going to have a negative review from time to time. The key and the real secret behind what we do and what everybody that's wanting to listen in and do for themselves here is Implement systems so that your biggest fans have a reason to leave you a review. 

That outweighs the occasional bad review. 

Now the website, social media, and your staff should constantly be asking for reviews. 

That can be hard if you don't have a system in place because there's no rhyme or reason to it, but what we do is we have tools on both our customers website and their social media and we have cards that the staff hold onto that encourage reviews from happy customers. 

Now a quick trick for anybody listening that we like to implement is we use QR codes and NFC cards in all of our clients businesses, but we don't like to just put them out anywhere. What we do when someone comes in and they're having a good experience, is train the staff to pull out that card and they ask for a review for the business and to mention them by name in it. 

But only if they're having a good experience. 

Now if the customer isn't having a good experience that's a staff training thing to take care of it before they leave, and everybody we work with is already pretty good at this, but we don't present the card to leave an online review to unhappy people, we only do that with the folks that are feeling good. 

So we kind of have this machine that's always working for the business, resulting in a ton of positive new reviews every week. 

Now when someone new is looking for a place to check out, all those negative reviews kind of just fade out because they're nothing compared to all the positive reviews that we've gotten really, really fast with the system. 

On top of that, it also helps our restaurants and bars rank higher in Google for the keywords that they're after. and that's really good too.


I love all of that. So what do you consider a successful result of this system at the end of every month?


Our goal within the first two months of implementation of our new patron engine is to add 5 to 10K in revenue to our restaurant and bar customers every month. 

After that, it's just keeping that number steady and adding to it little by little as the reviews stack and that marketing list that we're building on the website and social media continues to grow and grow.

So the more people we have on that list, the more people that we can send out an email or a text message to and that just continues to grow. And really, the best part is setting up these growth engines just makes what a successful business is already doing better, without adding extra work for the staff.

The venues we set this up for see major results because they're giving their existing patrons and their potential customers what they want, live entertainment updates. They also notice efficiency gains because technology is doing a lot of the heavy lifting for them. 


Ok… so lets say that a restaurant or bar wants to get started with your system.

Where do they go to sign up?


Well we're pretty swamped at the moment but if anyone wants to apply to become a customer, all they have to do is go to our website and message us using the blue contact widget in the bottom right corner. 

That gets a text message right to me and enables us to start a text thread where we can cover questions and schedule next steps for a call. It's not a chat bot so you can leave the site and we can communicate back and forth via text and phone.

I actually look at every message because I love meeting new folks in the industry and talking shop. So if anyone sends us a message, I'll hit them back up within 48 hours and we can chat.


And what happens once a new restaurant or bar signs up? 
What is the onboarding process like?


So onboarding is important to us and we have a system to do that so that we can hit the ground running and kick things off fast. We don't like taking a lot of time because it's all about getting to results as quickly as possible. 

So first we have new customers pick a point of contact. That will be who we talk to pretty much all the time. This is our connection to the business and someone who can handle getting us everything we need. This helps because it takes the pressure off of busy managers and owners so that they don't have to be that person. It's usually someone else on the team that is our contact that gets us things so they help us collect brand information, uh logos, things like that, and we start designing mockups right away. 

Typically we are ready to Showcase a "New Patron Engine" for a business within 2 weeks and that's just because we've got it down to a science. 

Now that the website, social media assets, and review systems are in place the point of contact is going to approve everything and then let us know what doesn't work right out of the gate. 

So we tweak anything that's not connecting to make sure everything is good and then they are pretty much ready to go within four weeks of initial sign up. 

From there we get everything live. Over the next month we monitor everything very closely to make sure everything is working. 

Now after we get it dialed in we typically have a couple more check in meetings and make sure the staff is comfortable with what's been set up and can change things on the fly if they want to. But they don't have to for it to work. 

The best part of the new Patron funnel is that once it gets working it's pretty hands-off for the business after that. We take care of everything.


If you could give any piece of advice to a restaurant or bar owner who was looking to grow using the internet besides all of the good stuff you’ve already laid out… what would that advice be?


Oh that's a good question. My biggest piece of advice is to just get started. There's so many people that are thinking that it has to be some big thing. It doesn't. 

We obviously have this dialed in and down to a science so that we can get to work with businesses fast and get this done without it costing an arm and a leg, but even if you don't work with us, just get started. 

An hour a day, or even 15 minutes a day if that's all you have, just keep your social media alive and make a little staff contest to ask for reviews. Find a tool that sends both email and text. Get staff and the folks booking your venue in on getting sign ups. And message patrons what's going on every week. 

No, these activities and building these systems in your business won't click right away and I have to be completely upfront about that, especially if you're just starting with it…and a lot of people get discouraged with that but if you consistently put in the time you're going to see results. 

So that would be my advice to the restaurant and bar owners out there listening.


I love it. To everyone listening, I hope that you’ve pulled a ton out of our interview with Lauren today. I’ve got a few pages worth of notes that I’ve been taking as we go and I can’t wait to share this with a few of my buddies that are bar owners.

Lauren, thanks for being with us today on the show.

And like Lauren said, if you have any questions, you can find her at

Thanks for listening to the Restaurant Growth Secrets Show. We’ll see you next time.