How To Turn Guests Into Regulars with Matt Plapp


Matt Plapp, Zack Oates

Matt Plapp (preview)

The factors we found of what gets consumers to eat at a restaurant on a consistent basis is how they feel when they walk in, how they feel when they leave, and how the entire experience goes. So, I guess long story: is how well operated that restaurant is.

Zack Oates

(Intro) What’s up? Zack Oates here – author, entrepreneur and customer relationship guru. Welcome to Give an Ovation: growth strategies for restaurants and retailers, where we find industry leaders to share their secrets to grow your business. This podcast is sponsored by Ovation, the actionable guest feedback tool that works on or off premise, and is easy, real-time, and actually drives revenue. Learn more at

Welcome to another edition of Give an Ovation! I am joined today by Matt Plapp. You’ve heard the name now meet the legend. Over the last 13 years Matt has built the restaurant revenue engine that has redefined the relationship between ROI and marketing in hospitality. He wrote Restaurant Marketing That Works and has become an industry thought leader, especially in unlocking Facebook, the founder and CEO of America’s Best Restaurants. Matt, welcome to Give an Ovation today.

Matt Plapp

Thank you I think I got to maybe Pay Pal you some money for that intro. I don’t know if you’re a endorser.

Zack Oates

No dude, that was me reading your LinkedIn bio. That’s, it reads like an amazing bio, because it is. So first of all, Matt, talk to me a little bit about America’s Best Restaurants. What are you doing? What do you do? What keeps you busy?

Matt Plapp

Yeah. So first of all, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it. I’ve listened to some episodes and you do a great job. And anybody you have on here has always been spitting fire. So I guess I have big shoes.

So our company, America’s Best Restaurants. The name is not well known yet, because we’ve kinda always had it as our parent name. But we’re a restaurant marketing firm, nationwide, been in business since 08, in 2015 decided to shift from being a local regional agency dealing with a lot of businesses to focus exclusively on restaurants. And that’s been the journey we’ve been on the last six years and America’s best restaurants has two parts of it. The consumer facing side which relaunches we’re excited – to listen to be heard or seen – but relaunches and summer of 2021. And the concept of America’s best restaurants new website is to connect consumers with a restaurant they could eat at weekly. I think there’s a lot of, you know, food porn out there and TV shows on all the national networks that showcase restaurants that a lot of times you might eat at every three months. Restaurants are built, their backbone, their revenue is built off of frequent visitors. And so our goal is, how do we introduce restaurants that consumers should eat at weekly, in a different manner. So through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, all that. We have a van that’s going to be in play starting in July, where it’s gonna be going every three days to a different city doing interviews with restaurant owners.

On the other side of that is our marketing division called Restaurant Marketing That Works under America’s Best Restaurants. Something that’s unique about us, it’s same with you guys, too, because you have hundreds of restaurants with us having hundreds of restaurants nationwide, we get to hear and see what’s working and a lot of places. So the other day a guy called us up who’s got a franchise restaurant we work with, like 15 of them. And he said, Hey, what do you think? And I’m like, well, it’s pretty simple. We know what’s happened with the other 15. Here’s how we put it in play with you, here’s a couple of tweaks we might make. And we’re able to audit what he’s doing. And then give him positive feedback. And like you mentioned in my bio ROI showing a dashboard that says like you have your awesome dashboard that shows, reviews and increase in reviews and the momentum is gaining, we can show that your marketing has gotten people to give us their name, phone number, birthday visit frequency, gender, and then we can show how we use that information to drive visits and sales. And that’s relieving the restaurants because for years, I’ve been in marketing since 99, selling radio advertising. For years, it’s been hope and pray. I hope somebody saw my marketing, I pray they come visit. And I think it’s about time to take hope and pray out of marketing.

Zack Oates

Amen. Love that. So I have two big questions for you. One is what does it take to be a restaurant that someone eats at weekly? What does that look like? What is the anatomy and the dynamics of of that restaurant, if you were to kind of categorize the characteristics?

Matt Plapp

So we’ve found three traits that we identified that are key to it. There’s six total that helped influence. The three key ones we found, ironically, through research during the pandemic. So, before the pandemic hit, we always had a calculator on our end. That way my sales team would come and go, hey, we need to see if this restaurants a good fit. And we looked at the type of service, the type of food and the type of location, and those would give us a scale to say hey, at the end of the day marketing is all about, from a restaurant, to get consumers to come in, it’s all about who’s willing to spend the most to get the person. And the more niche your restaurant is, like you’re a downtown high end, Thai restaurant, you’ve got a lot less market, it’s a little harder to market and it’s gonna cost you more money to get people’s, like there’s more competition for that niche person. If you’re a burger place, that’s fast food in the suburbs. You got everybody. Yeah, so we always had those metrics. And that was what allowed my team to say, hey, customer, here’s what it’s going to cost to get this. And when the pandemic had about two months into it, I had Tom on our team, I said, Tom, these 20 or 30 clients are just crushing it. Why? Like, what, what’s different about because like, I look at these over here, they’re doing decent, and these a couple are doing terrible. These are good restaurants, good concepts. Why are these crushing it? Well, out of that came three factors. And they all three piggyback off each other.

The first one, is the type of owner operator relationship with the customer. That is, somebody within that four walls on a consistent basis that has a vested interest, or is it somebody that owns 20 stores? Like I know a lady who owns eight restaurants, and she visits every one about every two months. And she’s relying on 17, 18,19 year olds, to convey the message of her brand and the customers. And I’ve got a 17 and 19 year old, that’s a hard task!

Zack Oates

Hard enough! When I was 17, 19 I wasn’t even doing dishes ,much less conveying a brand message.

Matt Plapp

Yeah. And you look at restaurants, that’s what it is. I pulled up to a Raising Cane’s, I don’t know if you guys have them in Utah,

Zack Oates

We don’t yet, but can we put in a quick plug, please come.

Matt Plapp

There’s one near our office, I took one of my employees down from Chicago, we went up there, we pull up, and that young lady in the drive thru man, she was happy we were there. And when we got to the window, they were happy we were there. It was one of the better experiences I’ve had and it wasn’t, it wasn’t sarcastic. It wasn’t done on purpose. It wasn’t done like oh, I gotta say this, like they come to your table or restaurant they go, “Happy Birthday To You..”

So that to me is the biggest thing we found is the restaurants that dominated during the pandemic were restaurants that an owner or an operator, I say an operator, because I’ve got a friend of mine who owns like 11 restaurants, he’s got 11 different GM that operate them. And they have vested interests, they actually care. And the place is run like that. So we saw that anywhere that there was a thumb in that restaurant go thumb on that process, and SOP, that was a key factor.

The next one triggers down from that you’ll like this one I have to off area, maybe if we get time, I’ll tell you this case study that’s pretty wild, that comes back to reviews. The next part is reviews. It’s that the reviews tell a story of what’s happening in the restaurant at the end of the day. And if you’ve got a ton of negative reviews it’s typically in relation to what’s happening in the restaurant, obviously, but it’s not the employees, it’s on the top! If my employees fail for my company that run our business, it’s because I haven’t given them the right leadership or tools. Well, we found during the pandemic, the restaurant that did the worst was that lady that had eight stores that she never went to. That it was like, out of sight out of mind, I’ll be there every two or three weeks, I’ll get to every restaurant every two months. And you know, they don’t care as much as the person that owns or operates it. And that’s a big one.

And then the third one piggybacks off of both of those. It’s their online presence, their branding, how well they’re known. And so when we look at restaurants, and we look to see a restaurant that somebody would visit weekly, it’s typically going to be a restaurant that they like, that they feel welcome, that they have a great experience that they have good food. You know, I’ve got restaurants that I enjoy, but I don’t go to weekly because of some of those factors. They’re higher end, they’re in an urban environment, it’ll get too often. They have a very niche food like I love Thai food, but I don’t eat it weekly. I eat it monthly. I ate it today now I’ve said it. But then I eat other places like I might eat at Chipotle every week. I always have a good experience. The food’s always solid, I might go to hot head burritos every week rapid fire pizza, you know, Dewey’s Pizza, Eli’s barbecue. There’s these places that the factors we’ve found of what gets consumers to eat in a restaurant on a consistent basis is how they feel when they walk in how they feel when they leave and how the entire experience goes. So I guess long story is how well operated that restaurant is.

Zack Oates

I think I’ve seen that, you know, as you’re stating these I’ve seen that over and over again. Like it’s like yes, I agree. Yes, I agree. Yes, I agree. Those are those are things that as we’ve seen with our customers that i think that’s that’s totally true that finding someone who cares, getting those those good reviews, having that good operation. And then like you said You know, initially you looked at the location of the restaurant. But now a big factor of it is the online location of the, the online location of the restaurant. Right? How easy are they to be found? What are people seingn with them? So yeah, I totally agree with those. I think that the old the old adage of location, location, location, and then I gotta have a good product and service. It’s like those things no longer make a restaurant, those things are now table stakes. Right? That’s what everyone’s expecting. And now we got to take it that level up. And I love those three attributes that you talked about.

Matt Plapp

So I’ll give you I’ll give you a quick story on the review Part. So I had a pizza brand that I had dealt with the marketing director on, we dealt with five of the locations. I had never met with the CEO, he had always blown me off. And I went up to their corporate office, I’m meeting with them, we’re talking business, and I said, Hey, I want to show you a quick case study on something he’s like, what do you got? I said, Well, I don’t know, two of these particular owners. But I know these three, and I said, I want to show you how social engagement can tell the story of how a restaurant is operated. So I pulled up the stat and we had 1000 bucks for all five restaurants over a two month period, we had spent $1,000 for each one of them on social media, Facebook, Instagram, traffic campaigns, engagement campaigns, branding, and you look at the $1,000 all of them had reached 50,000 people identical all five, they’re all suburban restaurants, pizza, same brand, same concept, similar traffic patterns, everything. That 50,000 people reached for store 1,2,3,4,5 went down 50,000 got 5000 engagements, then it went up 4500 engagements, then it went to 2500 engagements, then it went to 1000. Well, then those engagements from ours, the engagements on our end lead to people giving us their data. And so then we looked at that and said, okay, those engagements, how many of those, let’s say every 1000 people that engaged in this ad, it should be 90% give us their data. The high ones, the ones at the top it was 90%, the lower ones, it was 50%. And so then the next step from that was the people that gave us their data that walked in the restaurant and use the offer we gave them was literally 30% for the top ones 5% for the bottom ones. And then of course that relates to sales.

And so I looked at the guy and I said, I’m gonna make an observation for us. I know, these three owners, this owner, these first two, they’re almost identical. They crush it. They’re in the stores every day. They do a great job. I know him personally. They, when you walk in, they know your name. They know your order. They’re ready to rock. They’re high fiving, they asked how the kids football’s going. the third one, she’s not a nice lady. I know her. She’s in the store. She’s mean, she’s negative on everything. Everybody’s out together. It’s reflective right here. And that’s why her sales are what they are. The bottom two I’ve never met, we do their marketing through. You guys gave us the accounting either help. I’m gonna guess this guy is an attorney. And this guy probably never comes out of the back of the restaurant. He looks at me, grabs his phone and starts texting.

Later, here comes the CEO. He goes, Matt, tell him what you just told me. I’m like what? Like that story. So I walk into the spreadsheet on a big screen. And he goes, So you know those two guys? I go, I have no clue. Why? He’s like, that guy’s an attorney. He owns four restaurants. He bought them as passive income. He doesn’t go in the restaurant. That is a guy that used to be a general manager of a Chipotle that thought it’d be cool to own his own restaurant. He’s scared of customers. He’s actually on the restaurant. My guess is back of the house is spotless, he goes, how did you know that? I said, the guest cinnamon, what you talk about!

When I see a Facebook ad and it says, Hey, here’s an awesome offer. Come get this at the restaurant. When consumers that love your brand, see it and go, that’s my place. Man. That’s my favorite pizza place. They share it, they comment, they’re transferring the trust, it’s a review in essence. They’re reviewing you by saying, hey, this place rocks go get this offer, or they’re commenting. When I’m a number, and I walk in your restaurant, and the employees don’t acknowledge me and they don’t smile, and I’m just there to get food and leave, I’m a transaction. When I see your social media posts, I scroll by I don’t engage, I don’t care. And when you then take that and cross reference that with the reviews, we could look at this one location’s reviews and see that there’s not a single issue with food quality, cleanliness, operation. It’s all about friendliness, and welcome this and then the other one was a complete show, you know, because everything was wrong. And as an attorney who didn’t want to be in the restaurant business that he thought was gonna be passive income. But all of that came down it started with marketing, but then digging deeper. And as you know, in the review world, like it says, Why do one review cost you 300 bucks? Well, in our case, it costs us 75% the same. Exactly. Reach across to 75% of your online engagements. And then there’s online engagements for 75% less effective. And then that effectiveness of a promotion was 75% less effective, it just trickles down, probably cost more than 1000 bucks when you look at it from that angle.

Zack Oates

Oh my gosh. And so and that’s the thing, right? It’s like, if someone comes and defaces, the front of your building, go back 10 years, and someone comes in spray paints in front of your building, “this place sucks.” Are you going to clean it off? Are you going to? And let’s say they also left their name and phone number. Would you at least be interested in not pressing your pressing charges, But like, at least figure out why do you feel like this play sucks? Like, what what about it is so bad? But we don’t do that online for some reason.

Matt Plapp

It cracks me up. We’ve got restaurants that with – what we do when people opt in and give us their information, we have the ability to get feedback. And when they give feedback within our system, you know – and we’re not there. We’re not a feedback platform like Ovation, which I look forward to partnering with you guys in the future. – but we have the information. And somebody says, Hey, I was in today. This was terrible, without leaving a review, but they’re sending a message. And I’ll have clients that will say what should we do in that instance? I’m like, call em! Are you sure? I’m like, nobody calls anybody, I can’t get my kid to call me. I said customers i said i’ve we’ve looked at it, we’ve we’ve surveyed customers that have had negative experience within the system with that we know of, and we’ll say, Hey, I understand that somebody reached out to you was everything taken care of? Because at the end the day it reflects back on my company, if we’re marketing, I can only do so much marketing, if you don’t care, your end, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to keep sending people into a bad restaurant, or in a bad situation. And when we asked them was this fixed to your satisfaction, every time that the person is called they go, holy crap, I can’t believe they called me. I’ve never been called by a restaurant person ever better yet the owner.

Zack Oates

Yeah. And that’s the thing. It’s like when you really do care. And this is the thing that, you know, we have the luxury of having worked with 1000s of restaurants, right. So there’s, there’s a broader view that we’re able to have to see all these different types of restaurants. To a guest, to any human, the most important desire, the most intrinsic desire is the desire to feel important. And either we help them feel important, or we help them feel less important. And when someone gives you feedback, what they’re saying is I want to feel heard. And when you make them feel heard, data shows that they are going to be more loyal than if they never had a bad experience in the first place. So but you have to care, you got to put in that effort in order to get to that, that loyalty.

Matt Plapp

And when you wrap that all back to the original question was what makes a restaurant someplace a consumer is frequent with, you know there’s restaurants we all frequent, that it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s inexpensive, it’s not bad food, and you go there. I mean, it’s pretty much fast food of the world, you know, drive throughs you know, nobody loves going, I won’t name em, but certain drive throughs. But what if you’re on vacation, you got two kids screaming, you’re swinging in and you’re getting XYZ and you’re gone. You don’t really need an awesome like, wow experience. But when you look at local brands, or fast casual or casual dining, you’ve got to have it. And there’s that path that takes a lot of people think okay, I got, you know, negative reviews, I can fix them. Well, they don’t realize it carries over like somebody the other day asked me Matt, you know, we we have five ways that we help we focus on helping restaurants understand where they’re getting traffic from marketing wise, their in store marketing, their website, marketing, their online listings, their current customer data, which is a huge goldmine for restaurants, because they’ve got a lot of data on most places. They’re not leveraging and reactivating them.

Then the last ones Facebook and Instagram. Well, Facebook and Instagram at the end of the day, is grassroots marketing. It’s when 20 years ago, my friend would call me up and go Hey, what’s the best Thai restaurant ? Dude you gotta go to My Thai down on Dixie Highway in Florence. Great. Now when I’m on Facebook, and I check in there, that’s the same thing. I can check in there. If it sucks. I’m not gonna check it out like it. Or when I comment on their Facebook post or their Instagram. And the algorithm shows it to my friends. They see my comment it says love it. You guys rock. Awesome, as usual. It’s the same thing. It’s not a review, in essence, but it’s the old school review. It’s that grassroots markets, it’s the word of mouth that most restaurants are built on and that’s what really cracks me up when you look at it is that when you ask about those top qualities, it’s a restaurant or the person inside gives a crap that you’re there. And when they give a crap that you’re there, you get better service you feel warm and fuzzy. You smile more. Our tagline used to be helping consumers find restaurants that will make them smile. That was something we liked because I still agree with But then I’m like, you know we need something that resonates is we want to help you find your next regular spot. I think Cheers. I have some people that are watching this might be too old or too young. I mean how two my employees didn’t know who Kramer was. So they sure as heck don’t know who Jordan is. But my thought process with America’s best restaurants, they when that media company gets full force in the next 24 months, it’s gonna be awesome, is how do we help people find their Cheers? Because everybody wants that place. I go to barley corns, every week, my wife, I go to El nopal, every week with my wife and kids, I go to this Thai place every two or four weeks. We got restaurants we eat at consistently, I want to help consumers find their next one.

Zack Oates

I love that man. And I guess my second question we’ve kind of been talking about the whole time was ROI. I think that one thing we probably need to do is have you back on and just have a whole discussion on on tracking that. So let’s let’s jump into the the Fast Five here. Number one, what is the most important aspect about guest experience for restaurants nowadays?

Matt Plapp

I’d say a smile and the greeting and feeling like they want you there. There’s nothing worse than being somewhere that you’re like, oh, man, am I causing you a headache by coming in the doors?

Zack Oates

Love that. Two. What are successful things that you have seen or tried lately?

Matt Plapp

Successful things I’ve seen and tried lately, from a business standpoint, using the phone to call people. I think we all get lazy. It’s easy to text. It’s easy. I like my kids one day a couple months ago, they’re up in the rooms. our living room opens up into the upper floor. You can see their doors. There’s a hallway, and I call them no answer. So then I text them. Paige, come here. What do you want? Come here. Why? I’m taking your geek. She walks out the door. What’s up Dad? Can we have a conversation? So I think going back to that. We all get lazy and it’s easier to to email and text and message. Call people, go shake their hand talk to them one on one.

Zack Oates

I love that. Crystal ball over the next few years. What do you see in the hospitality industry?

Matt Plapp

I see it going back. I think a lot of people are wrong and everybody has this they, it’s trendy to say ghost kitchens, it’s trendy to say third party. I think everything circles I think we go back to where the handshake means something again, I think people like having the experience of being in a restaurant. We’re obviously in a bump in the road now. And there’s a lot of you know what ifs but I think in a couple years, we’re going to see that indoor dining experience and that in person even more important.

Zack Oates

Okay, what would be your last piece of advice to tell restaurant owners and operators?

Matt Plapp

Do whatever it takes to get the information of everybody who comes in contact with your brand. My wife, we’re married, I guess I should know this. 22, 23 years. One of those numbers together. I think 26. Since I was a sophomore in college. It started with me, asking her name, asking her phone number. Then we started dating. Then we got engaged and we got married and we have kids. I don’t want to say have kids with your customers that might sound weird. But yeah, the only way to get married to your customers is to know who they are – their email, their birthday, their phone number so you can predictably communicate with them on your terms, not theirs.

Zack Oates

I love that. I think that is so important. And you know, I actually do a seminar called dating your customers. I wrote a dating book and it’s, it’s it’s so true. The things that you need to do to be a great first date are the things that you need to do to have to be a great first experience for one of your guests. And then lastly, who deserves an Ovation? Who should come on the podcast?

Matt Plapp

Oh, wow. So there’s a big stack of books and those are all restaurant books, authors in the space on customer service food guests, all this stuff. Somebody I don’t know if you’ve dealt with or not that I think it’s amazing. I think the gentleman is down in Scottsdale, Arizona area. His name’s David Scott Peters. He’s written, he’s got a book called The Prosperity Formula, restaurant prosperity formula. He speaks, he does coaching, his depth of understanding of the financial aspect of a restaurant is more than I’ve seen most people and I think it’s a key element that like my accountant said Matt, you can have a profit and loss but guess what, you got to look at it to make adjustments. You got to fix that. So I think restaurants they’ve saw that they’ve seen that this past couple of this past year, year and a half that now they can all of a sudden make more money doing third party make money doing pickup make money doing delivery, when the guest experience comes back into the restaurant and they had this ability in all these places. I think it’s gonna be even more important to have your costs under control and understand your your operating costs at every different vertical. So David Scott Peters would be my vote for the next Ovation.

Zack Oates

Awesome. Well, how do people find you/follow you, Matt?

Matt Plapp

So easiest way is Matt Plapp. You know, is my website. Matt Plapp on Facebook. It’s actually the real Matt Plapp because my personal profile has the username Matt Plapp. So, my business one is the real Matt Plapp but LinkedIn and Instagram Matt Plapp, my email and then cell phone number is pretty easy to find. But it’s 859-743-2408. I love talking to people. I’m an open book if anybody wants to have a conversation, give me a call.

Zack Oates

Well, Matt, in the beginning of this podcast, he talked about how other guests have been spitting fire well for taking on the form of a dragon and breathing fire today, today’s Ovation goes to you. Thanks so much for joining us on Give an Ovation.

(Outro) Glad you were with us today. And thank you! Thank you to the risk takers, the troublemakers, the crazies who are keeping this world clothed and fed. You’re the ones who deserve an Ovation. Again, this podcast was sponsored by Ovation! To see how we can help you grow your business, go to Don’t forget to subscribe, and as always, remember to give someone in your life an Ovation today!

Find out the three key factors of restaurants that have frequent customers from the CEO at America’s Best Restaurants, Matt Plapp.

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Matt Plapp is the CEO of America’s Best Restaurants, which helps customers find restaurants that make them smile, and CEO of Restaurant Marketing That Works, which helps restaurants acquire customers. As a thought leader in restaurant marketing, an author and overall legend, we were thrilled to have Matt on this episode.

Here’s our main takeaway from this episode and Matt’s answers to the five questions Zack asks each guest:

Featured Takeaway: 3 Traits of Restaurants That Customers Frequent

1 – Owners and operators who are present and involved in their locations. Matt has seen stark differences from reviews to ad engagement rate all affected by how involved ownership is in sharing the message of the brand on-premise.

2 – Positive reviews. At the end of the day, reviews tell the story of what’s happening in a restaurant.

3 – Restaurants that have an online presence and strong branding. How well known are they?

1: What is the most important aspect of the guest experience today?

A smile and a greeting. “There’s nothing worse than being somewhere that you’re like, oh, man, am I causing you a headache by coming in the doors?”

2: What is something successful you have seen or tried lately?

Use the phone and call people. “We all get lazy and it’s easier to to email and text and message. Call people, go shake their hand talk to them one on one.”

3: What do you see in your crystal ball about the future of the restaurant industry in the next few years?

He sees it going back to how things were before the pandemic in a lot of ways. “I think we go back to where the handshake means something again, I think people like having the experience of being in a restaurant.”

4: What would be your one general piece of advice for restaurant owners and operators?

“Do whatever it takes to get the information of everybody who comes in contact with your brand…know who they are – their email, their birthday, their phone number so you can predictably communicate with them on your terms, not theirs.”

5: Who is someone in the restaurant industry that deserves an Ovation?

David Scott Peters. “He speaks, he does coaching, his depth of understanding of the financial aspect of a restaurant is more than I’ve seen most people.” (P.S. – we took Matt’s advice and had David on the podcast. Coming soon.)

For more from Matt, you can visit, email him at, find him on social media, or even call him at 859-743-2408.

Thanks for reading! Make sure to check out the whole episode, as well as other interviews with restaurant gurus by checking out “Give an Ovation: A Podcast For Restaurants” on or your favorite place to listen to podcasts.

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