Webbed Feat


MenuPalace.com simplifies and maximizes Internet marketing for the hospitality industry

Supplier of The Year

A wall of framed appreciation letters greets visitors to the MenuPalace.com office: “You provide first-rate service and attention to our needs,” says Steven at Ramada Hotels. “I can’t think of anywhere else it makes more sense to advertise,” says Salvatore at Spezzo. “Our decision to contract with MenuPalace.com was a good one,” says Sam at Franco Freshy. The message is clear: customer service is a priority here.

Here is North York, Ont., where the busy staff of 47 is about to double and walls are set for demolition as the company prepares to take over the office space next door; business is good and it’s expanding. In fact, the company has been growing rapidly since its inception 11 years ago when friends Michael Tulman and Gary Lipovetsky launched a business, publishing restaurant menus on the Internet. The two, who have known each other since they were 16, had just graduated from the University of Western Ontario. Tulman was working for KPMG Enterprise, and Lipovetsky was employed with a web marketing company.

“We opened a tiny office and just started plugging away,” says company president, Lipovetsky. “We both did sales. Mike would primarily do the programming and designing of the websites, completely self-taught. We didn’t do anything fancy, but we really listened to our clients and to the industry. In the beginning our clients were very skeptical about the concept. They didn’t believe in online advertising at all.”

How times have changed. Today the big question about online marketing isn’t “Should you?,” but “Why wouldn’t you?” According to a 2009 Statistics Canada study on Internet use, 80 per cent of Canadians aged 16 and older (that’s nearly 22 million people) use the web for personal reasons. According to MenuPalace.com’s more than 1,000 Canadian clients (and 8,000-plus American customers), one of the reasons they do so is to decide where to go for dinner. The company has seen average growth of 40 per cent every year since 2001 and boasts a 96-per-cent renewal rate of its marketing services.

“Restaurant owners are a lot more Internet savvy than they were 10 years ago, but our sales reps and marketing consultants are steps ahead. They show owners how to analyze the statistics and maximize their overall Internet marketing strategy,” says Tulman, MenuPalace.com’s CEO. “We also provide our clients with a steady stream of new and repeat clientele,” Lipovetsky adds. “If a restaurant comes to us, we will fill them for a year solid. We have a large amount of Internet traffic looking for something specific, and we route those people accordingly.”

The times have clearly changed, but some things never do. At MenuPalace.com, that “thing” is customer service. “We’re always getting letters and emails about how incredible our staff is. We understand customer service is paramount, and it’s something we focus on and are proud of,” says Lipovetsky. Fillipo Philobes, a restaurateur who co-owns Toronto’s LaVecchia Ristorante with his brothers, Ciro and Massimo, can attest to that. The authentic Italian restaurant has been operating successfully in the city’s uptown Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood for 15 years and began advertising with Menu-Palace.com five years ago. “With MenuPalace.com we have peace of mind. They keep track of everything for us, and it’s very precise. It’s a great way for us to advertise our business,” Philobes says. “The staff is amazing, and the service is consistent and efficient. They are always coming up with something new.”

Innovation is an essential part of the MenuPalace.com customer service philosophy and the company has come a long way from posting menus online. The MenuPalace.com network of websites takes a qualified user, someone who is actually looking for a restaurant, and gives them the tools to find a French bistro with a private dining room in Toronto’s Yorkville area, for example. The user can also obtain nitty-gritty details — price-point, hours of operation, location — without having to make a phone call; they can even order food for delivery. “We go to technology conferences all over the world and discover new things to bring to our clients. These innovations are often blown out on a global scale, and it’s cool to see how we can focus it to the benefit of local merchants,” Lipovetsky explains.

One of those innovations is a call-tracking system where each client is assigned a unique phone number through their MenuPalace.com listing. When a user dials the number, it’s automatically connected to the restaurant’s regular phone line and the call is recorded. Call tracking allows MenuPalace.com to replay the calls a particular client receives. “When we introduced call tracking about four years ago it was a real breakthrough,” says Lipovetsky. “No one else was doing it, and all  of the sudden our sales people could meet with clients and say: ‘Last week you received 20 phone calls and 15 of those were for reservations.’” Beyond being able to quantify their advertising results, restaurant owners can listen in to make sure employees are friendly and informative when speaking to customers on the phone.

MenuPalace.com isn’t just about restaurants, though. With 9,000-plus clients, in more than 50 cities throughout North America, the listings now include caterers, banquet halls, hotels and nightclubs. The company has also acquired and developed complementary websites, such as TorontoRestaurants.com, CalgaryRestaurants.com and Mississauga Caterers.com. The interconnected domains all fall under the MenuPalace.com umbrella and enable clients to maximize online exposure.

In May 2010, the management team launched DealFind.com, a website promoting one discount daily, available for a limited time (usually 24 hours on weekdays, plus a weekend-long deal). The website features at least two restaurants per week — offering, for example, $50 worth of food for $25 — and participants have the option of investing voucher sales revenues back into a MenuPalace.com campaign. “It’s not free marketing, but it is essentially marketing for the cost of food,” says Lipovetsky. “DealFind brings customers in at a discount but is aimed at bringing them back at full price once they experience the food and the service.” With the integration of DealFind.com the company’s revenue growth is projected to exceed 500 per cent this year.

MenuPalace.com’s clients and their patrons are cottoning on to the deal-a-day site.

“I saw a story on CNN about how this type of website is one of the fastest-growing businesses. I learned that MenuPalace.com was doing it, and I really respect how ahead of the game they are,” says Steve Mills, marketing manager for Brix Napa Valley Grille and Wine Bar in Thornhill, Ont., and Nava Restaurant and Bar in Richmond Hill, Ont. Between the two restaurants, the DealFind.com campaign sold nearly 800 vouchers, and 99 per cent of the customers who have redeemed them spent more than the value of the coupon. Mills looks forward to running another DealFind.com campaign in the future. “Online advertising is the way to go,” he says. “The first thing people do these days when they want to find out about anything is check it out on the Internet.”

Millions of people surf the web every day, and MenuPalace.com certainly uses that fact to its advantage. Soon it will be adding another function, this time benefiting various charities across Canada. When people purchase a DealFind.com coupon, they’ll have an option to donate any amount they like to the charity of their choice. “We’re selling about 1,000 vouchers daily right now. If each person donates even $1, it will translate into huge donations over time,” says Lipovetsky. MenuPalace.com also sponsors numerous events, teams and charities. “We’re involved in the community through golf tournaments and fundraisers. It’s a lot of fun for us,” Tulman adds.

It’s no surprise MenuPalace.com is recognized for its commitment. “The guys at MenuPalace treat us like family. We often communicate with them face-to-face, and that’s refreshing in a culture of emails and text messages. It’s like doing business with friends,” says Mills. Someone get a hammer and a nail and add that to the wall of fame.

photography by john hryniuk

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