Posted by Lyndi
Dave Routon is the man behind NWArestaurants.com, a regional search engine for restaurants in our beautiful neck of the woods of Northwest Arkansas.
It was a fateful day in March when I met Dave.
I ordered a Penguin Bill (we’ll talk about that later) and as a “thank you for your business” he included an additional restaurant coupon. Gratis. (I follow him on twitter and I know that I am not the only one he has done this for.) I used that coupon as a giveaway here on the blog. He found out… and then offered to give me as many Penguin Bills as I wanted to use as giveaways! Since March, we have had twelve restaurant giveaways, courtesy of NWArestaurant.com. Is he great, or what?
And so, our friendship began.
I recently sat down with Dave over lunch because I was curious to know more about the story behind NWArestaurants.com.
nwafoodie: When did you launch NWArestaurants.com?
Dave: “About three years ago. It was designed for local hotels to give them a resource for travelers who were new to the area. You know how it is when someone is staying at hotel. They ask the front desk for restaurant recommendations. Many times their customers are asking for something specific. It didn’t start out as a business venture.”
nwafoodie: What did it start out as? Why did you launch NWArestaurants.com?
Dave: “Our main business is printing. It was a way for us to have a good business connection with a hotel and visitors starting with dining information as a frequent touch point. NWArestaurants.com provides area maps for hotel guests with featured restaurants noted on the map. The staff at hotels have a need to serve their guests better with dining solutions as well as printing needs, which I can then provide through Parachuting Penguins, our full-service printing company which is open late and on call 24/7. We do a lot of work with hotel guests for this and other services we provide.
nwafoodie: What do you think makes NWArestaurants.com different than other area food-related search engines?
Dave: “First and foremost, we try to list every restaurant in NWA and do this by actually driving out to each restaurant to get their information. It is current and up-to-date and has all the basic information that you are looking for. Our site not only has menus… it has filter options as well. For instance, if you are looking for a restaurant with a banquet room, or one with WiFi, or one that is unique to Arkansas, you can filter on that. You won’t see reviews. We just want to provide all of the most pertinent information about that restaurant.”
nwafoodie: What does it mean to be a Featured Restaurant?
Dave: “It gives the restaurant an opportunity to tell their story. Whether it is a corporate store or a single restaurant, there are unique aspects based on the market that they are in. All restaurants have hours of operation, average price point, cuisine and service features, and a picture of what the outside of the restaurant looks like. In addition, Featured Restaurants have menus, interior pictures, a map, specials, and if they have had an article in a newspaper or magazine we include that as well. There is also an opportunity for them to provide more specific information under their picture. On the website, Featured Restaurants always have priority by being listed at the top of every search result. Only Featured Restaurants are on our maps and we also add them to special hotel flyers that we distribute for special events and holidays. We provide hotels with electronic restaurant discount coupons for guests rather than the printed ones that you see heaped into drawers and never used. On an average month, our 21 hotel clients hand out about $8,000 of these coupons (based on an average value of $5.31 each) which are only available for Featured Restaurants. Believe it or not, there’s even more that we offer that I don’t have the space to elaborate on.”
Dave: “We have approximately 40 in the program right now. They see this as a positive thing for them.”
nwafoodie: The hottest thing on your site (or least in the facebook/twitter discussion world) are your Penguin Bills. How are you able to offer ~50% off Penguin Bills?
Dave: “Penguin Bills are ongoing, special, hot, and time sensitive restaurant gift certificates that are available for Featured Restaurants. Restaurants don’t pay any money to be in this program.”
nwafoodie: Wait, did you just say that Featured Restaurants get extra exposure… for free?
Dave: “I wouldn’t say it’s free, but there is a definite return on investment that makes a lot of sense. They give us the right to print a specific number of Penguin Bills on their behalf and we are charged with the responsibility of distributing these to help them reach people who are seeking new dining experiences as an example. They rely on us to distribute these in key demographics as much as possible. Penguin Bills are also distributed through many local charities to help with fund raising. The only cost to the restaurant is when the Penguin Bill(s) comes in for redemption. There are no other costs associated with the program but a lot more benefits than just Penguin Bills.”
nwafoodie: How does the “Bargain Zone” work on NWArestaurants.com?
Dave: “For example, Fred’s Hickory Inn may have a $25 Penguin Bill that only costs $12.50 on our Bargain Zone. You buy the Penguin Bill online with your credit card and then pick it up at Parachuting Penguins’ office. Fred’s will then honor that Penguin Bill for the full $25 value. We also sell groups of Penguin Bills call “Bargain Bundles”. We send consumers to their restaurant because they just received a great deal and hopefully they will have a great experience and want to return without the Penguin Bill next time. Featured Restaurants do not sign contracts and can leave the program anytime they want. We feel that if it isn’t a win/win arrangement that they should be able to opt out without a hassle, but it rarely happens.”
nwafoodie: How do you find restaurants that want to participate in the Featured program?
Dave: “Sometimes we’re contacted and other times we reach out to restaurants to listen to what we do. The best way is through a referral from someone who actually knows what we do or presently uses us and knows the decision maker at a restaurant. There have been a lot of people over the years who have tried to launch websites, restaurant magazines and coupon books who have not had a very good product which is evidenced by the fact that none of them survive. Our concept is very unique and to the best of my knowledge not being done anywhere else so it takes an open mind to listen to us rather than lump us into those other categories. In fact, if any of your readers are able to set up an appointment with a person at an area restaurant in Benton or Washington counties, who is a decision maker at that restaurant… I will give them $50 in Penguin Bills and donate $50 in cash to their favorite school or charity! And that is regardless if the answer from the restaurant is a yes or no to join our program. We sincerely believe in our service and I appreciate the opportunity to share the whole concept with them so they can visualize it. Your readers can call me at 479-845-0808 or email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org).
nwafoodie: Why are they called “Penguin Bills?”
Dave: “It is a play on words. Instead of saying “bucks,” like you often see on gift certificates, we have “bills” because Penguins have bills! All of our products have penguins: Parachuting Penguins, NWAmovies.com, NWAdogparks.com, and NWAhotels.com. Besides, who doesn’t love penguins?”
nwafoodie: What are your hopes and dreams for the future of NWArestaurants.com?
Dave: “I would like it to be a household name in Northwest Arkansas as a valuable resource for consumers and restaurants alike. We will have raised about $,5000 this year for charities and schools and we can do a lot more with additional restaurants on board. The more restaurants we are working with, the more consumers will gravitate to our site. Everything that we do has a win/win approach because we feel it’s the only way to do business.
nwafoodie: Tell me something about Dave Routon… is it true that you only eat at restaurants that are featured on NWArestaurants.com?
Dave: “ABSOLUTELY! And it’s not just me, everyone on our team as well! We are very appreciate for everything our restaurant partners do and feel our loyal patronage is a must.”
nwafoodie: You’re a neat guy, Dave. Thank you so much for your time today. Since the beginning I have been struck by your passion and I cannot thank you enough for providing Penguin Bills as giveaways here on nwafoodie.com. When can we get that started up again?!!!
Dave: “Lyndi, we appreciate all of your efforts as well and want to work more with you to bring gluten free options to as many people as possible. You are one of the brightest and most upbeat people I have met in NWA and it has been my pleasure to work with you and your blog thus far. Much more work to be done right? I’m ready when you are!”