Tired and hungry, a traveler collapses on a hotel bed wondering where in town he can find something to eat. On the nightstand next to his bed, a table tent printed with a pizza delivery ad catches his eye.
He makes a quick call, orders a pizza, and minutes later it's delivered to his door.
Marketing to such a captive audience, says Bret Witte, director of marketing for the Florence, Ky.-based Snappy Tomato Pizza, is relatively cheap, highly focused and can produce a steady -- albeit non-traditional revenue stream -- for pizzeria operators. Many of the 46-store company's franchisees market their pizza that way.
"It is a great way to introduce travelers to something new that they have never experienced before," said Witte.
Verl Wilder, manager of a Marriott Courtyard in downtown Louisville, Ky., agrees. His hotel has a delivery and advertising agreement with locally owned Bearno's Pizza.
"If I had Pizza Hut or Domino's or Papa John's (advertising) in the room, I don't think they'd be seeing nearly the volume that Bearno's is seeing," Wilder said. "My guests tend not to want the everyday thing that they could get at home. They want something different. And Bearno's is certainly something different."
As owner of Clay Publishing in Muskogee, Okla., Don Clay has built a large portion of his business on printing in-room advertisements for pizzeria operators. A business traveler himself, Clay's spent many a night faced with limited dining options.
"What better target could you get than somebody who has no food, no cooking facilities and checked-in in the evening?" said Clay. His company has contracts with more than 500 hotels and 300 pizzeria operators, including franchisees of Papa John's, Domino's and Pizza Hut.
Clay works between his restaurant and hotel clients; restaurants pay him a flat fee to print their ad on a TV channel card, and he makes certain the cards are in every room.
Though Clay did not disclose the cost of his service, he said, "We will guarantee a pizza place that it will cost them no more than 25 cents per delivery as far as advertising costs. So if you're delivering $12.50 worth of pizza, and your advertising to deliver that would just be $.25, you can't be hurting too bad."
"There are different things that different people like. Whether it's providing them pizza once a week, feeding the staff or feeding the desk clerk however many times a month, that keeps everyone happy."
Though statistics on how well in-room advertising works are hard to come by, Clay pointed to his increased business as proof it works.
"I've increased from 48 percent to 58 percent every year," said Clay who's been selling in-room foodservice advertising for 32 years.
Snappy Tomato contracts with the hotels itself. Witte says past experience has made him and others leery of working with what he calls the "traveling salesman" from publishing companies. The chain contracts with a printer to produce pre-printed shells that allow each store operator to add his own site-specific information. Each full-color table tent costs 30 to 35 cents.
"I find it much more comforting for both the hotel and the restaurant owner when we go make these contacts with the hotel management face to face," Witte said.
Snappy's franchisees, according to Witte, have found it wise to prime the onsite promotional pump with an occasional free pizza for hotel employees.
"There are different things that different people like," Witte said. "Whether it's providing them pizza once a week, feeding the staff or feeding the desk clerk however many times a month, that keeps everyone happy."
He added that the real key is making sure the staff keeps the table tents in every room for hotel guests to see.
"You wouldn't believe the amount of people that either throw them away or walk home with them," Witte added. "I don't know what they do with them, but (the ads) need to be replenished a lot. It's the job of the (cleaning staff) to make sure those things are ... in each room. If we keep those people happy by giving them a free lunch, then they're going to take care of us."
Plying hotel staffers with free pizzas isn't the only means of getting results, said Witte. Many contracts mandate a 10 percent commission on pizzas delivered to be paid to the hotel. According to Marriott's Wilder, that's the deal it has with Bearno's, which makes an average $2,100 worth of deliveries to the hotel each month.
"It was a no-brainer for me when we first opened, knowing we weren't going to have lunch or dinner," Wilder said. "Bearno's is literally across the street. Their delivery people don't even need to get into their vehicle. They just run it over."
According to the agreement, Bearno's menu is listed in the hotel's guest directory. When guests order a pie, they can charge the cost to their room bill or pay for it on the spot. Bearno's then bills the hotel monthly.
"Since I've approached them, Bearno's has seen a success that has been generated not only for them, but for us," Wilder said. "They have approached other hotels and now Bearno's, I know, is doing it with other places."
Marriott also has a delivery contract with another nearby restaurant which competes with Bearno's, and Snappy Tomato's Witte said his chain faces similar challenges. Both, however, take the big-picture view and focus on the incremental sales gains.
"It's not the best scenario," Witte said. "but a lot of times, it's better than none."