Amid some confusion about the restaurant economy—is there a recovery going on, or have consumers changed their dining-out habits for the duration?—it helps to have a strategy for building sales.
While the overall outlook is indeed improving and people are returning to restaurants, recent data from Harris indicates that they’re not spending any more and that in fact, average checks are decreasing slightly as guests continue to seek value-priced options.
What can operators do to help counter this, short of the tenuous path of raising prices? Here are a few ideas to consider.
- Offer cooking classes, wine tastings and other events during gaps in service. Not only can you charge for these events, but you can also partner with other local businesses, like wine distributors, to help defray costs. Classes also have become increasingly popular for participatory parties, such as bridal showers, which helps get the word out to other potential customers.
- Ramp up your social media efforts. Savvy chains and independents have enjoyed great success via internet-abetted vehicles like Facebook and Twitter, promoting everything from contests and sweepstakes to coupons, news of IPOs, and specials.
- There’s also a growing trend toward online ordering apps, with some 50% of consumers now using a mobile device for shopping, according to Arc Worldwide.
- Speaking of coupons, be cautious about services such as Groupon. Like discounting, it needs to be carefully managed so as not to cut into profits, annoy potential customers or watch the service otherwise backfire.
- Take advantage of texting. This efficient, relatively inexpensive tool can be used to manage waits, coordinate scheduling and other communications with employees, and reach out to regulars—for instance, to remind them to consider celebrating their upcoming anniversary with you (remember that database you’ve building?) or alert them when their favorite soup is about to offered.
- Invest all of your employees in the process of building sales. A good consumer experience is one of the surest routes to repeat business, positive word-of-mouth and overall good karma. Share your concerns, expectations and plans with key employees, and help them provide better service with tools such as training, empowerment, support.
- Engage in socially responsible business practices. Whether it’s buying locally produced or Fair Trade goods, recycling, extracting maximizing energy savings, contributing to relief or providing health insurance to employees, you want to get the word out about, since surveys repeatedly show that consumers are becoming increasingly supportive of such efforts. You don’t have to go all green to reap the benefits of “doing the right thing.
- Add a retail component to your business. No, we don’t mean price tags on your paintings—although promoting local artists can be a very good idea—but seeking out sales opportunities wherever you can. Moe’s Southwest Grill, for instance, recently entered into a deal to sell branded products at BJ’s. A smaller restaurant can sell baked goods or homemade pizza dough.
- Need capital? Take a page from CSAs and sell “shares.” Community Supported Agriculture Groups raise upfront cash and promote their existence by preselling shares in future crops—for every $100 a customer gives them, for instance, $110 worth of produce is delivered. We’ve heard of independent restaurants getting money for efforts like remodeling and advertising by selling x-dollars’ worth of dining scrip for a discounted price up front. Offering such a deal to a regular customer such as a local business that orders a lot of lunch takeout or does a lot of entertaining at your place can be a particularly smart idea.
- Repurpose your assets. Got a commissary truck that can be used for catering, a parking lot that can be “leased” to a crafts show or farmers’ market on an off-day? Exchange meals for services like local PR representation, in the age-old system known as bartering. Be creative.
Synergy can help you find ways to make your business more profitable. Call us today for a free consultation.