Anyone who works in the restaurant business already knows it’s a tough industry.
According to an oft-cited Ohio State University study, nearly 60 percent of new restaurants will fail within their first three years. 80 percent will close within five years. Those are daunting statistics. So, how do successful restaurants manage to overcome the odds?
What if there was a formula restaurant owners could follow toward success? The answer isn’t quite that simple, but there are still best practices for growth that can be arranged into a blueprint of sorts for your restaurant to follow.
According to the National Restaurant Association, U.S. restaurant sales hit $799 billion in 2017, and restaurant workers made up 10 percent of the total workforce in the U.S. that same year.
Restaurants are a huge, growing industry.
Here’s how to make sure your restaurant is keeping up with those trends.
Make your business attractive to new customers
It may seem like a no-brainer, but one key to continued growth is to regularly bring in new customers.
There are a lot of good strategies for attracting first-time customers to your business. WebstaurantStore outlines a few good ideas, from developing a new customer program to keenly employing marketing strategies to get new diners in the door.
A first-time customer program is a great tool restaurants can use to entice new customers to give them a try. Offering first-time customers a free appetizer, dessert or beverage with the purchase of an entree is a great incentive to get them to try out your food. Alternatively, offer them a coupon off a future visit to encourage them to become repeat customers.
Another smart move for restaurants seeking new customers is participating in your city’s Restaurant Week. The trend began in New York and has spread nationwide, encouraging diners to appreciate restaurant options in their towns. In Toronto for example, Winterlicious and Summerlicious are two of the city’s most popular culinary celebrations. In Chicago, customers brave the winter season (it’s held in late January) to indulge in a wide variety of tasty dishes as Restaurant Week rolls into its 12th year.
Typically, participating restaurants offer a special deal or discount during the week, and in return, receive free promotion aimed at diners who are participating in Restaurant Week. This won’t be an option for every restaurant, though, especially those in smaller or more rural towns that don’t have a Restaurant Week.
Another thing restaurants should be doing to reach new potential business is using smart marketing techniques. Invest more into channels that have proven to be successful for others in the industry. A proven marketing channel would be paid social posts, as they guarantee eyes on high-quality photos of your menu offerings.
Other channels could include targeted emails, mobile apps, active social media profiles and detailed websites offering necessary information like directions, hours and menus will all make your restaurant more appealing to new customers.
Bring existing customer back, over and over again
In addition to bringing in new customers, you want to get repeat visits out of your existing customers to further supercharge your growth.
Once you gain new customers, keep them coming back by engaging them both in and outside of your restaurant. Providing great customer service, delicious food, good value and a nice atmosphere is just the beginning. You should also be engaging your customers when they’re not within your walls. Respond to all customer feedback. Thank customers for positive reviews. Quickly address their concerns. In all industries, customers expect great service and experience, and restaurants are no exception. By going the extra mile to please your customers, you’ll find them to be loyal repeat visitors.
Another way to engage with customers is to get involved in your community or host events. Restaurant Week is only one of the ways you can leverage community involvement to get more diners in your door. Some other ideas? Host a charity event, like committing to donate 10 percent of your profits on a specific day to a local charity organization. Promote the event in advance so diners can plan on spending their money for a good cause by stopping by your restaurant that day.
Simpler events, like cooking classes, beer or wine tastings and trivia nights can keep customers coming back. And hosting events like corporate parties or live music nights will help you build relationships with your local community and encourage community-minded customers to keep coming back.
Offering takeout, or even delivery is a great way to appeal to repeat customers. Many people work hectic schedules that don’t allow them to sit down for lunch, making takeout a great option for keeping the lunch hour busy without taking up extra tables. And delivery is one of the strongest emerging trends in the restaurant industry this year. Customers want more convenience, and offering that will keep them coming back.
Raise the floor
The next step on the road to huge restaurant growth is to get your customers spending more money whenever they visit your establishment.
Now that the seats are filled (with both new and loyal, returning customers), turn your attention to finding creative ways to increase your average check size.
One great way to do this is to entice guests with appetizers, drinks and desserts. It’s probably safe to assume that most customers who come to your restaurant plan on getting entrees. So instead of trying to sell them on main courses, offer specials or recommendations on extras that they may not have otherwise tried.
Adding just one extra item to each check will translate to a pretty significant boost in sales.
Another easy way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your profit margins is to do a frequent analysis of your menu. If you’re offering dishes that don’t sell well, drop them — you’re just losing money by keeping ingredients on hand for an item that guests don’t order. Replace them with new items that you think will be more popular. And rotate in fresh, seasonal offerings, giving guests reasons to return to try something new.
Keep things moving
The last step in the restaurant growth blueprint is to examine the efficiency of your establishment. Consider whether checks are being presented and collected at all your tables in a timely manner, even — and especially — when the restaurant is busy. Consider whether tables are being bussed and reset as soon as they're available, minimizing the turnover time before you can get more guests seated and placing orders.
Keeping your restaurant efficient, running like a well-oiled machine, is the last step to getting the growth you’re looking for. And there are several changes you can make to increase efficiency, if needed.
Make sure you have the right mix of table sizes to be able to handle the average sizes of parties that stop by, especially during rushes. Be sure to have enough POS systems in place to handle your capacity, or consider adding a quick-service station or line to expedite service for guests who are in a rush. Schedule your serving staff so you have plenty of hands on deck during busy times, and fewer people to pay when service is slow. And consider keeping your menu compact, as having fewer options will encourage diners to order quickly, decreasing table turnover times.
As your restaurant grows and evolves, so should your supply chain management.
ChefHero is an online mobile and web application that allows businesses to order wholesale restaurant supplies from a network of dedicated regional suppliers.
It keeps your supply chain local, efficient, and cost-effective, and makes ordering food and supplies into a one-stop shop with easy, stress-free ordering that can be done from your computer or phone.