Every week for the past year or so I’ve read the dismal news of restaurant closings across the country. It doesn’t appear that hardship was partial as the closings run the gamut from small cafes to large fine dining establishments, from small towns to large cities, and in both blue and red states.
The bottom line is that it’s becoming more and more difficult to successfully operate a restaurant today. Yet, many restaurant operators hang on, and for a multitude of reasons. I’m certainly not going to debate a person’s reasons, especially emotional reasons driven by passion, commitment and pride.
Instead, I’d like to focus on ways to make things better, to whatever extent that may be possible. I am of the mindset for these operators that failure is not an option. So, let’s give it the old college try to help. Well, it’s more than a college try as there are effective strategies being implemented by quite a few restaurant operators across the country.
With restaurants surviving, and with some actually thriving, there is hope. However, standing still, and continuing to do the same things over and over again, day after day with the same results is absolutely insane. There’s even a famous quote, albeit mistakenly giving credit to Albert Einstein for saying it, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Nevertheless, it is a true statement!
Last week I revisited a strategy that helped a number of restaurant clients as lockdowns had been mandated. If you missed the article, Revisiting the ‘New Normal’ for Restaurants, you can read it HERE. As I wrapped up the article, I indicated I would soon be sharing my recommendations for driving business and repeat business to restaurants (as well as any consumer-facing business). Well, today is that day!
Please note: At the end of this article, I will share links to my recent series, Preparing for War: You vs. Recession that provides supporting details to some of the tips listed below. I highly recommend reviewing the same for full understanding.
6 Ways to Drive Restaurant Sales and Repeat Sales in Bad Times (and in Good Times)
First things first. The ultimate goal must be on striving to deliver positively memorable experiences, at all times, and to customers and employees alike. As the restaurant operator, owner, or whatever the title, the commitment must start with that person. Positivity, regardless of what is happening that particular day is paramount to the delivery of positively memorable experiences. It must be a proactive approach and one that is contagious.
- Utilize loyalty programs to keep your brand in front of customers. Loyalty programs should not be looked at as just for the purpose of promoting specials and celebrating birthdays & anniversaries. Complement typical efforts with frequent messages showcasing a new menu item created by an employee or as suggested by a customer, recognizing long-term employees as well as long-time customers, and even spotlighting vendors and their efforts. As much as possible, make it personal. Use names. Make it real. Think… Loyalty & Family. Create a family-type environment to develop family-type relationships!
- Look at social media as the integrated platform that it is. View it as communication central. All efforts pertaining to driving positively memorable experiences should be shared across the brand’s social media platforms. Yet, not just replicated from one to another. Similar messages, but not exactly the same is key. Use a different photo with the same message. Utilize photos AND videos to allow customers a glimpse into the restaurant, front of the house and back. In addition to plates of food, let them see smiles, cleanliness and organization. Pay attention to detail as social media is highly representative of the brand in customers’ minds.
- Speaking of attention to detail, it’s also imperative in the restaurant itself. Think Disney or Apple. Some may question how attention to detail would drive business. Well, it drives repeat business, positive reviews, recommendations to friends & family, etc. Be proactive in creating attention to detail as an initiative to be looked at from the customer’s perspective including ALL things that may be viewed by the customer. From the parking lot to the restroom, look up and down as if on a virtual tour. Make sure everything is perfect just as would be the case if family were coming to your home for a special dinner or event.
- Many believe communicating with customers means talking to customers, blasting out messages, etc. but it’s also about listening. However, listening to understand as opposed to listening to speak is key. Following up AND following through with customers should be considered as a single step with parts A and B necessary to complete the action. One without the other could create issues. Ensure that customers truly believe they are being listened to and are being understood. The best way to do so is to be proactive in responses not only to their complaints and requests, but also to their kind words.
- Communicating after an experience may be the icing on the cake to making a customer feel loved, to feel wanted. Using a simple version of the Net Promoter System (see articles linked below) is a great way to do so. To whatever extent that may work in a particular restaurant, asking a customer to grade their experience is quite effective in ensuring repeat business, or at the very least in keeping negatives off the review sites. Sure, there are customer surveys that come along with the check but personally, I believe they’re too long and vague. Simply, two questions should be asked. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being best, how would you rate your experience? And what could we have done to have earned a higher score, even if just by a single point? Asking these questions as close to the timing of the experience does wonders to letting a customer knows that they are truly valued. Share the results with staff for added value to the business. A side thought: ask employees the same questions of them with respect to their experience working at the restaurant?
- Just one more. I’m a firm believer in, just one more. Just one more item ordered. Just one more visit by a customer each week, month, etc. Just one more positive review. Just one more referral or recommendation. Just one more time to consider the restaurant. When enhancing the experience with a personal touch, just one more becomes a reality. People trust a brand but desire to do business with people. They especially want to do business with people who care, who are kind, who listen, and who go the extra mile.
If I had listed various advertising and marketing suggestions with significant expense, I would be hearing that they’re unaffordable during tough times. However, although the above is tied to labor, which is an expense, they are affordable and especially as sales increase. I think an important question to ask (and answer) is more about the commitment to follow through.
Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!
Links to the articles from the Preparing for War: You vs. Recession series:
Preparing for War: You vs. Recession
Recession Prep Question: Are you planning to win, or are you planning not to lose?
Recession Prep Question: How important is the WOW factor?
Recession Prep Question: Is the employee experience a factor in the customer experience?
Recession Prep Question: How important is the right culture to business survival?
Recession Prep Question: Should the ‘Experience Factor’ be treated like a line item?
Recession Prep Question: Do you have an unbeatable strategy of loving customers… and employees?
Recapping the Series: “Preparing for War: You vs. Recession”
Recession Prep Question: How will your mental health hold up during challenging times?
Assistance & Resources
The future may be a bit bumpy for some, more so for others. Knowing who to turn to and when to turn to for guidance and help is important. Having resources at your disposal is also important. So, if you hit a wall, for whatever reason, please feel free to reach out to me for assistance or even if you just need someone to talk to. Please do not hesitate. You can reach me via a LinkedIn message, by email to Paul@Acceler8Success.com, and by phone or text at (832) 797-9851. Learn more about Acceler8Success Group at Acceler8Success.com.
Bring the Series to Your Organization
If you’re interested in having this series presented to your organization, either as a webinar, workshop or conference break-out session, please click HERE for more information. The program can be tailored to your business model, product, service offering and industry segment. It has been resonating quite well with franchise and restaurant brands.
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