Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
We live in a world addicted to quick fixes with little emphasis on long range planning. Restaurateurs easily fall victim to people walking through the door with the next great program that will drive sales. Whether discount coupons or home delivery services, all of these fixes cost you money and reduce your profits. They also train your guests to wait for the next discount, so they can actually decrease the frequency of diners.
With that said, how is a restaurant owner to grow their restaurant business? I am a firm believer that there are better ways to grow sales and to maintain consistent sales growth.
Here are 5 Key Ways to Grow your Restaurant Business:
- Have a Plan. If you own a restaurant you should begin each year with a sales growth plan. Whether you own a coffee shop, a bakery, or a fine dining restaurant, sales growth needs a well thought out plan. Begin by analyzing your sales trends. Are there hours during the day or days of the week that could use more sales? Are some months slower than others?
Once you know where the “holes” are figure out how to fill them with sales. If lunch dies at 1pm, but you are still open till 4pm, seek out larger groups and clubs that need meeting space but want to eat also or work with local businesses to change their lunch break to 1 pm which will ensure their workers are not fighting the crowds. If October is slow because kids are back in school and new seasons have started for everyone’s favorite TV shows, there is probably nothing you can do to drive sales for the entire month. You could, however, create an event called Coming to America that is held the four days leading up to Columbus Day and that showcases American Regional Fare all priced at $14.92. Let your staff dress in costume, make it quirky and turn it into an extra $30k for the month.
Whether the ideas above fit your business is not important. What is important is that you analyze where you have room for growth throughout the year, develop ideas to grow sales in those “holes,” plot it on the calendar, and do the necessary work each month to make it happen.
- Make Every Experience a Memorable One. What makes a dining experience memorable? I believe it is when it is personalized to the individual. And it is usually the simplest gestures that mean the most. Getting the kids meals out quickly and providing children something to keep them occupied is important to families. A simple champagne toast or complimentary dessert makes all the difference to guests that are celebrating something.
As restauranteurs we think like this, but we are not very good at making it a part of our culture. It all comes down to training. Managers must set the example and do things to WOW guests. Creating memorable experiences must be written into your training documents and taught every day of training. Pre-shift meeting should always include celebration of guest focus and exchange of best practice ideas. Oddly enough, the biggest part of creating happy guests is learning to listen. If you engage guests and get them talking, their conversations almost always give you an idea on how to do something special for them. All that is required is the ability to actively listen and empowerment to react.
- Be a Part of Your Community. Guests are loyal to the people who are loyal in return. Find out what is important to your community and be a part of it. Restauranteurs are bombarded daily by people asking for donations for their cause. Most of these cost you money and have little return in sales or goodwill because they are almost always small, one-time fundraisers. Instead take some time to assess the neighborhood and get involved in ways that count. Sometimes it just means providing space for fundraisers, or putting up boxes to collect canned goods, or making a batch of chili for the homeless shelter, or teaching classes on international cuisine for the local elementary school. Choose wisely where you contribute and work to be consistently visible in the community. It will pay off in repeat business and new guests.
- Seek Out Free Press. Free advertising is everywhere, but most people don’t know how to access it. Think like a PR company. Keep a list of media contacts and constantly update it. Create regular press releases and send them out to the list. Do not be afraid of being a nuisance. Most reporters love a constant stream of ideas. One may want to know more about your new fall menu, another may only want to talk about pumpkin cheesecake and no one may care about your new apple cider. It’s like baseball, you just keep swinging until you get a hit. And when you do it’s worth it.
Also leverage your social media. Post regularly to your Facebook and Instagram accounts. Your goal here is not so much to get new followers, but to instead get reposts. Let your loyal fans do the work and give them something to share with others. Be creative and put thought and effort into your posts. Good photography is a necessity!
- Make Your Front Door an Efficient Machine. Until now all of my advice has challenged you to be creative. This time I am going to challenge you to run a good business. Restauranteurs have no idea how much business is lost at the front door because there was no one there, the host wasn’t friendly, or the wait was too long. It makes me angry to see 9 days dedicated to server training and 1 day to host training. It just doesn’t make sense. Hosts need to open the door for guests, invite them inside, answer questions when they see guests reading the menu board outside, encourage people to stay when there is a wait, etc. They need to master the reservation system knowing when they can work in walk in parties, quote waits that are accurate and stay true to their quote and keep seats full at all time. Filling the dining room, building large parties, and seating single diners is a giant puzzle that requires a well-trained individual that can juggle multiple priorities. And most of all a host needs to know that they never leave the door unattended. If they have to leave either a server or a manager needs to stand in for them. An immediate greet that is friendly and welcoming can make an entire dining experience memorable.
There are no quick fixes. Growing sales requires constant evaluation of business trends, creativity, and great planning skills. Usually no one person has all of these skills. Know your people’s strengths and pair them together in the perfect sales building team. Remember one person must always “drive” while everyone else contributes. And don’t fear the costs, driving sales requires an investment of time but it does not have to cost you money.