If you work in the foodservice industry, you know that the competition can be cutthroat. With lots of competition and rapidly changing trends, it can be tough to keep your business at the forefront of customers’ minds. One major factor to consider is the balance between acquiring new customers vs. retaining existing customers. Then there are the questions of: What do you do with those customers once they’ve come through the door? And how can you get them to spend more without making them feel pressured?
Let’s explore some techniques you can use to attract new customers, keep regulars coming back, and, once you have a great customer base, maintain a steady cash flow.
Eight Ways to Increase Your Restaurant Sales:
Whether you have a brand new business or you’ve been around for years, there are three main ways of achieving success: getting new people through the door, getting those people to come back, and making the most of the time they spend in your establishment. Hitting all three of these points can be easier said than done, but with the right approach, it’s absolutely possible. As with any goal, the easiest way to reach it is to map out your path and break out each step into actionable pieces. So, for increasing restaurant sales, we’ve identified six distinct plans to try:
1. Attract New Customers to Your Restaurant
2. Use Customer Retention Strategies to Increase Loyalty
3. Offer Customers Different Ways to Buy
4. Train Your Servers to Upsell
5. Maximize Your Table Turnover Rate
6. Enhance Your Mobile Image
1. Attract New Customers to Your Restaurant
You probably know the importance of first impressions. A regular customer is more likely to forgive a sub-par experience than a brand new customer. But, even more, common than a bad restaurant experience is a forgettable one. Making just a little extra effort to give your guests a great first experience goes a long way towards turning them into loyal customers. Take steps to stay in touch and create a personal connection with them.
Three Ways to Attract New Customers to Your Restaurant
You know that reaching new customers is important, but now the question is how to reach them. Below are a few common techniques you can use:
1. Participate in your city’s restaurant week. Restaurant week got its start in New York as a way to celebrate restaurants in the area. While every city has its own take on this tradition, the basic idea is that the city chooses one week out of the year to showcase their restaurants, and local restaurant owners can choose if they’d like to participate. Participating restaurants promote special discounted offers that are valid throughout the week. This is a great way to reach new customers because offering discounts to encourage people to try your food.
If you want to learn more about how to get involved in this type of event, check out our blog on restaurant week.
2. Use marketing techniques to attract new customers. Of course, there are many traditional marketing tactics you can turn to, but ad placements can cost a lot of money. Having a strong social media presence, however, costs nothing but your time. If you want to put some money towards paid social media advertising, it can be an affordable alternative to purchasing ads in newspapers. You can even encourage customers to write reviews of their experience dining with you.
Find more techniques for reaching new customers in our article on social media marketing for restaurants.
3. Develop a first-time customer program. This usually involves giving away coupons that encourage customers to come back. Alternatively, you can give your new customers a free appetizer, dessert, or beverage with the purchase of an entree. This is a great way of showing your customers how much you appreciate their business, and it can help set your business apart from the competition.
Keep those customers coming back with the techniques explored in our blog about starting a first-time customer program.
2. Use Customer Retention Strategies to Increase Customer Loyalty
If you’ve ever been a “regular” at a local bar, cafe, or restaurant, you know how good it feels when the servers all know your name and ask about your family. Going out to eat is about more than just the food. It’s a social experience, too, and it’s one that requires good service, a personal touch, and maybe even some perks to encourage loyalty to your business.
You may wonder about the cost of attracting new customers vs. retaining loyal ones. While it may seem important to constantly reach new customers, keeping your loyal customers happy is proven to be more cost effective than attracting first-time guests. There are a few factors that play into this, but a big one is advertising. A billboard, for example, is a huge expense. While it’s true that a billboard will expose your brand to hundreds or thousands of new people, only a small number of them may visit your business.
In many cases, you can think of your loyal customers as free advertising. Word of mouth is one of the best ways any business will gain traction. People generally don’t trust paid ads, but they do trust their friend’s recommendation of a favorite place to eat. This means that your loyal customers are invaluable to the success of your business, and they should be treated as such.
Three Ways to Retain Customers
There are a few techniques many successful restaurants use to keep their best customers coming back time and time again:
1. Develop a customer loyalty program. There are a lot of ways you can set up your loyalty program, but one of the most common is to create a membership card that tracks each time a customer visits your restaurant, so they can work towards earning a free item of your choosing. Offering free drinks and desserts is often a good choice because they’re less expensive than an entree, but they will still make your guests feel appreciated. You can set up a card that tracks points in your POS system or a punch card that gets a new hole each time the customer visits.
Learn the ins-and-outs of loyalty programs in our loyalty program article.
2. Get involved in the local community. Hosting a charity event for a cause you care about is a great way to give back to the community and customers will notice the extra effort. For example, choose a day where you donate 10% of your profits to a charity. You can advertise the event in advance so that customers will know to dine in your restaurant that day if they’d like to contribute to the cause. Hosting cooking classes, beer tastings, or anything that educates customers about your product is another great way to help the local community feel invested in your brand.
3. Organize events. Something as simple as offering a space for community events, like company parties, can go a long way towards building a relationship with the community. Hosting weekly trivia encourages customers to come out to your bar on a weeknight. Booking live music is another great way to get customers to visit your business more regularly. Overall, organizing games or music helps people feel relaxed in your establishment and encourages them to stay longer and purchase more from your menu.
3. Offer Customers Different Ways to Buy
Many prospective customers may not have time to wait for a table or to even sit down for dinner at all. This is where devising different ways that guests can order your food can be a big help in their hectic lives and make more profits for you. A few techniques include:
- Add a separate take-out menu to your restaurant. By adding a take-out menu to your restaurant, you can continually make sales even if your dining room is filled to capacity.
- Implement delivery services. If reliable delivery is feasible for your business, you’ll give customers the convenience of not having to leave their homes to enjoy your food.
- Offer meals at different times of the day. If you operate a lunch establishment but notice a lot of foot traffic outside of your business during the morning rush hour, then consider selling quick breakfast items.
- Keep up with technology. From ordering online to reserving a table via an app, customers like to see that their favorite restaurants are advancing with technology. Filling out an online form is often easier than making a phone call for some customers, and many people may prefer to dine somewhere that offers online services such as these.
4. Train Your Servers on Upselling Techniques
A skilled server will be able to increase your restaurant’s sales with simple conversation. Effective upselling ultimately leaves the customer in control of their decision and doesn’t make them feel pressured to buy more. Rather, it will plant the seed that tempts them into ordering more than they may have originally intended. When it comes to teaching your staff these techniques, there are three main upselling tips to keep in mind:
1. Describe a menu item. The first opportunity to upsell comes shortly after guests are seated. Before drink orders are taken, encourage your servers to describe their favorite specialty drinks on the menu. Pointing out creative cocktails may entice a customer enough to try one, even if they had originally thought of having just water.
2. Assume your guests will want an entree. You can use the same technique as you did with the drinks. Servers can simply start describing items on the menu as a way to help customers think about trying one of those options. Another popular opportunity for upselling is to ask customers if they’d like to include an extra side with their meal. But if you charge extra for that side, be sure to mention it, so your guests aren’t confused when they get the bill.
3. Suggest more things to try. When everyone is finished with their entree, suggest that they try a dessert or after-dinner drinks. Again, naming off a few dessert options may tempt your customers to try one.
There’s even more opportunity to upsell if your server is speaking with a first-time customer because they will be eager to learn about your menu items. They’re also more likely to be interested in trying the server’s suggestions that a patron who has dined at your establishment many times.
Find the advice you need to skillfully increase your sales by reading our blog on how to upsell in your restaurant.
5. Maximize Your Table Turnover Rate
The more food you sell, the more money you make, and the obvious way to sell more food is to serve more people. This is where table turnover comes into play. While you can’t control how long guests take to eat their meal, there are a few tricks that can increase the efficiency of your service. Here are a few things to try:
1. Have an organized seating system. Things like hostess stands and reservations are pretty common seating systems restaurants use to know how many guests to expect and manage the flow of guests coming through the door.
2. Keep your serving staff on schedule. Make sure that your restaurant has enough employees to cover all the guests in your dining room and train your staff take drink orders in a timely manner and bring out the check promptly at the end of the meal.
3. Use technology to your advantage. Some restaurants will use mobile POS systems to eliminate the need for servers to walk back and forth to the register to process credit cards.
4. Update your dining room. Some dining rooms are simply set up in such a way to make people want to linger. There are a few tricks your business can use when arranging your furniture that can encourage patrons to move along. Additionally, seating small parties at smaller tables can help ensure that you have ample space when larger parties arrive.
5. Make your menu more compact. Limiting the number of items on your menu simplifies everything from the number of time customers spend deciding on their meal to the amount of time your chef will take to prepare each dish.
If slow turnaround is an issue at your restaurant, try out a few different techniques to see if there’s a way you can improve the pace of your dining room.
Master the art of flipping tables with additional insight from our article on maximizing table turnover.
6. Enhance Your Mobile Presence
It’s no secret that more and more people access the web primarily on their mobile devices. No matter how much time you put into your business’s website, if it’s not optimized for phones and tablets, the majority of your customers will bounce right off the page. Make sure you’re making technology work to your advantage by investing in a website that looks great and functions properly on tablets, phones, and desktops alike.
Similarly, try setting up social media accounts for your business and maintain an active online presence. If you don’t have time to monitor messages coming through your social networks, put one of your managers in charge of replying to inquiries.
Another great thing about having a professional social media account is that you can make announcements for any events you may be hosting. You can use it to alert customers if your business is closed unexpectedly for a power outage or other unforeseen reason. Of course, it’s also a perfect way to connect with your community and humanize your brand. Overall, you can use social media as a tool to accomplish many of the customer retention strategies mentioned above.
7. STAY ON TOP OF THE TECHNOLOGY.
It makes a difference. Research from the National Restaurant Association indicates that technology, including online ordering, is playing a larger role in how restaurants attract more customers: 36% of customers say they are more likely to use technology options in restaurants than they were two years ago. 8 in 10 consumers agree that restaurant technology enhances convenience. 7 in 10 say it speeds up service and increases order accuracy. Another third also say that technology options compel them to choose one restaurant over another. About one-third also say that technology options cause them to order takeout and delivery more often. And interestingly enough, 45% say that technology makes interacting with restaurants more fun.
The bottom line: we are in a digital world and your customers are attached to their devices. Use these channels to keep your restaurant top-of-mind, so that you emerge as the best option for their dining experience time and time again.
8. SOCIAL MEDIA HOT BUTTONS.
A recent survey of more than 1,200 consumers revealed their choices on where to dine or order takeout/delivery. 1) 83% said that treating employees well is important. Highlight your employee-of-the-month on social media. Did someone get a promotion, graduate from college, or do something great for a customer? Talk it up. 3) 73% indicated that the support of their local community influences them. When you support a local event or sports team, take some photos and post them online. That stuff makes a difference. 3) When talking about your menu, remember the keywords that people like to read: “fresh”, “locally-sourced”, “whole grain”, and anything “all-natural” are great for getting folks in the front door.
An important part of running any successful business is assessing and reassessing the way things are running. Restaurant owners are constantly thinking of ways to improve processes and increase efficiency. When it comes to finding ways of increasing sales in your restaurant, there are many factors to take into account. The good news is that many of the basic principles remain the same across all types of dining establishments, so if you follow the basic checklist of attracting new customers while thinking of ways to retain customers and fill in those basic steps with practical business techniques, you’ll be on the road to success in no time.