How do I make my restaurant more profitable? Why my restaurant is not busy? How can I boost sales without discounting? Here I will reveal how to increase restaurant sales fast and attract new customers.
I’ve worked in the restaurant industry since washing dishes after school in a nearby coffee shop. I had some hard taskmasters, even then. Someone was always criticizing something I did or didn’t do and meanwhile the pots and pans just kept piling up.
After taking a major in the food and travel industry, I finally landed what I thought was a real plum: the opportunity to manage one of a large chain of upscale restaurants. People who do well with this company tend to move on to regional managers and with that come a lot of perks, money being one of them.
I confidently expected to increase restaurant sales overnight with me strutting around and cracking the whip. Unfortunately, after a couple of months, sales remained the same, namely flat. The company had questions.
I realized I wasn’t as clever as I thought I was so I got busy and began doing some real research and corresponded with as many other managers around the globe as possible. Today, the restaurant I manage actually has doubled sales and is now in the top five with this large chain.
I thought I’d point out some of the steps I’ve taken to improve restaurant sales and achieve that position in the hope that you too can not only increase sales but offer better quality, better service and overall, a better experience for guests so they’ll come back.
When I began communicating with other managers around the world, I had one major question: Why despite food I could proudly offer, the good service I insisted on and clean pleasant surrounding conditions, wasn’t business booming? The economy had improved. I’d drive by other restaurants and many appeared to be very busy. What was I doing wrong?
Well, turns out the question may be simple, but the answer isn’t so easy. One of the things that finally soaked in was that too many owners and managers are looking at the problem from the wrong perspective.
For a time I thought my restaurant wasn’t busy because passersby were clueless or simply didn’t give a damn about quality and are only looking for a cheaper place to grab a bite. But final I realized a truism: I was trying to catch with the wrong bait.
Today, more than ever before, restaurant competition has increased to the point where it is actually saturated in some areas. In California, where I’m currently working, it seems there is a Taquería on every street corner, a more upscale Mexican restaurant on every other corner, a third corner will be occupied by Chinese restaurants next door to Vietnamese Pho (pronounced fuh, Rice Noodle houses) and every leftover space is taken by a pizza parlor. I haven’t even mentioned the many dinner houses that feature steaks and other more expensive products.
How can my restaurant compete with all that and thrive? Well, as I said, I decided to focus on using the right bait.
In just the past few years consumers appear to have become more information conscious. They are better informed and they frequently check review sites such as Yelp where people can voice their opinions about just about any business.
So how can I improve sales in my restaurant? I’ve learned to look at each customer not as a thinker, trying to read his or her mind. Rather, I’ve begun to look at potential guests through their emotions. What do they want? What do they like? What would it take to lure them away from the restaurant down the street and have them become a fixture in my restaurant?
Here are 3 steps I’ve learned to incorporate into my management style. These are tried and true steps that certainly work for me and have helped me a great deal to increase sales as well as customer satisfaction.
The 3 steps to increase sales in a restaurant
There are many promotion strategies you can use, and many ways managers can look to increase their restaurant profits, but there really are only 3 steps for a restaurant to increase sales.
1. Offer consumers an experience
I already knew ambiance is very important, but taking that a step further, I began looking at not just offering good food to hungry diners, but it came to me that guests want more: they want an experience. It takes more than a plate of warm food to satisfy many a consumer. Atmosphere, ambiance, perhaps colorful servers.
A small but very good Mexican Taquería not only has murals depicting Mexican lifebut typical Mexican-style leather and raffia chairs. Mexican music plays softly in the background and on weekends a couple of young musicians play their guitars and sing. Still, this casual Mexican eatery is no more expensive than others in the area. What it does, however, is stay in one’s memory. They remember I like my Negra Modelo Ale in a glass rather than drinking from the bottle as many do, and always give me a cold mug to accompany my lunch when I go in, even if it’s been a month or more since my last visit.
Another coffee shop I’ve seen has, on an irregular schedule, a magician who wanders about delighting children with magic tricks and giving out inexpensive little gifts.
An exception perhaps is that in many larger cities especially, an office-full of workers may descend on a café for a quick lunch and their only interest is in good speedy food, but then we should let them experience that. One such café has worked out a system through which a server goes up half an hour early and takes orders from all the employees. At lunchtime, he and perhaps a helper deliver all the sandwiches, etc. to the workers who don’t have to leave their desks and waste a third of their lunch period traveling and waiting for food.
I’ve learned to consider all five senses of my customers. It’s guaranteed to make a business more profitable. In 2003, Guéguen conducted an experiment in which people tasted the same beverage at the same temperature in four different colored glasses and then after tasting these, the guest was asked which. With the results in, it was clear that most people perceived a drink in a cold color i.e. green or blue glass to be more refreshing than the same beverage in red or yellow glasses.
Drews and Vaughn did a survey, observing beer drinkers in two different bars. Loud music from the jukebox alternated with silence in both bars and the scientists noted down every order, time spent and the rate of beer consumption. While the music played, customers ordered nearly four beers while during the periods of silence, they only ordered an average of two and a half pints during the same amount of time. An interesting fact for a bartender to remember.
I learned that to catch and hold the attention of patrons, you need to know more than their motivations that lead them to eat and drink, but you have to leverage the sensations. You need to raise a positive emotion in the guest, one that will remain in his/her memory and foster customer loyalty.
Too many managers forget, I believe, that the customer experience represents the core of the restaurant’s attraction. Through creating a valuable experience for guests makes your restaurant and the experience it offers different from our competitor you can really hit your target…but that’s not always so easy.
Bringing a new and welcome experience to your customer has to be unique and natural, featuring three stages:
- Pre-experience. This is the first impression that allows the customer’s expectation to develop.
- The In-experience. This is the heart of the experience where the product fruition actually takes place.
- Then follows the post-experience. This is the period after the customer has left the restaurant, where he/she will consider the experience and draw conclusions, assess this experience and if really impressed and satisfied, the consumers will spread the word, i.e. the best advertising there is, and it doesn’t cost a lot of money!
Generally speaking, restaurateurs focus on the in-experience part of the business, failing to consider the other two. Actually, proprietors have two moments to sell. First, when they get the customer seated (pre—experience) and the second is when they convince the customer to have made a good choice.
This pre-experience is crucial for those who are trying to turn prospects into loyal customers. At this point, your reputation plays a pivot role. Your website, social profile ad online reviews all represent key ingredients that create an appetizing recipe for your success on the Internet.
2. Learn the psychology of sales
These days, going beyond food, restaurants have become places of communication and create closer relationships between people. Customers are different in many aspects and these differences cause diverse consumer buying behavior.
For those reasons, it’s essential that you take all that into consideration and try to interpret your customers’ ideas or expectations so that you may be able to offer a package that is irresistible.
Restaurant managers are traders, and to be a successful trader in any field, you must develop the skills to be able to interpret, attract, inform, and persuade. Long gone are the “good old days” when the market featured a produce-and-sell philosophy. Times have changed and today, what appears to work best in this highly competitive context is an attitude of listening, interpreting approach.
While it’s still important to see our customer as a mouth to feed with good food, but also look at this same customer as someone to get to know better and learn more about the customer’s life and wishes.
A number of different motivations drive people to the act of consumption and these can be placed in six categories:
We’ve all heard of so-called “comfort food”. This is not merely an idle term for Mom’s home-style cooking; it can mean any sort of food depending on the person experiencing a hungry attack. People become attached to certain brands for example, and the mere sight of one can make their mouths water and make them feel hungry. But another large part of comfort as far as the restaurant manager is concerned would be convenient parking, good service, no long lines, especially outside in possibly inclement weather. Having a restaurant in an unpleasant environment — any one or all these can make a major difference in your overall business.
2. Need for Safety
In the restaurant business, safety goes far beyond concerns over wet floors and occurrences of that nature. In this context, safety concerns uncertainty, embarrassment, unhappiness, fear, pain and so on. Since most people become emotionally attached to brand names, it may be wise for the restaurant to make certain that the customers see only brand name products. Many restaurants use brands of canned goods, condiments, etc. that, while they may be cheaper and still of good quality, it can be just enough to put the customer off.
For example, while there are many brands of mayonnaise available, the vast majority of people love and are devoted to Best Foods Mayonnaise, also known in the Eastern part of the US as Hellman’s Mayonnaise. Many will accept no substitute. One little deli featured among its sandwiches, a tuna sandwich. Many of us are a bit leery of tuna sandwiches because we never know how long the tuna has been sitting in the refrigerator, or if it’s albacore or the darker sort, etc.
This deli had little tins of a top brand albacore tuna prominently displayed on a shelf in his deli. When a customer ordered a tuna sandwich, it was made from a freshly opened tin of tuna right before the customer’s eyes. Needless to say, this made for a satisfying experience, and this particular deli boasted that it sold more tuna sandwiches than any other shop along the boulevard.
3. The Social aspect
In any business, and especially in the restaurant business, close contact with others is vital. The manager should build a relationship with regulars and as much as possible, become well-liked, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, said that man is by nature a social animal. He was of course, right. Once restaurant always took a moment to take a Polaroid photo of children to pin to the wall. Customers were almost forced to come back periodically to see the photos of their offspring.
One very successful restaurant had been in business for many years. Over the years, managers came and went, and one not too far back was a very hard worker. He might be up front carving meat, running around clearing tables, helping the bartender, bringing food from the back and in general being a hard conscientious worker. But he never once looked up at a customer and said “Hello”. He never once interacted with the customers.
When he was gone, the next manager did even less. For hours, he stood by a service section centered in the restaurant and never spoke to anyone and apparently just stared into space.
Finally along came a long-time bartender who had for years shown an outgoing personality, a great memory for customers’ wants and oddities, and when he became manager, he did everything the first manager had ever done, keeping very busy, yet at the same time always greeted customers, took a moment to stop at their tables for a word and shortly, customers considered Ross to be a friend rather than just another restaurant manager.
Customers in general, have little idea of exactly what it costs to provide a dish. They do, of course, expect value for their money, so it’s important for the customer to perceive the value in a dish he/she is buying. As a manager, your mission is to make certain the customer looks upon his dish as having earned something.
Say you’re the owner of a pizzeria and your specialty is your famous Pepperoni Pizza. In Italy, this is known as a “Diavola”, made of course, of quality local Italian ingredients. Like many restaurateurs, you might list this on your menu thus:
Pepperoni Pizza: tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and spicy salami. $6.90.
When the customer reads this he’s thinking, so what? Sounds like the same old pizza at the same old price as every other pepperoni pizza in town. That doesn’t necessarily put the customer off but if the menu had merely read Pepperoni Pizza, $6.90.
But if you remember your friend, writing advertising copy, you might word the same item on your menu thus:
The Pig on Fire. Our own homemade tomato sauce bursting with fresh tomatoes from Sicily PDO, Buffalo Mozzarella from the ancient Neapolitan dairy farm “La Fattoria” and topped with our Soppressata Italian spicy dry salami that has been carefully seasoned for a full 90 days, and of course, we never forget the aromatic bouquet of freshly picked basil from our own garden. $6.90
Takes a little longer to read, but it can make all the difference to your customer as it evokes a tantalizing picture in his/her mind. One very important thing to remember, however: you should never tout ingredients you don’t actually use. Once customers get wind of such trickery and could spell doom to your restaurant.
5. Desire to affirm the customer’s personality
Consumers’ choices are based greatly on the identification of a product with their own prejudices, beliefs, and perceptions of themselves. For the restaurant business that a consumer is likely to choose a restaurant that appears to reflect the consumer’s personality. As a manager, you should soon become aware of the sort of customer your restaurant attracts, and once you do, you may begin to orient your entire operation toward gaining more customers who appear to have the same sorts of personalities in common with the others.
6. Necessity for newness
Curiosity is a strong element. Any individual finds it difficult to ignore that spark of curiosity that comes from within. It’s very important, therefore, in most cases, to remain on the alert and avoid letting your restaurant get old and lose the interest of customers.
3. Persuade your customers
Persuasion is the ability to convince your customers of the real value inherent in your offerings. Today’s market is composed of highly evolved consumers who redefine the rules of the game. The motto of every manager should be to make your game seductive, intriguing and exciting. In a word, persuading. Gentle persuasion is a must for every company in the food and beverage industry. Your mission is to convince your customers of the real value in your offerings.
That doesn’t mean cheating people, but rather to make them see your unique offer, something they won’t find down the street. But that poses a real conundrum. What can your unique offer be? Why should your customer come to your restaurant rather than to the next restaurant down the street?
How can you persuade potential customers of your uniqueness? In short form, what is your USP?
Your USP is the foundation of any business. It is crucial if you hope to communicate and be persuasive. It must meet three main criteria:
- It must tell consumers: “Come to my restaurant and you’ll receive such and such specific experience or benefit. It must be something our competitors don’t offer or are not communicating to the consumer.
- It must be powerful enough to persuade and attract new customers.
An outstanding example of USP may be seen in the operation of Domino’s Pizza. Their USP is “Fresh hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less, or it’s free.”
Thanks to this new and persuasive concept, Domino’s no longer actually sells pizza. The company is selling fast delivery. A move that distinguishes Domino’s from the thousands of other pizzerias that in some cities are to be found on every street corner. While this at first, may seem an unusual move, it clearly works and shows imagination. Every restaurant owner or manager should take the time to explore “out of the box” ideas that might just enhance that aura of persuasion.
As a marketing consultant, I think I’d be pretty hard to capture by those who might try to persuade me to choose them. But when it comes to facing the appeal of a really great USP, I’m as weak as the next person. For this reason, when I travel and have to choose a hotel, I’m willing to stay a bit far from the city’s hub or pay a little more for the convenience of free Wi-Fi.
I won’t probe any more deeply into USP since I’ve already spoken a great deal about that in two articles you should read:
These are merely different approaches to selling, not promotional strategies. Only too often business in restaurants is slow and the operation isn’t making money. This is not necessarily because of the promotional strategy, but rather because of not approaching the customer in the right way.