Starting and maintaining a restaurant business is no easy task. There are many factors that come into play. The success rate of restaurants is much lower when compared to other industries. The risk involved turns many people off from opening one of their own. The amount of capital to open a physical location requires investors and involves a lot of red tape. If done right though, a restaurant business can become quite a profitable venture. It’s important to know what you’re getting into.
1) Get a Website
The Yellow Pages are dead. People no longer thumb through a thousand page book to find local businesses. Creating an internet presence is paramount to your restaurants success. Some best practices when creating a website for your restaurant:
2) Include Your Menu
Your customers first and foremost want to know what food you serve. Include a text based menu that lists everything you serve. Don’t just throw up a .pdf file of your menu. Search engines can’t read that and it often looks bad on mobile devices.
- Hire a search marketing firm. Having a strong presence on Google is like having a free billboard on the world’s busiest highway. The value of being found for free on the internet cannot be overstated.
- Have a responsive website – because most everyone has a smartphone these days it’s wise to have a website that scales on mobile devices, allowing visitors to peruse your restaurant and jump from page to page without having to “pinch and zoom”.
- State the essentials – include a page that lists the restaurant location and hours. In fact, it would be smart to list them in the header of the website or even on the homepage. Include holiday hours as well.
There are also several advertising channels that are effective for restaurants. Google AdWords has a simple to use interface. And local services like Yelp provide great mobile packages that cater to consumers on the go.
3) Establish A Relationship With an Online Vendor
There are several websites that provide online equipment and supplies ordering like Instawares – an online restaurant equipment and supplies company that carries everything you need to get started with opening your own restaurant. Having a relationship with your vendor allows you to easily order supplies and equipment when you run out. Often times, these companies will setup a workflow where they’ll recognize when you’re out of stock and detect seasonal patterns in your ordering I.E. – if you’re in a summer tourist-town and are only open during those months a reliable restaurant equipment company will call you in the beginning of summer and check if you’re freezers and refrigerators are working properly. There are several items that require more frequent replacement than others, chief amongst them being dinnerware. Finding a reliable source to buy flatware and dinnerware online eases your nerves as glassware and table items are dropped and broken.
4) Listen (and talk back) to Your Customers
This can be said of any industry but with restaurants it’s extremely important to listen to what the market wants. Restaurants tend to be “word of mouth” businesses that carry on the goodwill of its current customers. Thanks to new channels like social networks, online review sites, and restaurant blogs, it’s easier (and cheaper) than ever to listen to what people are saying about your restaurant. These channels include:
- Facebook – having a Facebook page for your restaurant is a no-brainer. It’s easy to setup and can be accessed and “liked” by anyone who uses the service. Tie it to your website as well and share updates via your newsfeed. A solid strategy is to blog frequently and mention those posts on your Facebook page. Your effectively killing two birds with one stone by publishing on the web and within Facebook.
- Twitter – while many see this as the mouthpiece for teenage girls and celebrities it’s actually a very effective way for you to communicate with your customers. Hashtags and “mentions” are the backbone of Twitter and your restaurant can greatly benefit from proper use of them. If someone lodges a complaint then it’s your duty to address this. Twitter allows you to respond to angry customers in public which shows that you care about what people think about your restaurant.
- Pinterest – this is a must for foodies. Restaurants seem to be a natural fit for this image-based social network. And because of its open API many times when people take pictures of their food at restaurants it’s cross published to their other networks like Facebook and Twitter.
Take these criticisms that appear on social networks and work them into your overall marketing/business strategy. While many see social networks as a vehicle for “promotion” they are most effectively used for communication.
5) Keep Track of Your Customers
This can be done through a number of methods. Back in the day (and probably still) restaurants would do giveaways where customers would drop their business cards in a jar out front for a chance to win a free meal. The restaurants would then collect the email information on the cards and add them to a mailing list, offering catering and corporate party information. While this tactic may still work it’s important to identify more effective ways to collect their information. Building a customer database is important and what you do with that information is even more vital. Email marketing is easier and more effective than ever. You should be segmenting lists and creating different personas based on open rates in response to specific promotions.
Set Yourself Apart
Although it’s tempting to offer everything you can possibly cook it’s wise to specialize in one area. If people want variety they will go to a generic restaurant like Applebees or Outback steakhouse where they can get everything from spicy oriental chicken to a porterhouse steak. Be good at one thing and stick to it. Think about the most famous restaurants where you live: their often packed to the gills on weekend nights. Going out to eat is an experience and you need to sell your restaurant as such. You don’t see lines stretching around the block for Olive Garden. What you do see lines for is “Joe’s Steamhouse Lounge” – a restaurant that may specialize in seafood.
6) Service, Service, Service
Speaking of customer complaints. Most unpleasant experiences related to restaurants stem not from undercooked food or cheap wine, but customer service. There are several ways to ensure a quality customer experience:
- Hire a good wait staff – do background checks, ask for references and have potential hires sit down with another member of your staff (more perspectives the better). Thoroughly vetting your staff ensures that you won’t be hiring an rotten eggs.
- You get what (who) you pay for – this old adage applies to restaurants as well. What do you expect if you’re paying your staff $4/hour?
- Know your demographic – if you’re opening a sports=themed restaurant it may be wise to hire more women as waiters, considering that most of your clientele will be men. Likewise if you’re opening a quirky organic breakfast place you may want to aim for a more eclectic waitstaff.
7) Do Competitive Research
Go out and see what your competitors are doing. Eat at other restaurants and take notes. Notice what others are doing right and try to emulate that in your restaurant. Also take notice of things they’re doing wrong and try not to repeat it. Restaurant owners are some of the most creative, business minded people in the world. Creating an experience that’s original and different will have people appreciate your restaurant and keep coming back for more. There’s also something to be learned from restaurant chains as well. There’s several reasons why they’ve grown to such national (and in some cases international) prominence. I.E.- Cracker Barrel. They have a schtick right? When you walk in there’s an old-timey gift shop filled with knick knacks and rocking chairs. They serve “home-cooked” meals. They’re marketing and knick knack store are meant to give people a familiar comfort.
Target The Right Demographic
Understanding where the wallets are is important if you want to last in the restaurant business. If you’re catering towards a lower-income demographic then you want your marketing to reflect that. In most cases though, you want to target consumers with the most money to spend. This way you can spend more on making your restaurant great and offering the best foods and service. If you’re going after an older crowd you must realize that that’s a well which will eventually run dry. Young up-and-comers is the holy grail of demographics because this crowd will form eating habits that they’ll carry over to their social circles and family. That’s why understanding modern marketing principles is necessary to capture this demographic. Young, affluent consumers are extremely savvy thanks to modern technologies like smartphones, iPads, and other connected devices.
This post was contributed by Clayton Curtis. Clayton works for Instawares, a restaurant equipment and cooking supplies company.