Almost everyone loves eating out. And they do it every day!

Yet restaurant business is one of the most challenging one, with most of them downing the shutters within the one year of the start. Strange and Scary? But true.

The biggest challenge of a restaurant is to “get customers” “at the right price” and “at the right time!”. Unlike other businesses which require customer foot-falls, restaurants have limited capacity (of seats) and can serve only on a limited time-frame (a couple of hours for lunch, and a couple of hours for dinner etc). Even though a lot of people eat out almost every day, the chances of them going to the same restaurant every day are remote. So a restaurant has to build a critical mass of “floating crowd” who will eat out once in a week or 10 days there, and come back later.

Simply put, the survival of a restaurant depends on

  • Getting new customers
  • Retaining them so that they come back later
  • Doing these 2 in the most efficient and economical way.

In this article, we will see some ideas which are easy to implement, to address these challenges.

01. Getting new customers

  • Creating awareness locally – With Digital Media

    Use digital media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc for creating a buzz locally. Apart from creating some interesting content – awesome food and drinks – you can run paid ad campaigns on all these platforms for a small budget. With granular targeting options, you can run campaigns to reach people who are close by your restaurant at a specific time-frame (say lunch!), or those who have similar interest (say likes your competition’s page !) etc.

    Instagram being a “visual” oriented platform, spend time creating some mouthwatering pics of your signature dishes, drinks and even interiors. Spruce up the page with behind the scene videos, or pictures of your kitchen, chef-in-action, how food is served etc, to create interest among the users.

  • Using existing customers to get new ones!

    When a customer walks into your restaurant, do everything to make sure he or she comes back. Heck, make sure he/ she gets you a new customer!

    • Facebook Check-ins

      One way is to provide a small offer, or a discount if the “check-in” to your page on Facebook. All they need to do is check into your place on Facebook, show the check-in status to the restaurant manager on their mobile phone, and instantly get some reward. It can be a discount, or a special drink/ dish, a dessert or anything you want, which they will redeem then and there. Don’t plan for future redemptions. All of us have a truckload of unused loyalty points, and offers past their expiry date, from almost all places we have visited!.

      The biggest advantage of this Facebook Check-in is that it increases the awareness and credibility of your restaurant among the customer’s friend circle.

      You can take this social-media engagement to next level by providing additional gifts, if they “click pictures of them enjoying food” and post in their social media page (Facebook/ Twitter/ Instagram), and tag you! This will have a greater influence on their friend circle, and you will get some user-generated content of your restaurant, which you can re-post, thanking the customer.

02. Retaining the customers

  • Loyalty Programs

    We are not talking about the traditional loyalty program structure here. Asking customers to fill up a form, get a card, etc. Use technology to make the best for you as well as your customer. Have a small app developed for capturing customer’s data, which can be loaded on an IPAD or a tab. This can be handed over to every walk-in customer at the reception, where they can key-in the email id or mobile number. An existing customer can get some special offer or discount, or points on each visit. A new customer will get added to your list by entering the data. First-time customers can be rewarded with some simple offer, for entering the email + phone number in the app.

  • Welcome drink

    We are not talking about an expensive alcoholic beverage. It can be a simple short-glass of lime juice, crushes or non-alcoholic mojitos. What we must not forget is that a simple welcome drink can make them feel special. Each time you make them feel special, they will return to you, and mostly with their friends and loved ones.

  • Upselling

    Use table-tents for presenting combos or special offers of your restaurant. You should ideally club a higher value/higher margin item with lower value/ highly consumed dish and create an attractive combo. These combos presented when the customer is seated and ready to order can drive the sales.

  • Table Mats

    Yes! Table-mats. Not the plain, boring ones. Customized table mats which can engage your customers are needed. Use interesting content like the story of the restaurant, trivia, jokes, unique information on your signature dishes, and even cartoons or whacky ideas, on table mats. After placing the order, the 10-15 minutes available with your customers will turn into an interesting time with fun table-mats in front of them.

    We designed a news-paper themed table mat for one of our clients, with 20 different one-liners. Staff were instructed to place the table-mat with a different one-liner for each seat. After reading the funny line on the mat, every patron was checking what the other table-mat was saying! Some even got up and went to the nearest table to see what other mats were having! It created such a buzz that using the one-liner on the mat has become a signature for this restaurant.

  • CRM Tool

    Use a CRM tool to capture and maintain your customer data. Do not depend on an excel sheet on your manager’s laptop. The data may start with just a name, email or phone number. Use these details to get their social media profile links and more information from the web (you can even find which company they are working for).

  • Use birthdays and special occasions

    How can you get birthdays and marriage anniversaries of your walk-in customers? Most people do not share them so easily. One method is to make this interesting for both parties.

    How about running a daily draw for a lucky number. “People whose date-of-birth adds up to 7 will get a free drink! Show your id with DOB, and win a free drink at the end of your meal!”

    Such a lucky draw can make people leave their name, email and date of birth with you, which can go straight to your CRM. The same method can be done for collecting anniversary details too.

    By the way, do not forget to greet them with a special message on their birthday, anniversary (by email/ SMS/ WhatsApp). Make it more memorable with a special offer for them to celebrate the day at your restaurant. Maybe a small cake as a surprise gift, or a special discount for them etc.

  • Make them feel special

    Everyone would like to be treated in a special way. As a restaurant owner, you can spend time in the restaurant to become familiar with your patrons. For regular customers, a surprise dish from the chef can work wonders.

    Run a weekly or monthly lucky draw to choose a diner (or a couple) to dine with the chef, at chef’s table. Get this event promoted well on social media, and in-restaurant through table tents. Create stunning photographs and video content of the event, and publish on your social media pages. Being treated well is one thing, making them feel special is another. Creating a celebrity out of them is a whole different level!

Summary

Putting more focus on retaining customers, and making them feel special, coupled with smart digital media campaigns focused on the local area, can improve your restaurant business. Most of the ideas discussed can be handled by you or your restaurant team. If you do not have the resources or bandwidth to handle them, it is better to hire a professional consultant or agency for these, as they are critical to the growth and survival of your restaurant.

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Published by Umraz Rasaque

Umraz Rasaque is a serial entrepreneur, businessman and marketing veteran with an experience of 4 decades. As the co-founder of MediaJenie, he brings business intelligence and marketing strategy to different projects.

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