Let’s say you own a restaurant in a community known for loving food and dining out regularly. Sounds perfect, right? But that demand can sometimes come with its own problem: often the densest-population areas also have the highest ratio of restaurants to diners. When foodies in your community have dozens and dozens of restaurant choices to pick from, it becomes significantly more challenging to entice people to try your food over everyone else’s.
Having a good menu or offering friendly table service is important, but it isn’t enough. If you’re looking to build your reputation and gain a loyal following within your community (who isn’t?), you need to stand out among the crowd of your competitors. By putting your best foot forward, you show diners why they should not only try your restaurant, but also come back for repeat visits. To understand your own restaurant’s strengths and embrace those strengths as part of your brand, start by asking the following five questions.
What is your brand?
If your restaurant is in business, you probably already have a basic brand identity. Maybe you even wrote it into a business plan to get funding. But once you’re in business, you might need to hone your restaurant brand, which can be especially nerve wracking for a lot of business owners. After all, when you have dozens of choices laid out in front of you and can go in so many different directions, how do you build a brand that will be effective?
Big picture, your restaurant needs to stand for something. That means embracing your pride of ownership. If your staff is great at what they do and you’re genuinely confident in the experience you’re providing guests, that will translate towards solidifying your brand.
But standing for something also means embracing what makes you unique. If you’re trying to be everything to everyone, customers won’t be able to get a sense of what dining at your restaurant will actually be like.
Don’t be afraid to be a niche restaurant. Having the confidence to do a particular kind of food and do it well is what builds a brand. If you offer authentic Korean food, own that authenticity. If you are a vegan restaurant, don’t hide it in fear of alienating the meat eaters. Diluting your brand won’t bring in more customers; it will hide you from the customers who could become loyal returning guests.
Should you simplify your menu?
Building an authentic and specific reputation in the community could mean simplifying your menu to streamline your brand. If you have several dozen items on your main menu and they’re all from vastly different cuisines and cooking styles, your brand is going to be very muddled. Even fusion cuisine (in putting together different styles and cuisine styles) maintains a consistent combination across each different menu item.
A bloated menu not only makes it hard for customers to decide what to order in the moment, but it also makes it hard for customers to understand what you’re about as a restaurant. And it becomes a problem when word of mouth is so important. If your past guests aren’t able to clearly describe your menu to their friends, it’ll be that much harder for you to stand out among your competition.
What is your restaurant’s specialty?
This goes hand-in-hand with understanding your overall brand. You need to nail down what parts of your menu are the most special and then bring those items to the forefront of your branding.
It’s not just about what your kitchen does well — because of course you’re aiming for your entire menu to be delicious across the board — but what item really stands out as your specialty? What is your niche? What can you offer that’s special, that no one else can do quite like your kitchen? Maybe it’s your time-tested family cornbread recipe. Maybe your ginger lemonade is out of this world. Maybe your vegan Reuben sandwich is even better than the real thing!
In other words, you’re looking for a signature dish.
And it might take time for you to find it! That’s okay. But you should be thinking about this as your restaurant goes on. Once you come across the star menu item that keeps getting ordered again and again (because it’s just that good!), you should really dive into marketing that item as your signature. Highlight the guest favorite and make people want to visit your restaurant just to try it.
How can your small business status be a strength?
It’s easy for locally-owned small businesses in the food industry to see themselves at a disadvantage, particularly compared to franchises and bigger restaurants. But franchises and big corporate restaurants have struggles of their own.
On the other hand, small businesses owned by a member of the community can seem more authentic from the get-go. More and more, consumers want to strengthen their communities by supporting small businesses.
Being small and locally-owned is ultimately a feature, not a flaw, of your restaurant. At least, it can be a feature if you let it be one.
Taking pride in your status as a small business is a good step. The best small restaurants know who they are and know what they’re about. This goes back to understanding your brand. If you embrace the kind of restaurant you are, you and your staff can hone in on how special that is.
There’s a pride that comes from being part of that kind of team. And that confident attitude reaches your guests in ways you might not even realize. People want to support local businesses, but they especially want to support local businesses that add something special to their area.
How can you encourage loyalty?
When we’re talking about loyalty from customers, we need to discuss loyalty programs.
Thanks to new technology and strategies, restaurant loyalty programs have gone beyond the hole punch card that eventually earns you a free drink. Many POS systems now how loyalty program software options so it can be tracked digitally.
But Rewards Network is different. We do the work of driving new customers to the restaurants in our program. The customer just has to pay with one of their linked cards and the reward is automatically marked. Neither you nor the guest needs to do anything extra.
And after dining, the customer can give your restaurant a review on our loyalty dining sites — one that’s tied directly to having paid the check. These verified reviews are seen by other members and help guide them to great restaurants on the program. When there are dozens of restaurants in the area, seeing which ones are the Rewards Network member favorites makes it easier for diners to choose you!
Curious about what’s going on across the street? Download our free worksheet, “5 Numbers Every Restaurant Must Know About Its Competitors” today!