For the fifth quarter in a row, the restaurant industry as a whole is showing the pain of an unstable economy with negative same store sales. Pockets of the industry are performing well, particularly as the quick service and fast casual sectors show increased restaurant sales, but casual establishments continue to experience very high competition from non-traditional channels — grocery stores, home delivery services — and within.
In other words, if you see a casual restaurant doing really well, then it’s likely taking that business from someone else.
How do you compete in this environment? By using time-tested marketing and operational tactics based on the four basic ways to achieve increased restaurant sales:
- Attract new customers.
- Encourage repeat visits.
- Generate bigger tickets.
- Turn more tables and increase flow-through.
How your restaurant tackles each of these core business areas can not only make your business more competitive in the market, but it can also make the difference between surviving and thriving in a difficult economy.
Attract new customers.
Spend smart on advertising.
Because of the disproportionately large numbers of consumers its message can reach — and its overall longevity as a purchase — signage is still the least expensive form of advertising in cost/impressions. Investing in the right signage (with a minimum of clear, legible information in print) could be the best money you’ll ever spend on advertising.
Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth, however. Nielsen ranks recommendations from friends and family (83 percent) and recommendations from strangers (66 percent) as two of the most credible forms of advertising. Giving your customers the opportunity to spread the good word about your business through social media or other online means can also be very productive.
Remember: word of mouth doesn’t just happen on its own. Jump start efforts by participating in community events, co-branding with other local businesses, and investing in some local, targeted advertising.
Offer take-out and delivery.
In the U.S. today, 60 percent of all restaurant food is eaten away from the actual restaurant. While the stats are much lower for casual restaurants alone at 16 percent, that number represents a huge exponential increase in the past few years. Why? Because consumers are working more from home, using online ordering services, and wanting the dining room experience in the comfort of their own residence more than ever before.
Both take-out and delivery offer a huge opportunity for your restaurant to expand your brand out into the world and achieve increased restaurant sales. But they also provide one salient reminder of the experience you offer to dining room guests: the take-out menu. Make sure this key piece of marketing is at the ready for every customer walking in and out of your restaurant.
Expand into catering.
Another way to use marketing in-restaurant to expand your business overall is by advertising catering to dining room guests. Subtle table tents or signage can remind your customers that the brand experience they know and love could be extended to a party or event they are hosting. And then every guest of their event now has a little peek at what your establishment can offer, not just in catering, but in dine-in offerings as well.
Encourage repeat visits.
Launch an LTO.
Limited Time Offers take advantage of FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. Not only will you draw customers back to try something special that wasn’t available before, but customers that enjoy your LTO will be more likely to return to have it again and again while they still can. And if truly successful, each LTO will build confidence in your brand, so repeat customers know the next big thing is worth it, without even having to investigate it beforehand.
LTOs can incorporate a discount offer — but they don’t have to. They just need to feel special and fleeting. Your brand doesn’t need coupons or deals — just something that sets you apart from the competition and offers customers something they feel is worth the time and money they put in.
Respond to reviews.
According to our own data, customers who receive responses to their comments return visit 20 percent more often. They also spend 16 percent more than the average customer when they do. Why the increased restaurant sales? Maybe because this extra interaction retroactively personalizes the restaurant experience your customers already had at your table.
Just don’t take their reviews personally, especially if they are negative — be gracious and helpful at all times. And even in the case of a bad experience, all is not lost. A well-worded apology can go a long way to securing that return visit.
Diners that chose a restaurant because they offered rewards through Rewards Network are twice as likely to return than if their choice was based on another factor.
Simply put, rewards of choice matter. These rewards influence return visits more than priority reservations and discounts do, without damaging your brand or operations. Make sure to promote that your restaurant participates in a loyalty program to your customers — and your staff. They may not know unless you tell them!
Generate bigger tickets.
Train your staff to recommend appetizers, cocktails, side dishes, wine pairings, desserts, or just about anything special you’re marketing at the time. It’s important, however, to have them focus on menu items with the greatest profit margin. These are not necessarily the most expensive!
Just be careful – servers must be genuine and not overstep into a sales-y tone when upselling. Customers can easily be turned off by a pushy server, which could result not only in less spend per ticket, but an unlikely future of return visits.
Offering multiple add-ons to dishes at a nominal price works well for limited service environments, take-out/delivery menus (especially those hosted online), and establishments that cater to younger customers. Why does age matter? Because customization is statistically a key expectation among Millennials (customers age 18-35), who now wield $200 billion in spending power, and outnumber Baby Boomers in the overall population. In fact, the ability to customize at your establishment is a key item to market in itself!
It’s a fact. Rewards Network members spend 13 percent more per check on average than other customers. As a result, our clients see a consistent 4-6 percent of monthly revenue from our exclusive list of customers Rewards Network delivers right to your door through its loyalty marketing platform. That’s 4-6 percent in stable income your restaurant will see, rain or shine, month after month.
Turn more tables and increase flow-through.
Train your staff.
Everyone who works in your restaurant needs to know that they play a role in increasing your sales through better operations:
- Your host seats tables evenly in quadrants, so no one area is busier than another.
- Your servers promptly input orders into the POS system and present checks in timely fashion.
- Kitchen staff keep orders evenly spaced.
- Your bus person resets each table as soon as possible once a party leaves.
- The manager pays attention and course corrects the rhythm of service, as necessary.
Incorporate better technology.
Technology plays an important part in every part of your restaurant in 2017. In the back of house, kitchen flow should make sense, with freezers and warming drawers where they are most needed/accessible.
In the front of house, point-of-sale (POS), ticketing, and reservation systems should all integrate. And while it may not make payments faster, it is important to make sure your POS is updated with the latest EMV chip technology. This will protect not just your customers, but your financial liability as well.
And for limited service environments, electronic or static menu board layout should be quickly legible and encourage fast customization. Every additional item added is increased restaurant sales for your business.
Expand for more accommodation.
- Does your cashier or host station experience bottlenecks often?
- Is your ingress/egress pattern, queue, and beverage/condiment station placement working for maximum efficiency?
- Do you have the right mix of two-tops, four-tops, and larger table settings for your average party size?
- Would you benefit from a party room or patio build-out?
The wrong layout could be costing you money and customers. Purchasing new equipment or furniture, or expanding the physical space of your restaurant, could be the key to increased restaurant sales as well.
And when it comes time to making that decision, funding these changes is the next big hurdle. Rewards Network offers cash-flow friendly financing that respects the ebb and flow of your business — a big advantage for you in challenging economic times.
Not getting the increased restaurant sales you are hoping for? Download our free eBook on “5 Ways to Market Your Restaurant During Slow Times” today!