How can your restaurant stand out in the crowd and get in front of both new and loyal customers in an exciting way? According to Daniel Nguyen of Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen restaurant in Portland, OR, food events such as Bite of Oregon and the most recent Feast Portland, where Bambuza participated at the Rewards Network sponsored booth, are the perfect opportunity to put a face to your restaurant and connect with customers. Most regions have festivals such as these, ranging from local neighborhood gatherings to county or state-wide events. And, like Bambuza, restaurants can have a regular presence at these events or even partner with a vendor for a presence at a new or larger event such as Feast Portland for more exposure.
“It’s so important to show some personality, and to be the face of the restaurant as the owner,” advises Nguyen. “Don’t just let your restaurant run on auto-pilot; get out there and connect with your customers.”
Nguyen has been participating in food events in some way for 35 years, from carnivals to festivals, and he has learned the best ways to make the most of these opportunities. His biggest insight from this experience is that people gravitate toward live cooking. “It’s really easy to keep walking past a display case of pre-cooked food, but it’s different when there is action happening,” he says.
His advice to succeed at these restaurant and food events revolves around this idea as a key way to attract more visitors and to connect with them in a memorable way:
- Be sure to not only have enough items pre-made to keep the lines moving, but have all the ingredients on hand to continually make more on site and show how it’s done.
- Set up your booth or display space in a way that you can see and interact with customers, not where your back is to them the whole time.
- Keep the menu simple. Choose items that people can connect with and see how accessible they are, and even how easy it is to make at home. This has been important for Bambuza, which has only been around for about 10 years, but has seen tastes and attitudes toward Vietnamese food evolve.
- Remember, this is a great first opportunity for people to see what your restaurant can do, even if the offering isn’t the same as in your restaurant due to confinements and differences required for outdoor/festival cooking and serving.
“Connecting with customers is about the process, not just the finished product,” Nguyen reminds us. “This is a small business, it’s someone’s hard work and blood, sweat and tears that go into it. Customers tend to be more supportive when they see and understand what you personally put into their experience with your food.”