Another Virginia Beach, Va., restaurant gem has crystallized in the form of Salt, a restaurant well known for its upscale Pacific cuisine and its strong ties to the local community.
Salt’s owner, Daniel Kealiinohomoku, started transforming the business when he bought out his former partner in November 2014. “It was the right time,” said Daniel. “Our visions just didn’t match anymore.” Since then, Daniel and his husband, Executive Chef Justin Kealiinohomoku, have been molding the restaurant to fit their dreams.
Their food is more delicious than ever, as Justin maintains control over the Salt kitchen, but they hired a chef from a competing restaurant to join their kitchen team. Additionally, Daniel has made changes to the service and started renovations in the restaurant, funded by a cash infusion from Rewards Network.
Daniel joined Rewards Network’s Merchant Cash Advance (MCA) program in November 2013, in order to take advantage of the cash infusion and marketing services to the millions of members in the company’s dining rewards programs. “It was a win-win,” he said about his decision to partner with Rewards Network. “[Rewards Network] markets for us and helps with any type of upgrade with a cash advance. It’s a great system.”
In September 2014, Daniel decided to take advantage of Rewards Network’s newest MCA offering by switching from Dining Credits to Premier Restaurant Funding (PRF). With PRF, Rewards Network was able to provider Salt a larger cash advance. To Daniel, PRF was the better option for his business because they were able to obtain more cash up front and pay only when the business generates receipts.
Daniel used the cash that Salt obtained to update his restaurant’s restrooms, build banquette seating, put new tiles behind the bar, replace the patio umbrellas with a trellis, upgrade the plateware and glassware, purchase two new kitchen equipment items, and remove all of the glass tabletops in both the dining room and patio to switch to full linen service. Plus, he’s added more good vibes to the restaurant by placing salt candleholders on the tables, which purify the air and create a calming atmosphere.
Upfront cash is just one of the benefits Daniel saw from Salt’s partnership with Rewards Network. He also took full advantage of the company’s Marketing Services, through the millions of members in the company’s dining rewards programs, to connect with his customers and make more strategic business decisions.
Through Rewards Network’s data reporting, Daniel saw how many diners are returning to his restaurant, how many are dining at Salt for the first time, where they’re coming from, and how much they spend. “The reports are awesome, and that’s why I love the program,” said Daniel. “I’m a numbers guy, so it’s great when I can see that data all laid out for me.”
As an active user of Rewards Network’s Comment Management System, Daniel responded to nearly all of our dining program members’ reviews. “Getting feedback from Rewards Network [members] is valuable for me because you have to be able to respond [to comments] whether it’s good or bad,” said Daniel.
Daniel has responding to customer feedback down to a science, which contributed to the success of his restaurant. “If it’s a great compliment, it’s easy to say, ‘Thank you’ and ‘We appreciate your feedback,’” said Daniel. “I think by responding, you’re addressing [the] compliment or concern and you’re getting the [diner] to come back. I see people who come back several times a week, and they leave a comment every time.”
When responding to negative feedback, however, Daniel is careful in his approach, but knows how important it is to directly address the diner’s issue. “Listen to what your guests are saying, respond to them, and don’t hide,” he advises other restaurateurs. “If you get a one star review, that’s how the [diner] felt at the time, and you still have to reach out to those people. Be careful about what you’re saying in a reply. You don’t want to personally attack them. Try to be professional and do whatever you can to fix it.”
This customer feedback is also a valuable tool for restaurant owners because it evaluates what Daniel believes are Salt’s secrets to success: quality and service. “We’re ranked very high [on Rewards Network’s dining program], but I want to be higher,” said Daniel. “So I check out that ranking on the dining program website. I like that I can see how everyone else in our area is doing.”
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