Archive for June, 2013

Three Creative Ways to Boost Traffic and Loyalty in the Restaurant

June 28, 2013

As a restaurateur, you know how important it is to stay on top of the game in terms of finding new, creative ways to bring people through the door. There are many very viable techniques out there, and sometimes it can be tough to decide which one is the best fit for your establishment. Pairing some form of entertainment with your restaurant services can be a very simple and easy method of both driving traffic and building loyalty with your customer base. Here are a few suggestions to try.

Music in the Restaurant Makes People Stay Later and Spend More

Music and food have been a beloved pairing for decades and regardless of the type of restaurant you run, bringing music into your establishment can be quite effective at driving traffic and building loyalty. When properly promoted ahead of time, a musical event can boost sales 10-20%, making it well worth your time to arrange.

Providing music not only creates a venue which supports local musicians and artists, but also acts as an enticing lure to bring new customers through the door. People end up staying later, buying more items off the menu, and building fond memories of their experience that brings them back again and again. It’s a method of engaging your customers and going above and a beyond in terms of creating a truly enjoyable experience.

Dinner Theater is a Unique and Fun Way to Engage Your Restaurant Crowd

Dinner theater is a form of entertainment that often gets overlooked when restaurant owners consider their various possibilities for engaging their customers. Many dinner theater sets actively engage the crowd as well, making the experience a very fun and memorable one.

Dinner theater sets can take several forms, including anything from a standard play performance to a murder mystery sequence in which the guests must solve the clues themselves to ‘save’ the ‘victim.’ The fact that not a whole lot of people offer this type of entertainment is a bonus as well, and makes this an easy way to set your establishment apart from the crowd.

Allowing Fund-raising Events in Your Restaurant

Another fun way to engage your customers while doing some real good in the world is to allow people to sign up for fund-raising events through your establishment. The way this usually works is that the restaurant agrees to donate a certain percentage of the sales made during the event to the individual or charity who has requested the fundraiser. Typically, it is up to the person trying to raise the funds to do all of the advertising needed to bring people in the door.

This is a win-win for the restaurant because they get the benefit of added traffic without having to work for it, as well as the boost in reputation as being a ‘do-gooder’ establishment that genuinely cares about helping people out.

The take home message here is that there are many ways above and beyond simply providing menu specials and happy hours to entice people to frequent your place of business. Creating the types of events listed above has the added bonus of building a good reputation, getting free press, and truly engaging your customers in a fun and meaningful way.

Restaurants can Expect Beef Prices to Continue to Rise

June 24, 2013

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef prices have hit an all-time high – topping the record set in 2003 at more than $2.11 per pound for choice grade beef. While this is a record in dollar value, when adjusted for inflation the number isn’t quite so startling. These prices represent a long-term sustained inflation on beef and veal prices that won’t end any time soon.

Factors Influencing Rising Beef Costs

There are a number of factors that have been contributing to the rising cost of beef over the last several years. The most obvious is the unusual weather patterns that have affected the ability of farmers and ranchers to be able to provide enough feed for their herds. Sustained drought last year made the production of corn difficult. It also caused many ranchers to sell their cattle because they couldn’t come up with enough grass or water on their land to sustain the herd.

This year the opposite problem is occurring in many parts of the Corn Belt, wherein they are getting too much rain to get the crop planted. The fact that many ranchers have been forced to significantly reduce their herd numbers, or worse, sell out completely, has also contributed to the rising cost of beef, as quite simply, there is no longer as much beef on the market as there used to be.

Given that it takes about two years for a cow to be old enough to go to market, it will take ranchers some time to be able to build their numbers up again, assuming weather and economic conditions permit the ability to do so. As a result, the cost of beef is projected to continue its rise well through 2016.

What Rising Beef Costs Means for Restaurants

A major issue for restaurants is the fact that their menu prices aren’t rising in-step with the increasing cost of beef. As a result, profit margins are much thinner than they once were. This puts restaurant owners in a tough position, given the fact that increasing your establishment’s menu prices typically doesn’t go over well with your consumer base. As a result, restaurateurs are having to get creative to make up the difference in other ways.

How Restaurants are Managing Rising Beef Costs

One obvious way to deal with the rising cost of beef is to simply rely more heavily on alternative protein sources such as chicken or pork, which are typically much cheaper than beef and veal. Aggressively promoting these menu options allows a restaurant to keep menu prices fixed while still receiving a decent profit margin.

Choosing less expensive cuts of beef is another option some restaurants are resorting to in order to close margins without increasing menu prices. Working with beef suppliers to ensure that the measurement specs for a cut of beef are as accurate as possible and looking for other ways to reduce cost such as eliminating packaging are methods that are also helping restaurants address the inflating cost of beef.

One positive in all of this is that the higher cost of beef is tempering its demand, which ultimately will help bring things back into balance. Until the time at which beef prices level out again, however, restaurants are going to have to keep looking for creative strategies to manage the rising cost of America’s favorite meat.

Why Developing Your Virgin Cocktail Menu is Good for Business

June 19, 2013

The demand for a well-crafted cocktail has seen a resurgence over the last few years and has restored some of the honor and respect that a good bartender deserves. While having a distinctive cocktail menu can do a lot to set your restaurant apart from the crowd, having a well-developed virgin cocktail menu can do as much or more for your business. Here’s why.

‘Mocktails’ are Sadly Missing from many Restaurant Menus

The biggest reason that it’s smart to develop your virgin cocktail, or ‘mocktail’, menu is quite simply because there aren’t a whole lot of restaurants doing it. When it comes to virgin drink options many customers are stuck with club soda and cranberry juice as the extent of their choices, so it’s no surprise that their eyes light up when they discover that they too can get the same delicious drink options as their alcohol-drinking counterparts. 

Virgin Cocktails Appeal to a more Diverse Crowd, Equaling more Money for You

The second obvious reason it’s a savvy move to vamp up your virgin cocktail drink menu is the fact that you can then appeal to a more diverse crowd of customers – which, in turn, means more money coming into your establishment. It’s a well known fact that people who are ordering drinks end up creating a higher tab.

It’s also not uncommon for tables who are ordering drinks to get better service from the waitstaff than those who are not. Having mocktails on the menu means that customers who are underage or are simply not interested in consuming alcohol are not relegated to having only boring drink options.

Instead, they too can enjoy the treat of having the palette-pleasing variety that cocktails have to offer. This also helps them feel more included if they are among alcohol drinkers and gives them the added benefit of receiving the more attentive customer service that alcohol drinkers tend to get.

Cocktails are an Opportunity to Show off Your Quality Ingredients and Classy Taste

The final reason why it’s smart to develop both your cocktail and mocktail menus alike lies in the opportunity that cocktails are a way to show off a well-developed palette and the use of classy, high-quality ingredients. Instead of relying on your big soda houses for your carbonated options, scout out the beautifully crafted tonics and sodas that are lower in sugar and offer more unique flavor combinations. When developing your cocktail menu, stay in communication with your savory and pastry chefs so that you can utilize the fresh fruit, herbs, and spices stored in their pantries.

Finally, make sure that several of your cocktail options can then be converted into virgin versions that are equally tasty.

Developing a signature cocktail menu is an easy way to set your establishment apart from the crowd and adding virgin cocktail options to the mix distinguishes your business that much more. Doing so is a simple way to extend your hospitality to your non-drinking consumers while significantly increasing the average tab per customer in a way that feels truly special and distinctive.

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to Generational Differences

June 14, 2013

Most restaurants hope to attract customers of every age and generation. That said, appealing to people of all ages requires appealing to a vast variety of different values and expectations. Given that the restaurant industry is only expected to grow some 4% over the course of the next ten years, it’s critical to reexamine generational differences and shift your marketing tactics accordingly in order to find opportunities for growth.

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to the Millennial Generation

Millennials are born between 1977 and 1992. As of 2013, they are between 20-35 years old. Numbering more than 68 million people, this is the group that has been hardest hit by the recession with more than 16% of those under the age of 25 unemployed. As a result, more than 40% reported cutting back on eating out due to financial reasons. Given that this group was historically one of the strongest patrons of the restaurant industry, this represents a significant loss and finding ways to bring them back into your establishment is crucial.

Fortunately, appealing to the Millennial generation can be done fairly easily. Not surprisingly, they are drawn to deals, coupons, and discounts more than any other group. They also respond very well to happy hours and home delivery options and are more likely to choose locally-owned, independent, sit-down restaurants than any other age group. They grew up with the Internet and are most likely to use all forms of technology to research and connect with restaurants.

What Restaurants need to know about Appealing to Generation X

Gen-Xers were born between 1966 and 1976 and as of 2013, are between 36-46 years old. Nearly 90% of this generation is employed. This is the group that is most likely to have children at home and be squarely in the midst of trying to balance work and family life. As a result, they now frequent restaurants more than Millennials and are big users of take-out food.

Time and efficiency is important to this group, as is spending quality time with their kids. As a result, providing easy, convenient, kid-friendly options in your restaurant with minimal wait times is what is going to appeal to this generation the most. The hallmark of Generation X is pragmatism and practicality, so marketing messages that are straight-forward and direct are what will resonate with this generation.

What Restaurants should know about Appealing to the Baby Boomer Generation

Baby Boomers are those individuals born between 1946-1965, and will be between the ages of 47-66 as of 2013. With over 82 million people, this is the largest generation with the biggest buying power. Consumers in this generation tend to spend more per visit than younger generations and have a much higher per capita visit rate. This group tends to place a larger emphasis on having healthy eating options, and they don’t think they should have to pay more for those options. Value to the Boomer generation means things like fresh, high-quality ingredients and the ability to have choices such as portion size, substitutions, etc.

Baby Boomers are more tech-savvy than they often get credit for, and are more than capable of utilizing the web to research and evaluate restaurants prior to visiting, so it’s important to keep your website up to date with your most current specials and promotions.

While there are similarities between the values of the different generations, there are key differences as well that are important to keep in mind when designing your marketing messages. The ideal is to find the sweet spot between catering to the values of the individual group while still meeting the needs of every generation who might walk through your door.

Building Restaurant Customer Loyalty by Learning to Really Listen

June 10, 2013

As a restaurateur, you already know how important it is to deliver an experience that your customers want if you hope to have them return to your establishment – let alone recommend your business to others. One of the simplest ways to ensure that you are meeting and exceeding their expectations is, quite simply, to ask for feedback. That said, just asking for general feedback isn’t enough – you’ve also got to ask the right questions, ask in the right way, and act on the information you get.

Ask Your Customers Questions that Really Matter

Learning to ask the right questions of your customers makes all the difference in the world when it comes to getting truly useful feedback about improving their customer experience. Many restaurants make the mistake of asking only questions that are designed to help them better understand their customers’ habits rather than questions that help them understand how they could improve their experience.

For example, while it may be useful to know how often your customers eat out or where they tend to go, it is more instructive to ask questions about how you could improve their experience with your establishment or what you could do to entice them to return more frequently.

Provide Multiple Avenues for Constructive Feedback

Not everyone is comfortable providing honest feedback on the spot. Therefore, it’s smart to provide multiple avenues for customers to tell you how they are feeling. Whether this comes in the form of feedback boxes on a customer’s check, social media pages where they can post their feelings, or simply hospitality ambassadors whose sole job is to make the rounds while people eat to make sure that everything is up to par, you want to provide multiple avenues for people to talk to you.

You want to encourage honesty and breed a constructive environment through which you can gain information. Rewarding your employees who get great feedback is a part of this process too – the more that people can see the tangible effects of their efforts, the more likely they are to continue their good work.

Close the Feedback Loop by Taking Action

Last but not least, you want to make sure that you actually take action on the feedback you have garnered. Going to the effort of collecting feedback from your customers but then not bothering to do anything with it can actually hurt your business more than if you didn’t ask for feedback at all! You want to encourage honest responses and demonstrate that you’re really listening by nurturing an attitude of ‘let’s fix it!’ This breeds a culture of respect and integrity that your customers will truly appreciate.  

Taking the time to gather genuine feedback from your customers has the dual effect of helping you create an establishment that truly exceeds peoples’ expectations while simultaneously building the loyalty of the customers who frequent your restaurant. There is always room for improvement and in today’s economic environment, it is more critical than ever to do everything within your power to ensure that your customers’ experience is as remarkable as it can be.