There are a lot of questions you can answer before opening your doors to the public. What will your venue look like? What type of food are you going to serve? What kind of people will you hire? But another question that small business owners struggle to answer is the most important one of all: how will you attract more customers to your venue?
That can be broken down into six very important tasks that we explore in greater detail below - consistency, superstar staff, incentives, convenience, information, and customisation. Print this out, and stick it to your office noticeboard: it will be your north star not just throughout those early days of business, but for years to come.
When restaurants get a bad review or a customer complaint, it almost always comes as a surprise. Why? Because in their mind as the management, their standard of food and service is extremely high - and not always a realistic reflection of the actual standards being kept. From day one, you must work hard to ensure that your standard is above board. It will feel like a lot of extra work to begin with, but in time, will come to be accepted as normal. So what does this mean? Consistency across all customer touch points, including:
- Pristine eating and working environments
- Identical portion sizes and flavours
- Fast and accurate serving time
- Great service and helpful staff.
Before opening, why not write out in detail, what you believe the 'standard' style of service you expect from your venue? Use it as a yardstick moving forward to regularly check against - and if you're slipping, you know it's time to review. Customers notice consistency above all else.
There's no doubt about it: customers remember great staff. Even the greatest restaurants with the brightest chef talent are held together by well trained and friendly staff - they are the ones to educate customers on the menu, to create a seamless experience, and put a face to your venue.
When you hire, look for attitude as well as experience. Employ people who are naturally patient and helpful, who are driven by being able to help others. They are the ones who will be the difference between good service, and 'we have to go back, the staff were amazing!' service. Word travels fast when people feel as though they are being looked after at a venue.
Creating value for your customers is a great incentive for them to choose your business. And this doesn't always have to mean discounting your product. Try and be inventive - for example, if you have a surplus of an item, why not create a 'special' menu item that utilises it?
Loyalty programs are a great incentive also. Not only does it create a loop of return customers, it gives them the feeling of being rewarded for something they would be doing anyway - visiting your venue! This can be something extremely simple, such as coffee cards, that offer incentives such as 'Buy 5 and get the 6th one free' - easy, yet effective.
Occasion-based discounts are great, too - offer special incentives based around common celebrations, such as birthdays or engagements. If you have a database system, create a mailing list so that you can keep their birthdays on file, and offer discounts or rewards around the time they will be planning celebrations.
Thanks to online channels and social media, marketing is more precise and effective than ever before. Targeting marketing campaigns mean that you can isolate precise demographics, based on age, location, and even industry. If you are struggling to get people in the door, consider your local area. Are you in a family-centric neighbourhood, but using teen or young adult language in your advertising? Be specific with who you're trying to attract.
Stay abreast of online trends and language - how can you nab your audience? What do you want to show them of your brand? Photography-based marketing, such as an Instagram account, is a quick and easy way to get people's stomachs rumbling! Invest in a professional photoshoot for your food or drinks menu, as well as your venue - it's important to put your best foot forward when creating an online profile of your business.
Customers will visit your venue if they feel a connection. That connection can be as superficial as drooling over an Instagram shot of your new hamburger, or as prolific as aligning with your stance on sustainable packaging. To create this connection, you need to offer your brand story.
Use your website, your social channels, your staff, and your venue to pack in as much information about who you are and what you do as possible. Why did you choose that cuisine? Who makes it better than anyone else? What's important to you in customer service?
Having a strong brand story based on solid values and experience will give your customers a great personal reason to try you out...or return for more!
Convenience & Customisation
So, there lesson here is this: focus on convenience, and customisation. How can you ensure a seamless journey for your customer? How can you accommodate for changes to the menu? How can you cater for kids, or allergies, or various budgets? This will cast the net wider for more people to choose you.
The hospitality industry is a congested market, and it's more important than ever to concentrate on creating a brand that's both inviting and exciting. Once you can get new customers in the door, your focus should be on gathering a loyal customer base.
Think outside the square, and always remain connected to the grassroots of your neighbourhood to keep it touch with what the locals like.