How To Turn Around A Restaurant

What do you do when your restaurant isn’t profitable?  There are a few simple building blocks that are the foundation of every successful restaurant turn around.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an easy and cheap answer to sustainable restaurant growth?  Whether you’re new to this business or have been around the block, you’ve surely realized that there is no silver bullet to increasing your restaurant sales and keeping them high.

One mistake many restaurant owners make is believing that marketing is the answer to growing sales.  Building a great restaurant comes down lots of hard work on a few fundamentals.  Then, and only then, you move on to marketing programs.  All great restaurants are built on the same five building blocks.  These are easy to know and understand, but are challenging to implement effectively.  Oh, and it turns out that these fundamentals are also your best marketing tools.

  1. Service.  When was the last time you had truly surprising service?  So good that you actually mentioned it to someone?  Surprising service doesn’t have to be grandiose.  Many times the smallest things make the biggest impact.  A smile, a personal question or comment, greeting the customer as they come through the door, making a first time guest feel like part of the family, offering something extra (maybe even for free?!?), saying their name, cleaning up their garbage, refilling their drink, making a personal commitment that their food or experience will be great, handing them a business card, offering to follow up with them to be sure that their experience was great.  When was the last time one of these happened to you?  When was the last time one of these happened to one of your guests?  It’s easy for our service to become ordinary when we’re serving thousands of guests.  Challenge your team to create simple ways that ordinary can seem extraordinary each and every time.  The best way to generate word-of-mouth marketing is by delivering consistently surprising service.
  2. Food.  Yes, as a restaurant, food is your foundation.  Getting a customer to try your food is the first step in creating a long-term, repeat guest.  Get them to try your food, and and they’ll fall in love with you, right?  Your food is a great marketing tool.  Delicious food accurately and consistently prepared is a must.  Like any restaurant, sometimes you won’t get it right.  This is a great opportunity to move a guest from dissatisfied to a raving fan all in one step.  First, of course, make it right.  Give them what they ordered and paid for since it is what they ordered and paid for.  Encourage them to keep what was made incorrectly – they may quickly find they like it a lot more for free.  Then give them something so compelling that they can’t help but come back into your restaurant.  Surprise them with your solution.
  3. Environment.  Whenever a guest comes in your doors, you’re inviting them into your world, into your home to eat your food.  Every element of the environment sends a message about who you are, and what you’re like.  Creating a clean, inviting environment with the right atmosphere is critical to giving each guest that desire to return.  You have an opportunity to create an energizing respite for someone’s day.  Friendly service, smiles all around, clean tables and clean bathrooms all help create that atmosphere.
  4. Value.  You don’t have to be the cheapest to be the best value.  Your prices have to be fair in conjunction with all of the other components of the value equation – food, service, environment, convenience, brand, speed, location, etc.  Everyone wants a good deal on a great product.  If you can over deliver on every component of value, our guests will have great reasons to choose you over the competition time and again.  Fixing a value problem is one of the hardest things to do in the restaurant business.  When prices rise too high or your service and quality slip, customers walk out the door and never return.  It’s much easier to make customers happy today than to recover someone who leaves dissatisfied.  If your customers are leaving without planning to return it creates a downward spiral that is hard to correct.  Be sure to get ongoing feedback from your guests so you can identify a problem before it gets out of control.
  5. Location.  How are you leveraging your location?  Are you near residential, businesses, or schools?  Each of these has their own excellent marketing opportunities.  Getting involved with the community around your restaurant is critical to building the long-term relationships that will help your location thrive over time.  Your current location is fixed, but remember that a good location can be a powerful marketing tool.  Invest in your location and all the other marketing you do will be more effective.

If you’re over-delivering on these five building blocks, you’re already doing your best marketing.  Generating new trial and satisfied customers who return frequently will happen naturally when you’re focused on these fundamentals.  After you’ve optimized these areas, you’re ready to take your marketing programs to the next level by increasing community involvement, local store marketing, catering, online ordering, loyalty programs, upselling, partnerships, interactive marketing and other marketing.

Written by

Gerry O'Brion is a marketing speaker and author who translates big brand strategies into knowledge that any business can use to win in the marketplace. Whether you have a small business or big brand, Gerry's strategies can grow your business. Gerry built his career growing big brands. After earning his MBA at the University of Michigan, he worked with Procter & Gamble on brands such as Crisco, Tide, Mr. Clean, and Spic & Span. Next, at Coors Brewing Company he managed Coors Light, a $2 billion business. He was then VP of Marketing for the $1.5 billion Quiznos restaurant chain. Gerry was most recently VP of Marketing for Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, a $1 billion brand.

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