There are plenty of ways for restaurateurs to take stock in the new year, but here are a few simple ways to get started in 2011.
- Fix your website: If the emergence of a blog poking fun at restaurant websites (Never Said About Restaurant Websites) is not a call to action (albeit a snarky one) for restaurateurs to take a hard look at their online presence, then we don’t know what is. The public is speaking, and they’re frustrated with restaurant websites that ignore basic, good marketing tactics like listing hours, addresses and cross streets prominently on the first page. They’re tiring of graphic overloads, animation and music that slows down their quest for information, and they’d rather not see photos unless they’re of specific dishes or interior and exterior shots. And the menu? Make it easy to find and read with minimal clicks – PDF downloads are unnecessary and slow.
- Mind your menu: Is your menu so long, it confuses customers and slows down the ordering process? Is it so limited that it’s difficult to please a small group? Is it tattered, worn or spotted? Coyle Hospitality’s restaurant secret shoppers too many times have found misspellings, watermarks, smudges and other defects on what should be a calling card for your restaurant. What about the menu design – does it reflect who you are and you’re unique selling points? Menus that are smaller and more focused are more credible.
- Piggyback on a foodie tour: Culinary tourism is exploding, and more visitors are seeking out organized food tours that incorporate local restaurants in explorations of the culture and history of an area. Many food tour directors are seeking restaurants who understand their product and can provide a meaningful food or dining experience that contributes to the tour. Often these operators work with upwards of 80 restaurants in a given city. The upsides for restaurants? These tours bring in new groups of people and a source of revenue at off-peak times and allow the restaurant to customize a meal that reflects the best of what they offer. And it’s a golden opportunity to capture positive word-of-mouth referrals from food-driven customers who are much more likely to share their passions with other foodies.
- Ponder your partnerships: It’s true that some partnerships, such as with daily deal companies and reservations sites, bring in a slew of new customers that keep the cash flowing. But are these partnerships a solid, long-term strategy for your business or a stop-gap measure that ends up costing you financially? Hospitality consultants recommend taking a clear hard look at these partnerships – they should work in a solid back-and-forth way without extracting a negative toll. And consider partnerships with complimentary (or even somewhat competitive) businesses where there’s an even give-and-take that honors all parties.
- Smiles, everyone, smiles: It’s not novel, for sure, and it doesn’t require any special training, but too often smiles are parceled out like they’re part of a strained marketing budget. Yet they make up for a myriad of mistakes – a subtle form of good will that creates an emotional impression with diners who often go on to tell everyone how ‘friendly’ your restaurant is. Eye contact and a smile: as Coyle’s mystery shopping programs often discover, too many restaurants forget this.
- Tech it up a notch: When one restaurant in Chicago started using an iPad to display its wine list, wine sales went up 20 percent. It’s not just about being cool and on the tech bandwagon, restaurant consultants are finding the use of iPads and smartphone mobility – from uploading menus to conducting customer feedback surveys – can have real results.