21 Ways to Get Bigger Orders, Create Happier Customers and Grow Your Restaurant Business – Without Spending a Cent on Advertising
- Maximize (your) people power – Your staff are the face of your business, and, of equal importance to the quality of your food, their performance serves as a barometer to the customers experience. It also reflects directly on your ability to train and manage them. Western Australian restaurants suffer from a reputation for bad service, and by proving that reputation undeserved in your case, you immediately place your restaurant in a position of competitive advantage. Key expectations of customers are that staff are friendly, well presented, attentive and deliver professional service. Most common (and destructive to your business) errors staff commit are being rude, not being available (customers feel neglected if your staff are too busy for them), not knowing the menu and making mistakes with orders. Customers will not always reward you for excellent service, but they will remember, and they will return. Bad service however, almost certainly means you’ll never see those customers again. Much easier to retain customers than continually try to find new ones.
- Politeness costs you nothing, but means a lot – Do you greet your customers at the door? It seemingly an old-fashioned habit these days in most restaurants, but it makes a difference to be met at the door and invited in. It changes the feeling for the customer from purely using your space to share a meal with their friends, to feeling like they’re being invited into your dining room like it’s your home.
- Prove that the old ways are not dead – Welcome them. Make them feel like they are at a friends home. Offer them water and bread (if that suits your particular business), show them where the facilities are before they ask, ask if they had any trouble parking, if there are any more guests coming, if they’d like you to store their jackets. Listen to everything they say, and ask yourself if there’s any way to improve your service to them
- Your one chance at a first impression – Do you assign staff to make sure the tables and chairs are cleaned between covers? It can be a deal-breaker for guests. If you’re lucky they’ll just ask you to clean it before they sit; if you’re not, they may say nothing and either not sit down in the first place, or walk out and never visit you again.
- If you’re good with the kids, you’re all good with the parents – One of the things that stops so many parents going out for dinner more often is anxiety about whether the kids will sit still and behave long enough for Mum & Dad to enjoy their meal. Making your restaurant kid-friendly is a sure way to take away some of that anxiety and gain a reputation as a family restaurant. Can you offer coloured pencils and colouring-in books? Is a playground (indoor or outdoor) a possibility? Do you offer wifi so they can surf the internet or play online? Finding options that suit your business and complement what you already do will help you win repeat and referred customers.
- Seize the moment – Get the drinks order in quick. Some of your customers are thirsty. The earlier you get the first round in, the happier they’ll be. You also improve your chance of up-selling two glasses of wine to a bottle, or two bottles to four.
- Be an expert of the menu – A good indicator of your professionalism, well regarded by your patrons, is your staff’s expertise with the contents of the menu. Interrupting the flow at the table to go to the chef to ask about ingredients, or the availability of a particular dish, is not an ideal demonstration. By having full knowledge of the soup of the day, daily specials and where the ingredients have come from, you’ll be ready for any menu questions, and far better prepared to…..
- Use your menu as a sales tool – Use your knowledge of the menu to surprise and tantalize your customers. Give them all the juicy details, tempt them to go for an entree as well as a main. Be prepared to suggest matching wines to individual dishes, tell them about new seasonal produce, help the chef out by giving a couple of irresistible reasons to try the specials. Prepare and rehearse simple sales pitches with your team to give them confidence selling the menu.
- Clients are not often difficult if you’re ready for them – Be prepared for tricky questions. Do you offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options? Are any of your menu ingredients known allergens? Create a list of the awkward ones you and your staff may have been asked about before, and enjoy the confidence of being ready for them next time.
- Cleanliness is next to … happy customers – Are your amenities kept ridiculously clean? A clean bathroom is expected. A dirty one is bad news. Not all your customers will take responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. Having your staff monitor bathroom condition is good for business.
- A micro-management secret – You can avoid the embarrassment of being asked by a customer, if you make sure the toilet paper, soap and paper towels are in good supply, and the bin is emptied regularly.
- Get the basics right, goodwill will follow – Not all your customers will notice your glassware, cutlery and crockery are spotlessly clean. But almost every single one of them will notice if they’re not. It’s not a good look.
- Deliver with the food:
l Present it well; the chef, and your clients, will appreciate that you protect his hard work all the way to the table.
l In the correct order; it’s an awkward moment when a main comes out before the entrees are finished. Or served.
l To the right people; do you have a system in place so your staff are clear where each dish is supposed to go?
l At the right temperature; nothing chills the mood (or sours the anticipation) quite like a plate of hot food that’s not.
- Seize the moments – Give customers a few minutes to begin their meal, then always check they’re satisfied with everything before they ask. This is not only courteous, it gives you some redress if they complain later that they weren’t happy with something. It’s a good idea to do this for every course.
- Keep a low profile, and high readiness – Most customers prefer their wait-staff to be unobtrusive, but easy to find. By maintaining a distant but attentive eye over your tables, paying attention to water and wine glasses at the table, and offering to re-fill their glasses when they’re low, it shows great attention to customer care and is another indicator of your professionalism. Responsible service of alcohol regulations need to be adhered to of course, but it’s still polite to offer. And it’s a gesture always well received. It’s also another opportunity to up-sell.
- The secret dessert selling system – Many customers don’t order desserts with their meals, partly because they don’t want to commit until they see how they feel after mains. But immediately mains dishes have been cleared, while they’re still enjoying the last of their fantastic meal, is the time to strike. Offer them one of your spectacular desserts while they’re still glowing, and watch your dessert sales soar. You don’t have to ask the generic “Would you like to see the dessert menu?” either. It’s such a simple question to say no to. Suggest something specific, call it a chef’s recommendation, or a palate cleanser. Paint a little picture, let them imagine the dessert before they answer.
- The unseen benefit of teamwork – It’s a pleasure for patrons to watch a good team running a restaurant. They enjoy seeing efficient management, professional service, and a good interaction between the kitchen and front-of-house staff. If they see your team smiling and enjoying their work, if you can nail the service and the food, and they get a seamless conclusion at the cash register, you have just guaranteed a repeat customer.
- Take advantage of the feelgood factor – Business doesn’t have to stop at the till. Do you offer a take-away menu? A catering service? Event hosting? Before you take their money, use the opportunity to promote the other things you do. If you’ve given them a great night out, chances are good they’ll support your other services, and refer you to their friends and family.
- Brand building 101 – Maximize the goodwill you’ve created by inviting patrons to join your loyalty program. You can do this through discount vouchers, an ‘exclusive’ club membership, or any other similar program that suits your style. The important result you’re looking for is not only to encourage repeat business, but to build a database for your marketing purposes. Ask (and train your staff to ask) customers directly if they’d like to receive email and social media updates, and have a system in place to take their details without any inconvenience to them. You can then use these email addresses to promote relevant content and information about your restaurant, and encourage clients to share that information to build your brand. You can attach business cards to receipts, with links to your website, Facebook page, twitter or Instagram accounts. Your takeaway menus should have all of these details printed on them. Invite clients to review your business (and make it easy for them by including the links they need to do so) on Trip Advisor, Google +, WOMO, AGFG, goodfood.com, zomato etc. These are all point-of-sale marketing tactics that cost you little to implement, but have huge potential to grow your business.
- Invite them back – Thank each customer personally for choosing your restaurant, make them feel valued. Offer your hopes that they enjoyed the experience and that they will come again soon. This is an often-missed opportunity of connecting personally with your customer (particularly in restaurants where customers pay for their meals before they eat), and is the last chance you have to make the impression that will hopefully bring them back time and time again.
21. Prove you care what they think – Monitor your social media accounts and respond personally to all posts and reviews from customers, good or bad. Even if you see a terrible review, find a positive way to get them to give you a second chance. These sites have huge spread these days, and how you use them has an impact on people’s impression of your restaurant. A lot of prospective customers use these review sites to choose their restaurant, so while you can’t change the reviews, you can show readers that you do respond to concerns. Then you just need to prove it in the restaurant to improve your reviews. Many successful restaurants have dedicated staff purely occupied with writing/posting content for and responding to social media posts. While you may not want to commit to that sort of expense, it does show the importance these businesses place on media as part of their marketing strategy.