Running a restaurant has never been easy. The number of restaurants which fail is high, public taste is fickle and eating out is one of the first luxuries to be knocked on the head when times are tough.
Insolvencies hit a record high in 2018, which was double the amount from 2010! Some of the reasons behind the increase include market saturation and the competition from delivery apps like Just Eat and Deliveroo.
But in spite of this, there are still plenty of opportunities for restaurateurs just like you to revamp, revitalise and grow your business so you’re in the best possible position for the future.
#1 Learn what people want – and don’t want
A lot of restaurants keep offering their customers the same thing in the same way for years without questioning whether they’re still in touch with what’s hot and what’s not.
Many hospitality bosses keep offering customers the same thing in the same way for years without questioning whether they’re still in touch with common tastes and preferences.
When the British Hospitality Association and Nestle asked people what they wanted from a restaurant experience, they said, in order of preference:
- Somewhere fun
- A venue that’s cool
- Someone that’s excitement
- A place that’s child-friendly
- Fresh ingredients
And the things that were likely to turn them off included:
- Restaurants that were too far away or difficult to get to
- Places they weren’t already familiar with and hadn’t heard of
- Taste and preference of cuisine
If someone doesn’t like Thai food and you’re a Thai restaurant, you’re unlikely to win that person over. However, you can win on other fronts.
For example, feature comments or reviews from satisfied customers on your website and social media, promote your restaurant’s selling points (like great outdoor seating), or make a virtue of unusual or unique things on your menu.
#2 Scrutinise your prices
When did you last properly cost and price your menu? Do an audit of your dishes, the cost of your ingredients, and the markup on each item.
Food prices have risen considerably in recent years, so calculate what you’re making per dish. Are you including all the condiments used, such as ketchup or parmesan cheese added at the table?
Take all of your costs into account, including labour, rent, cleaning, supplies, and utility bills. Estimate an average number of monthly customers (use the previous months’ till takings if you’re unsure of the figure), plus how much people spend on average.
With these numbers to hand, you should be able to work out how much profit you’re making on individual recipes, and overall.
If you discover you need to increase prices, be careful. Rounding up charges can have a big psychological impact. A burger at £9.95 looks much better value than at £10. Some items are easier to inflate than others – wine, spirits, and beer, coffee and tea, soft drinks, and desserts are extra elements people may be prepared to pay more for.
Of course, you may decide to go down the opposite route and cut prices to attract more business. Offering deals or set menus at certain times of the day could be another marketing tactic. Look at what other busy restaurants in your area are doing to get ideas, and for a sense of what people will spend.
#3 Revitalise your menu and venue
If your menu’s looking a bit tired, or people aren’t choosing what’s on offer, it may be time for an overhaul, both in terms of content and design. Big chains hire executive chefs to devise new recipes but if you’re a small restaurant, you might not have this luxury.
Research what’s popular – for example, Thai and Japanese restaurants have grown massively in popularity recently according to Big Hospitality. Consider adding more Thai or Japanese dishes to your menu.
Other trends include a growing desire for spicy, smoky, and exotic world cuisines from South America, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. Or you could plug into the buzz for healthy foods, or at least make sure your menu lists all dishes that are vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, peanut-free, and dairy-free.
On a simple level, think about existing dishes that are popular, and those that aren’t. It may be better to have a shorter, simpler menu with a few key dishes that genuinely sell, plus a few seasonal specials.
What about a bright, fresh menu design? And take a long, hard look at your premises to determine whether it needs a new look, too.
We have a lot of experience working with hospitality companies, lending them the capital they need to give their businesses a new lease of life. A lick of paint, modern tables and chairs, and a sleek appearance can be very effective at attracting a new clientele.
#4 Get the word out on social media
If you’re not already, you should think about embracing digital marketing and social media if you want to keep ahead with 21st century marketing practices – and consumer behaviour.
Of course, good old-fashioned methods are also effective, so put effort into your external signs, menus and A-boards. Some customers make spontaneous decisions about dining in a venue when walking past, but a growing majority plan in advance using the internet and social media.
Social media is also where your customers can share their experiences of eating out, so you’ll find conversations happening about your business on Twitter, Instagram and other networks. You need to be there too, to respond to queries, complaints, and to offer feedback.
Social media is a great platform for hospitality business to invite proactive comments from users about what they want, whether that’s changes to the menu, better facilities, or where to open another branch.
Making consumers feel more involved and appreciated is essential in an age when many customers are all too ready to express their dissatisfaction with a dining experience to a wide audience online.
If you’re just too busy to get stuck in to social media yourself, there are agencies who can do it for you in exchange for a fee. For example, JC Social Media will handle everything from your Facebook and Twitter profiles to your listing on TripAdvisor.
Finally, don’t forget your staff! They are the public face of your business, so ensure they’re properly trained, satisfied in their work, and generating a good buzz on the restaurant floor. Their attitude is truly infectious.
Then, with all of these positive ingredients in place, there’s no reason why your restaurant business shouldn’t go from strength to strength. Bon appétit!