“We had a great time catching up with each other at dinner, reminiscing and laughing and just enjoying the company. And oh yeah, the food was good, too.”
Your restaurant sells food, right? But is that the only product you’re marketing? Of course not! Here we take a look at how you can carve out a specific niche in your local market and focus on your real restaurant product. To be successful in the restaurant industry, most will agree that you need good service and good food. But what does that mean, exactly? How do you define the word ‘good’? It really does differ from restaurant to restaurant based on customer expectations of your specific location. After all, if every eating place looked like and served food that tasted like and provide the exact same in service as Joe’s Place, there really wouldn’t be much need for market competition, would there?
First, you need to know what category you belong and how people perceive the expected experience of your restaurant. Here are four examples, but please know there are more than four. Figure out what it is you’re selling. It’s not just the food or service; it’s really about the experience you’re giving your guests. Once you know what your product is, the next step is incorporating little things that will let your customers know you’re willing to exceed their expectations and stand out in your niche market.
Product: Convenience and speed
The quick service restaurant industry sells convenience and speed. The food doesn’t have to be top-quality, but the price has to be comparable to preparing a meal at home. The convenience factor is what leads the consumer to make the decision to buy out instead. The food still has to be “good” and service has to be friendly but on the level that a customer perceives to be acceptable in return for the time-savings they’re really seeking. A frozen-then-reheated burger? Eh, at least it didn’t come out of the customer’s freezer.
Tips to do it better:
- Make sure your take-out service is excellent. Environment-friendly to-go containers? Check. Easy to carry bags? Check. Extra napkins and silverware? Check. Lids and straws? Check. Neatly packaged dips, dressings, and sauces? Check. Coupon for next visit? Why not? Don’t forget, the hot foods and cold foods should be kept separated to help maintain safe temperatures in transit. Drink carriers appreciated. And please double-check the order to make sure it’s all there and all correct.
- Be clean. It’s okay to serve quick and easy dishes that appeal to the masses, but the masses aren’t going to return if you have a dirty restaurant table, crumbs in your booths, or a germ-infested bathroom. Make a coffee break / pit stop a quick and clean one for guests traveling through, and they’ll remember you the next time they’re in town.
- Offer some made-to-order options. Be flexible enough to cater to specific requests when they won’t harm your bottom line. Gluten-free and allergy-friendly choices are also important in today’s made-for-me society.
- Appear fresh. Add in some healthy selections. Allow customers to see some of the food making process. If you’re transparent in what you’re creating, and they feel like you’re choosing the best ingredients at an affordable price – and it’s all being done in a sanitary fashion – then you’ll make them feel confident in choosing your restaurant.
–>The emotional reaction: “They made it so quick and easy for me, when otherwise, there would have been no time to eat. Plus, I could easily afford the meal-on-the-go!”
Product: Social gathering place
The neighborhood bar where everyone knows your name? The best spot in town to catch the game with your friends? If you’re going for social, then it’s about offering a place for people to kick back and have some fun with their friends. Maybe you have pool tables or dart boards or a digital jukebox. The large-enough-to-share appetizer menu with affordable drinks and “bar food” to order; sound familiar? Whatever it is that makes people pull up a bar stool and relax in your joint, meet up with their friends, or order up another round is your key selling point.
Tips to do it better:
- Your staff have to be really outgoing and fit right in with the groups of socialites choosing your bar for their next hangout. Hire personable staff members and train them on excellent service skills. If customers like your staff members, they’ll be back to see their friends.
- Consider bringing in some entertainment, such as live music, a karaoke night, or an interactive trivia contest. The more reasons you give, the more likely your customers will plan night outs at your place.
- Be social online, too. Offer exclusive deals to your Facebook or Twitter followers. Start a Pinterest page for your restaurant, and reward your Foursquare mayor frequently. Thank your Yelp! reviewers and find creative ways to encourage your in-restaurant guests to chat you up in all of their online social spaces, too.
–>The emotional reaction: “My friends and I had a blast! We created memories that will last a lifetime, and we cannot wait to go back and make new friends next time.”
Product: Family dinnertime
With two-parent working homes and a busier-than-ever lifestyle, more moms and dads are turning to restaurants to help them feed their families. This means they want healthier choices, fresher ingredients, and more so, the comfort of being in a homelike atmosphere to sit down and enjoy both a meal and conversation about the various family members’ days while huddled around the restaurant table.
Tips to do it better:
- Staff must be friendly and be able to talk to the kids and the adults equally well. When the kids are happy, Mom and Dad are happy, too. It’s all about making the entire family feel special and at home.
- Promote customer loyalty with always-changing kids activities, and develop a kid menu that parents and kids will both love. Keep the kids occupied from the moment their wiggly behinds hit the restaurant booth, so everyone dining at the time is having a great experience.
- Have you heard of the “Give ’em the pickle” philosophy? If you can make small sacrifices to keep your customers happy, they’ll feel appreciated and will let others know. Use the word, “yes,” a lot.
–>The emotional reaction: “I got to spend some quality time with my family before homework and bedtime routines. Plus, I didn’t have to use precious time to cook or do the dishes, bonus!”
Product: Culinary masterpiece
If your guests find themselves at a fine dining establishment, chances are they expect a pristine interior with immaculate place settings. They also expect top-of-the-line ingredients and a nice fat price tag that signifies quality. Your exotic menu with fanciful choices and an extensive wine list reads like a descriptive travel book. Above-excellent service is expected, but if it is accompanied with a bit of a snooty attitude, in this scenario, your guests will find it completely acceptable, because there is a trade-off for the culinary masterpiece that will arrive on a clean white plate in such artistic form they’ll feel like royalty.
Tips to do it better:
- Complete your website content by adding a full menu with prices and your dress code, so patrons know exactly what to expect before stepping through your front door.
- Share your chef’s story anywhere you can: on your website, on social media pages, through local and national food magazines, in your menu, via your trained staff. The more personal you can be, the better. This is a social and engaged world, and people like to know the intimate (but not-too-intimate) details of other people’s lives. So be human. It’s what will make your restaurant a favorite. The chef will visit your table during dessert? Even better!
- Presentation matters. Create anticipation with descriptive menus and follow it up with an adrenaline rush when the waitstaff sets down the plate, so gorgeous your guests will literally drop their jaws for your food.
–>The emotional reaction: “It was so romantic and luxurious, and the meal completely wowed me. I can’t wait for the next date night!”
Dining out is less about the food and more about the emotional reaction your customers have from the entire experience. Think about the whole picture and what your customers are expecting when they choose your bar or restaurant. This will help you capitalize on their wants and needs, which in turn, means you capture a loyal customer who will positively impact your restaurant’s success.