Restaurant Management

Loyalty Programs: The Profit Behind the Rewards

The phrase “customer loyalty program” often brings to mind images of punch cards and freebies, but loyalty programs have evolved through the years into so much more. Technology and data mining techniques have turned the programs from cheap promotional tactics into big data goldmines that allow smart establishments to tailor their marketing to each customer.  In this article, we’re going to take a look at the different types of loyalty programs, why your restaurant needs one, and the best practices for implementing it.

How it works

In the restaurant industry, there are two basic types of loyalty programs: points based systems or tiered systems. Points-based systems reward customers for dollars spent or frequency of visits, while tiered systems benefit long-time customers by awarding them special access and exclusive opportunities.  To determine what type of system would work best at your restaurant, consider which behaviors you would like to reward.

Why You Should Implement a Loyalty Program

The numbers are in and they show that it is much more lucrative to focus on creating loyalty in your customers than gaining new customers. A study by Bain & Company reported that a 5% improvement in customer loyalty can increase lifetime profits by as much as 95%. Even more, a whopping 70% of customers who participate in loyalty programs report purchasing more.  New business is great but it costs more to acquire a new customer than retaining an existing one: in some cases, up to 6 or 7 times more.

Some restaurants who have implemented loyalty programs have also seen a reduction in attrition and an increase in referrals.

The kind of loyalty that influences the frequency of a customer’s visits occurs when customers relate to a dining establishment. Take a look at the demographic that you would like to focus on and make sure that your business positioning and processes align with those of that demographic. Creating a customer persona could be helpful during this process. Customer personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal customers.

For example, in a college town, your customer persona is probably an early 20-something looking for a meal at the most affordable price point. If you are located in a more family friendly area the persona might look more like someone in their mid-30’s who is willing to spend a little bit more for a higher quality meal.

Return on Investment

Having a loyalty program can also do wonders for collecting customer data. By tracking the items purchased, the frequency of visits, and dollars spent, you can determine the best areas to invest your money. Managers or owners can even take the gathered analytics to analyze the popularity of a dish and determine what other items could be purchased to pair with it and increase sales. For example, if one of your all-time best sellers is a poultry dish, you might want to consider ordering a new chardonnay known to pair nicely with chicken.  You’re customers receive a better all-around experience and you see an increase in profits.

These same analytics can be used to analyze customer behaviors, which can then be organized into data to develop promotions that are designed specifically to appeal to a certain group of customers.  The ultimate goal is to create motivational offers to influence a customer, increasing the frequency of return visits as well as per-visit spending.

Loyalty Program Best Practices

  • Provide an Immediate Incentive
    • That instant reward for signing up might be just enough to convince any customers that are on the fence about joining to take the plunge.
  • Make it Easy to Join
    • Don’t force your target audience to have to scour your website to find your sign-up page. Have it in a highly visible spot as well as talking to your staff about encouraging customers to sign-up in the restaurant. Signing up should take no longer than a few minutes.
  • Take only the information you absolutely need
    • Customers don’t want to spend their time filling out long surveys just to sign up for your program. Try to limit your questions to essentials like name, birthday, and email address.
  • Personalize offerings to members
    • Loyalty programs often fail because their offerings are too general. By creating specialized incentives based on what the customer has previously purchased you are more likely to see them walking through your door.

What Not to Do

  • Limited Time Offers
    • Limited time offers can be a great way to get customers in the door and increase traffic, but these strategies are not enough to create loyal customers. Spending money on these promotions may see an uptick in new customers but these are the same customers who are not likely to return until you run another promotion.
  • Don’t Have Customers Wondering if the Rewards Will Work
    • Make sure your employees are well versed in redeeming your loyalty system. It can lead to frustration on both sides if customers are trying to use a loyalty program reward and aren’t able to because of faulty programming or a poor system. Your relationship with the customer is the most important thing.
  • Don’t Forget to Use the Data
    • Customers will expect relevant offers in exchange for the personal information they are providing. It is crucial to make use of the information provided to tailor your message as much as possible.

Loyalty programs may seem like they are geared more towards benefiting the customer but in the end, it is a mutually beneficial relationship. The value of the data gathered, and brand loyalty that is inspired far outweigh the costs of a few perks. By implementing and utilizing a loyalty program your restaurant could see a significant increase in profits.

 

 

 

A Seasonal Hiring Guide for Restaurants

We all remember our first jobs; usually a summer gig to make a little bit of extra cash while school was out of session.  We can still feel the nervousness of putting in our application and anxiously waiting to hear back about an interview. Then, after securing the job, there was that first day of work and the intimidation of training. Finally, that first paycheck made it all worth it. You’ve dreamed for the past two weeks about what you will spend your hard earned cash on. That is until you rip open that first envelope and confirm with your parents that, yes that really is the right amount of taxes to be taken out. Seasonal jobs are a lot of people’s first introduction into the workforce. But what about the other end of it – that of the employer?  Being on the other end can be just as stressful as being the job seeker.

Hiring seasonal help is often necessary to the restaurant industry. Whether it is for the summer season or the holiday rush, seasonal hires can help businesses handle the extra workload that isn’t present during other times of the year. Being well staffed has its advantages. Your business will be able to easily adjust to the workload fluctuations that come along with the change in seasons. If customer demand increases, a well-staffed restaurant will be able to respond positively and ensure a good customer experience. When restaurants have the right employees and enough employees, customer service goes up along with customer satisfaction and 86% of consumers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience.

Don’t forget that having enough seasonal help leads to shorter wait times and faster service; with faster service comes a quicker turnover rate of customers, which in turn leads to higher profits. Finally, offering seasonal help will help to give your full-time employees more flexibility in their schedules during the holidays/summer season. Keeping your regular help happy is crucial in retaining them during the months when you don’t need the seasonal help.

People remember their first job and they also remember if it was a good fit for them or a total disaster.  To ensure that you find yourself in a well-staffed, pleasant work environment this season take a look at a few pieces of advice to help secure the best employees for your restaurant.

  1. Know What You Want

The best way to start your search is with a solid idea of who you need and what you want them to do. Be clear on the responsibilities of the position. Are you looking for previous experience in the industry? Or are you willing to train them completely? Something to keep in mind is that you can always train someone but you cannot adjust their personality to fit your business or to mesh well with your current employees. You want quality over quantity. A few characteristics to be on the lookout for are:

  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Great personality
  • Good customers service
  • Smile, make eye contact, communicate well
  • fits with your full time staff
  • Don’t have a lot of prior commitments
  • Don’t need a lot of time off
  1. Revisit Job Descriptions

It can be tempting to reuse the job descriptions that you created in years previous but don’t. Check your descriptions and requirements for accuracy before posting anywhere. Oftentimes, jobs change over time and you don’t realize how much until the needs aren’t met. Ask any employees currently performing that job for a list of their duties and requirements so you can accurately present the position and reach the best candidates.

  1. Promote the Benefits

Attract the best candidates and convince them that your establishment is a good fit for them by advocating the best parts of your workplace. Is it a fun place to work? Do you offer a discount on meals? Are you willing to work around vacation schedules? Mention perks like that in your job postings or during the interview process to show good candidates why they should choose your business over another. Most potential employees have put in applications to multiple businesses in hopes of being sure to secure a position, so what you put in your description can make all the difference.

  1. Know Your Audience

Who are you looking for and what do they like? If you are looking to hire millennials and iGens in your restaurant maybe look more towards social media to promote you job listings. Chances are that if someone is already a patron of your business and following your social accounts they might be interested in working with you. Especially if you offer a discount on meals! If you are considering hiring retirees perhaps go a more traditional route and put an ad for your job openings in the local paper or on the radio. Also, don’t count out the tried but true tactic of putting a “Now Hiring” sign in your window.

  1. Start Early

It may feel like you have all the time in the world, but summer will be upon you before you even know it. To be safe, start your recruiting process a solid two months in advance of when you need your seasonal employees to start. Keep in mind that your core demographic such as college students and high school students are going to need to make it through finals before they can even think about starting to train in your restaurant.

Starting early will also help you to get the process going before the summer hiring frenzy begins. A lot of college students put in applications during their spring breaks in hopes of securing a summer job.

When hiring, fill in your key positions first. That way you know that you will be covered and not scrambling at the last minute to find only a decent fit for a position that is crucial to your operations.

  1. Be Consistent

As it is with food, consistency is paramount. Make sure that your recruiting processes are consistent across the board. If all employees are required to go through the same experiences you have a better chance of a consistent work environment. Employees also spend a lot of time together talking; you don’t want them to be chatting and realize you hired the neighbor kid on the spot and made them go through 3 different interviews. Save time by having a process in place for interviewing, call backs, and onboarding so that the process can be smooth and efficient.

  1. Mind the Gaps

Once you do have your staff hired, be sure to have a system of checks and balances to track their progress and watch for red flags. Some people can seem like a perfect fit during the interview process but once they join the team they just don’t fit into the natural workflow. It’s not ideal but it does happen and it’s better to know that earlier rather than later when you can’t do much to amend the damage.

With the busier and more lucrative months comes a higher workload level and seasonal hires can be a great way to help distribute the demand. Even though they are temporary employees it is still important to determine if they are a good fit for your business. By starting early, knowing what you want, advertising your openings, and having a consistent hiring process you are on your way to finding seasonal employees that have the potential to mesh with your business and maybe even become a returning and trusted employee. Best of luck in your search!

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How Much Does Restaurant Furniture Cost? FAQ’s from the files of East Coast Chair & Barstool

How much does restaurant furniture cost
If you’ve ever asked “how much does restaurant furniture cost”, you probably got a somewhat unsatisfactory answer like “it depends on what you get”.  While this is certainly true – restaurant furniture can range from a few thousand dollars up to serious five figure digits – we figured that we could at least layout some common scenarios to give you an approximation of the cost to furnish your restaurant.

To keep it simple, all of these scenarios are based on a dining space of 1500 square feet with 20 tables, 8 booths, 60 chairs, and 10 bar stools.  There are 3 scenarios: a budget friendly option for a restaurant owner that wants the most economical furniture to get started, a mid-level option for a restaurant owner that wants great looking furniture at a great price, and an option for a restaurant owner that wants to create an ambiance around their furniture without breaking the bank.

Scenario 1 – Economy Furniture Cost

20 – Resin 36” x 36” Table Tops = $600

60 – Gladiator Metal Ladder Back Chairs with Vinyl Seat = $1500

10 – Gladiator Metal Ladder Back Barstools with Vinyl Seat = $500

8 – Standard Vinyl Upholstered Booths = $1500

Furniture Cost = $4100.00

 

Scenario 2 – Mid-Level Furniture Cost

20 – Solid Wood Butcher Block Tables = $2920

60 – Viktor Steel TOLIX style restaurant chairs = $3780

10 – Viktor Steel TOLIX style barstools – $710

8 – Vinyl Upholstered Restaurant Booths – $1640

Furniture Cost = $9050.00

 

Scenario 3 – Reclaimed Wood Furniture Cost

20 – Reclaimed Barnwood Tables = $4400

60 – Simon Steel Café Chairs with Reclaimed Wood Seats = $6000

10 – Simon Steel Café Barstools with Reclaimed Wood Seats = $1100

8 – Custom Reclaimed Barn Wood Booths = $4200

Furniture Cost = $15700.00

 

All of these scenarios are based on just a few of the furniture options that are commonly available at East Coast Chair & Barstool, where we sell direct to restaurants and keep costs low by cutting out the middle man.  True, you could go to a dealer or niche manufacturer and buy furniture that cost 3-5x more, but the only difference would be the price tag.

Have a question about furniture cost?  Leave a comment below and we’ll be glad to help.

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How to Prepare Your Restaurant for a PR Crisis

PR Plan

Running a restaurant is a big responsibility. You have employees, vendors, and customers all counting on you to succeed. This pressure is magnified even more so when there’s an unexpected crisis thrown into the mix.

Whether it’s a health hazard or an earthquake, your restaurant needs to be prepared to deal with the fallout and snap into crisis mode. These crises happen without a moment’s notice and can be catastrophic if not dealt with correctly. So how does your restaurant begin to prepare for the unexpected?

Avoid Being the “Ostrich”:

When a crisis does strike, your restaurant needs to be fast-acting to acknowledge the issue and take the appropriate steps to work towards a solution.

The very last thing you want your organization to be facing at the height of a disaster is a media outrage because you didn’t make any sort of statement. There is no playing the ostrich here; you cannot stick your head in the sand and pretend your problems will go away. You need to be clear, succinct, and precise with your plan internally and to the public. This can be done with a crisis management agenda.

Creating this plan can help you remain calm in times of crises which, in turn, can lead to better decision-making. Every restaurant should have an agenda for managing critical situations, the size of which will depend on the size of your operation and the issue at hand.

How to Compile a Crisis Management Agenda:

  • Brainstorm the risks faced by your restaurant such as food safety, insurance liabilities, and potential disasters (before they occur).
  • Create a checklist or plan of what should happen when an emergency happens.
  • Designate a task force of individuals who will carry out the step-by-step plan.
  • Delegate tasks and information to be disseminated internally and externally of the restaurant.
  • Identify key organizations that need to be notified such as fire, police, and ambulance services.
  • Make a list of audiences that need to be informed: reporters, legal entities, insurance companies. Don’t forget how you plan to address employees and the public.

PlanThis agenda should be shared with upper level management and designated employees that are appointed in the agenda. For an effective strategy, this information can easily be spread with Google Docs. Using Google Docs can lessen paper usage and, in case of a fire, will ensure you plan stays intact.

Having a crisis management procedure in place can lessen panic and give you a roadmap for navigating the seas of this crisis.

Keep Your Emotions in Check:

It’s without a doubt that going through a crisis that puts your livelihood in jeopardy is a stressful time. It’s also a crucial time to remain level-headed throughout the crisis. By acknowledging the issues your restaurant is facing and following your crisis management agenda, you can use your team to direct your efforts appropriately, even if you’re still in shock while the situation unfolds.

Not keeping your emotions in check can cause more issues if you act on them. Instead of acting brashly, use your emotions to convey sincerity and genuine concern. Maintaining a calm and professional demeanor can not only begin to fix customer perception but also inspire a more civil view for employees.

Emotions

For example, Applebee’s had a tumultuous public relations nightmare in 2013. Long story short, Applebee’s fired a staff member for posting a negative comment that a customer had written (due to a privacy violation) and then praised another staff member through a post that also had the customer’s name. Applebee’s posted on Facebook stating the reason they had fired the first staff member, which invited many comments from followers. In the middle of the night, the Applebee’s social media team posted an update on the post, which got lost in the 17,000 comments currently on the post. The social media team began tagging the people who had commented and copy/pasting the update their comments, leading to more heckling and an additional 16,000 comments. The social media team could have waited until a reasonable hour and posted a new update, not a comment, instead of adding fuel to the fire.

Moral of the story? Think before you act impulsively.

Say Sorry and Mean It:

Apologizing is not an easy step for any business, but it is a necessary evil in trying to repair the public’s trust. While making an apology, focus on being sincere. After all, what is an apology without feeling the deepest regret about the actions that occurred? With an honest-to-goodness apology to the affected parties, a business is taking ownership of the situation and can give it credibility.

micIn making this heartfelt apology, you will also want to take timing into account. If a crisis occurs, a restaurant’s timely apology is important in keeping customers on their side. Even if your team is working behind the scenes to better the situation, it is imperative that these actions are communicated and not done in silence. The longer an apology takes, the less customers will take it seriously.

Go further for your customers and add a side of great customer service to your apology. From late 2015 to early 2016, about 40 Chipotle customers were sickened from E. coli contaminants; a tough blow to a restaurant chain that prided themselves on fresh food free of genetically-modified organisms. Making an apology statement turned advertisement in major newspapers nationwide, Chipotle founder, Steve Ells, addressed the outbreaks, apologized, and made promises of more thorough food safety standards. To bring people back into its restaurants, Chipotle launched their brief rewards program, direct mail offers, and mobile promotions to earn free burritos.

Unfortunately, the world can change at the drop of a hat: people make snap judgments, tectonic plates collide, and food is not handled with proper care. But that doesn’t mean your restaurant can’t be prepared to combat these crises when they happen. Having a plan, keeping your emotions in check, and truly apologizing are crucial elements in preparing your restaurant for a future crisis. Remember the best offense is a good defense.

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A Guide to Bar and Restaurant Insurance

There are a lot of exciting and interesting parts of the restaurant industry. While insurance probably doesn’t make your top 3 most exciting topics, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. Can you imagine if your business went up in flames and you didn’t have any sort of insurance to cover the losses? You could spend the rest of your days paying for a business that didn’t even exist anymore.  Certain insurances are required just to be able to open your restaurant while others are supplemental and might just be a good idea to have. We spoke with Steve Scuilli Vice President of Exchange Underwriters Inc., a man with 25+ years of experience in the insurance industry, to get you an expert opinion on what you need to know about insuring your restaurant.

Who Needs Restaurant Insurance?

Basically, all businesses in the restaurant and food industry need some sort of restaurant insurance. Bars, cafés, diners, delis, fast food restaurants, lounges, pubs, breweries, and pizza places all require some sort of insurance specifically designed for the food industry.

Do you remember Chi-Chi’s, the Mexican restaurant that is now infamous for having the largest outbreak of Hepatitis A in U.S. restaurant history? The restaurant was already suffering from bankruptcy when the cases came to light. Due to the outbreak, hundreds of people were sickened, one needed a liver transplant and four people sadly died.  Green onions from Mexico that were used to make salsa were the cause of the outbreak. The fault was with the suppliers but Chi-Chi’s was not financially stable enough and did not have enough liability insurance to meet all the claims that came out after the outbreak. Perhaps if they had enough insurance they would still be around today.

While every business in the food industry needs some form of insurance the types can vary based upon the business itself. For example, an ice cream shop and a bar with both need general liability insurance but the ice cream shop will probably not need liquor liability insurance. Some policies will be state requirements, some are just a good idea, and some form of life insurance might be required by the lending agency for the owner(s) of the business. It is important to check on your state’s requirements and to speak with your bank on what they might require.

ProTip: When deciding on calling an agency determine what is a priority for you; a low cost, a close location, or superior service. Knowing this before you start the process can help streamline your choice.

How Insurance Cost is Determined

One of the first steps when starting to look into your insurance options is to call an agency and speak with an agent. They will then proceed to ask you a series of questions or have you fill out a questionnaire about your business. Your answers to these questions are what determine the cost of the policies you are trying to acquire.

They then take these answers to an underwriter who uses them to determine your risk of exposure. Your risk of exposure is an event or state of being that can subject you to loss because of some hazard or contingency. The risk of exposure for a business often ranks the prevalence of a risk according to their probability of it occurring multiplied by the amount of money that could be lost because of the occurrence. There are different types of potential loss for each industry but for the restaurant and bar business they look at similar factors. Some of the factors the insurance companies look at include:

  • Class of business- Different classes of business have different exposure to problems such as crime, a liquor liability suit, and workers compensation.
  • Hours of operation- establishments with longer hours are at a greater risk for loss because the longer you are open the more opportunities for something to go wrong.
  • Clientele and location- Both the character of your clientele and the safety of your location can affect the exposure risk.
  • Entertainment- Any form of entertainment automatically increases the chance of loss. Establishments bring in entertainment to attract a larger crowd than they would have otherwise, which increases both sales and risk.
  • Promotions-Promotions are also meant to bring in more patrons than normal. People tend to eat and drink more during promotions which can increase the risk of exposure such as customers being overserved or damaging the building.
  • Years in operation-The failure rate for bars and restaurants can be relatively high so the longer the establishment has been in operation, the more experience the owner(s) are likely to have and the better the quote could be.
  • Owners experience in business-The more experience the better. Experienced owners are usually more responsible and know how to train their employees to minimize risk.
  • Security-Security personnel are important to have, especially in a busy bar environment.
  • Alcohol server training- it is important that bar and restaurant employees are educated on how to responsibly serve alcohol and recognize those that are intoxicated. Many companies offer a discount to restauranteurs who have their employees utilize those programs.
  • Adult entertainment-These establishments run a much higher risk of exposure than many others, fights and damage being some of the more prevalent risks.

Underwriters take all these factors and then evaluate the exposure factor each presents and then rate your businesses risk accordingly. All of these factors come with their own set of issues that will be factored into your final quote, which is how much you will need to pay to carry your policies.

Pro Tip: A big name agency might be able to offer discounts but a local agency could have the benefit of being more familiar with the laws in your state. If they are close it might be more convenient to reach them if something should happen.

Types of Insurance

General Liability- This is a type of umbrella policy, this is also the most common insurance. It covers lawsuits from non-employees that sue over injuries and some property damage.

Property Insurance- reimburses you for property loss related to fire, burglary, and some types of storms that may not be covered by your general liability insurance. Includes: building, furniture, tap systems, and glassware but may not cover floods or earthquakes.

Liquor Liability- many states require this with your liquor license and some variables may change from state to state. This protects against a liability claim as a consequence of someone getting drunk to the extent that injuries or property damages are the result.

Workers Compensation Insurance- This insurance covers medical expenses and lawsuits from employees injured on the job. This is also usually required by state law.

Automobile policy- If your business uses any type of vehicle as transportation you are going to want this policy. This covers the vehicle the same way any other car insurance would but can cover items such as food trucks, and catering vans.

Umbrella Insurance-This insurance pays for lawsuits that exceed the limits of small insurance policies. You can’t have an umbrella policy without a general liability policy. An Umbrella policy is based on what you have to lose.

Life Insurance- This is not required by law but some lenders may require it in case something should happen to the store owner their family will not be left trying to pay off any debts that may have been incurred.

Loss of Business-This insurance can cover loss of sales through a specific cause. Something like a power outage that causes a business to lose its inventory would be covered. Some of the income can be recouped but a lot of times with the cost of premiums owners can break even so you should speak to your agent about whether this plan would be beneficial for your business or not.

ProTip: Cameras are a great way to prove or fight an insurance claim. If you can afford it try to install them in your business. It is hard to dispute evidence that has been filmed. They are also great for helping to spot employee theft.

When it comes to selecting policies, after you get the ones required by the state and your lending agency, you are the one that knows your business and financial situation the best. An agency can work to guide you with different instances they have come across but ultimately it is your decision if you want any extra insurance.

When asked if there was one piece of advice he could give to customers Scuilli said that owners should take a hard look at their business and determine where their greatest risk of exposure is and be sure to cover those areas. The second was to know what you can handle financially speaking. It doesn’t make sense to sign up for insurance that you won’t be able to afford to pay on.

While selecting insurance isn’t one of the sexier aspects to being a business owner it is vitally important. Insurance can protect you and your business from a myriad of problems. Insurance may seem like a lot of money for little to no return, but it is always better to be prepared when it comes to your business.

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The Recipe of a Restaurant: How to Break into the Industry

Open for Business

Have you dreamed of owning your own restaurant? Maybe you’ve sketched out what the exterior would look like on a napkin, daydreamed about what you would serve, or even picked out your china?

But have you ever thought of taking this dream one step farther and putting your ideas to work?

If you’re looking to bust into the restaurant business but aren’t quite sure of what you would need to do it, we’ve compiled the largest pieces you need, into one guide. And because opening a restaurant is no easy task, we spoke with Rob Coffaro, owner of Coffaro’s Pizza in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, to get his expertise on the subject.

Coffaro's Pizza

Prep Time

Concept- First things first, you need a concept. This may be something you already have under belt, but if not, you need to cement what your vision is for your restaurant. Having a more concrete concept can help you carry the elements you want into your restaurant more clearly.

Location- Whether you’re taking over another restaurant or building from the ground up, you should have your location. Talk to your realtor about the different options for your commercial venture. This will impact how you finance your restaurant.

Finances- How you finance will largely depend on your situation. If you are so lucky to have been saving up in your personal savings account, these liquid funds could get you on your way. If your credit is in good standing, a credit card could be a viable solution, depending on how much you need. Another option could be a restaurant specific loan or a Small Business Administration loan. A restaurant specific loan is not bound to a specific need and has a varying interest rates and terms, depending on the size of the loan. Based on the financial institution, this loan can have many different names but serves the same purpose. An SBA backed loan can offer lower down payments and longer terms to the business owner but can be difficult to qualify for. To qualify, a business must meet size requirements, be in good financial standing, be in the for-profit industry, and meet the credit requirements of the lending institution. Instead of going the commercial route, you could also have investors help fund your restaurant. If these are friends and family, remember that while the money can be convenient, it can also be a strain on the relationship.

Business plan- After you’ve analyzed the risks and you’re ready to take on the responsibility of owning your own business, it’s time to create a business plan. This plan gives you a guiding light when things seem dark or what to do next. When documenting your business plan, be sure to include information on your concept, team standards, design, target market, market overview, financial risk, business structure, and external individuals that will be helping you run your business (like a lawyer or accountant).

Legal matters- If you plan on serving alcohol or having a BYOB policy, make sure you check your state’s liquor license laws. Some states can take longer than others for this process, so if this applies to your business definitely get a jump on it!

Slice of Advice- Be Organized

Mix in Your Ingredients

Write your menu- It’s time to test out what culinary creations will grace your menu. Use focus groups of friends, family, and other chefs to narrow down what fits your restaurant’s style and flow. Make sure to also include various substitutions to accommodate guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. When designing your menu, you need to keep in mind the physical look of the menu, how categories will be presented, and the pattern in how it’s read.

Network- How are you going to obtain the ingredients of your daily fare. Research foodservice vendors on price, quality, and delivery time but also keep local farms or vendors in mind. A great way to build relationships in the community is to partner these homegrown businesses which could help get your foot in the door for future events.

Get social- Start creating a buzz about your establishment. Choose two or three social media platforms that you are well-versed in (or are prepared to master) and begin showing the world what makes your business unique. You have a great opportunity to show the beginnings of your restaurant, from the first time you walk through the door to opening night. Use it!

Dimensions- Space planning can give you important figures such as your capacity, how many pieces of furniture you can order, and the image of how your restaurant will look at the end. There are many requirements that restauranteurs need to implement in their layout. Whether large or small, your restaurant can be planned out before you purchase a single piece of furniture.

Filling the space- To complete your restaurant, you will need commercial furniture and restaurant equipment (think refrigerators, ovens, etc.). Be sure to purchase products that promise quality and durability. Don’t forget to also pick up dinnerware, napkins, cooking utensils, and silverware to run your business smoothly and efficiently. It’s also time to finalize your menus and send them off to print!

Safety is key- In most states; you need to have a pre-operational inspection done before your restaurant opens. During this inspection, there should be absolutely no food on the premises. The pre-operational inspection confirms that your restaurant is compliant with health laws.

Build your team- The amount of upper-level management you need will depend on your business structure and size but most restaurants have a general manager, assistant manager, shift leaders, and chefs. You will want to look for individuals that are successful in recruiting, supervising, and budgeting. When your management team is in place, you can start hiring the wait and kitchen staff. From top level management all the way to the first-time job holder, training is important for seamless, united customer service.

Slice of Advice- Hiring

Let’s Get Cooking

Get your feet wet- Have your soft opening a couple weeks before your grand opening that introduces your business to the community. This lets your future customers get to know you and get excited that you will be opening very shortly.

Call your health inspector- Directly after your soft opening, schedule an operational inspection with the health department. Staying up on these issues is important for the longevity of your business.

Make it an event- For your grand opening, make sure that you are present and available. This is the time to enjoy your handiwork and introduce yourself and your team to all those who came out to support you. You should invite some sort of press outlet, but you may want to also hire a photographer to attend. Designate a staff member or friend to be in charge of social media that night, this is an event you will want to remember.

Slice of Advice- Do the Math

Enjoy Your Final Product

So your restaurant is now a full-blown operational business. That’s awesome, but the hard work is just beginning. You need to keep up on budgeting, food safety, licenses, and your customers’ overall experience. It’s important to keep in mind that while it may be simpler to hire the accountant and just leave the finances to them or hire an assistant to focus on staying up to date on licensing, you need to be involved. Just because your restaurant is open does not mean you can stop researching and educating yourself. Let this and every ounce of customer feedback drive you to become a better restaurant and business. You need to be involved with each workings of your business to protect and nourish it every step of the way.

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5 Restaurant Trade Shows You Won’t Want to Miss in 2017

Trade Show Set UpIndustry trade shows are crucial for top players in the restaurant business. Owners, managers, and decision-makers can network, sample new food methods, test top of the line technology, and discover upcoming trends within the industry. Trade shows bring together the moving parts of the restaurant community with the common goal of bettering businesses.

Whether you’re just breaking into the industry or you’ve owned your restaurant for 30 years, these five trade shows are a great place to reignite your inspiration and make connections to further your restaurant.

International Restaurant & Foodservice Show- New York, NY

March 5-7, 2017

Calling all food lovers! Celebrate the City that Never Sleeps with the International Restaurant & Foodservice Show. Enjoy the newest food trends at the “Taste NY & Craft Beverage Showcase” pavilion or spectate the “27th Annual U.S. Pastry Competition” for a deliciously good time. One of the largest trade shows on the eastern seaboard, this trade show is a must-see for restaurant owners. Located in the Javits Center, you’ll find 550+ exhibitors to interact and network with. Previously this trade show boasted 20,000 attendees and is limited to restaurant and foodservice professionals. Industry insiders can buy a 3-day pass to enjoy vendors, live demonstrations, and educational opportunities. Gain a fresh perspective on your business and get inspired with specialty events and pavilions. If you’re looking to bump elbows with some of the most experienced individuals in the restaurant industry, make sure to check out this trade show!

Nightclub and Bar Trade Show- Las Vegas, NV

March 27-29, 2017

Bringing the neon and glamour of the Vegas strip, the Nightclub and Bar Trade Show sparkles at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Work hard and play harder at this trade show with an estimated 39,000 attendees and more than 600 exhibitors. The NCB show caters to everyone from single owner operations all the way to multi-location tycoons. And don’t be fooled by the name, restaurants and hotels alike frequent this show with its Vegas-like atmosphere. This show is not open to the public, giving attendees a more exclusive and efficient interaction with suppliers. It also offers additional conferences and networking parties to further the education and connections of attendees. Show-goers can choose from a series of ticket packages to customize the experience. Whether you are an owner, buyer, or industry newcomer, this trade show is a great place for networking and experiencing the nightclub industry at its truest form.

Craft Brewers Conference and Brew Expo America- Washington, DC

April 11-14, 2017

If brewing is your game, the Craft Brewers Conference and Brew Expo America is the show for you. Taking place in the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, this trade show brings in 11,500 attendees and 700 exhibitors. This show takes a large part in providing education, services, and technology for the ever-expanding brewing industry. Because it is an industry trade show, the conference and show is not open to the public. For industry-insiders, different ticket packages are available depending on which events you wish to attend. To stay updated in this industry, seminars are offered at this show with titles like “Starting a Quality Lab in a Craft Brewery”, “What I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Brewery”, and “101 Ways to Blow Up a Bottle/Can and How to Not Do It”. From brewing masters to industry newbies, this trade show brings together the brewing community to new heights.

National Restaurant Association Show- Chicago, IL

May 20-23, 2017

If you’re looking to have plenty of vendors and options in one space, the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago is definitely one to check out. One of the largest trade shows in the restaurant industry, the NRA show spans four days and requires at least two of these days to walk the entire show floor. Simply put, this trade show is enormous. Located in McCormick Place, this trade show rakes in 44,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors. While this show presents a great opportunity for start-up businesses to be launched into the restaurant industry, this is a popular show for larger chains and veterans to hit up because of the vastness of the offerings available. Needless to say, this is a great show to make connections from all over the country. This show is not open to the public, but is accessible for anyone involved with the food service or hospitality industries.

Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show- Orlando, FL

September 10-12, 2017

Whether you’re in the beginning stages of managing a restaurant or have 15 locations, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Show is a must-attend show this fall. Located in the Orange County Convention Center, this trade show boasts around 8,000 attendees and approximately 400 exhibitors. Don’t let size full you, this trade show is highly attended by large resorts and corporate chains. Exclusive to the restaurant and food service professional industries, the general public is not permitted to attend this show. The FRLS excels in food demonstrations and culinary experiences. This trade show offers over 40 education sessions, informational forums, and a variety of exhibits to keep your Floridian stay filled to the brim.

IFRS in NYC

Photo via International Restaurant & Foodservice Show

Ready to attend an industry trade show? Make sure to check out these tips before you go to get the most out of your trade show experience.

Are any of these trade shows on your short list to attend this upcoming year? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 Steps You Must Take To Survive a Restaurant Recession

An empty restaurant.

If you’ve watched the news or read anything about the restaurant industry lately, then you’ve probably heard about the restaurant slowdown, dare we say recession, that all of the pundits are predicting.  Whether those recession fears are overblown or not, one can’t ignore the negative commentary coming from some of the industry’s biggest corporations talking about slowing sales and lower traffic year over year.

2016 has seen the separation of definite winners and losers in the hospitality industry.  Some restaurants like Panera, Papa John’s, and Texas Roadhouse are still killing it, while others like Yum! Brands, Ruby Tuesday’s, and Smokey Bones have taken a beating.  Some have even gone out of business.   The year 2016 has seen numerous restaurant bankruptcies from once successful concepts like Cosi, Quaker Steak & Lube, HomeTown Buffet, and Johnny Carinos.

 

What is causing the restaurant downturn?

The Natural Business Cycle

The restaurant industry has seen tremendous growth since the turn of the century.  Over the past 16 years, restaurant food and drink sales have more than doubled from $379 billion in 2000 to an estimated $782 billion in 2016, which represents an approximate 6.5% annual growth rate.  The growth is even more impressive when you realize that in 1970, restaurant sales were only $42.8 billion.  This success has prompted more and more competitors to enter the marketplace.  In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than one million restaurant locations in the United States, or 1 restaurant for every 319 people.

While the growth trend may continue, every industry is subject to the ups and downs of the business cycle, so it is normal to have some years of negative growth.

Falling Grocery Prices

As of September 2016, the price of groceries had dropped for 9 straight months, a phenomenon that almost never happens without a general economic recession.  In some places, grocery prices have dropped as much as 5% over the past year.

When grocery prices decline, more consumers see the value in cooking at home vs. eating out; this is particularly true when restaurant menu prices don’t keep up with the decline.  In this cycle, as grocery prices have declined, restaurant menu prices have stayed steady, or even increased, prompting more people to cook at home.

Changing Demographics

According to the Wall Street Journal consumers aged 18-35 make fewer than 50 trips to restaurants each year.  Compare this to the 75-80+ times per year that the average American eats out (stats do not include pickup or fast food), and you can see that the demographics are definitely not in favor of continued growth.

Innovative Grocery Startups

New innovators in the grocery delivery space like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh are making it easier for consumers to cook restaurant quality meals at home, at a reasonable price.  For example, meals at Blue Apron cost between $8.75 and $9.99 per meal compared to an average cost of $39.40 per meal at a restaurant.

Politics

It’s hard to quantify how much consumer spending lags in an election year, however many corporate restaurant CEO’s have come out in the past few months and blamed election uncertainty for slowing same store sales growth.  Whether the election is being used as a scapegoat or not is hard to tell, but now that it is behind us, politics should be less of a factor in 2017.

Rising Costs

As if all the factors affecting growth in the industry aren’t bad enough, many restaurants also have to deal with rising labor costs in the form of wage pressure and healthcare costs under the Affordable Care Act.

 

6 Keys to Survival?

Have a hook

The days of offering “ok” food at an “ok” price and succeeding are over; there’s simply too much competition to operate a middle of the road establishment.  Sure, good food is a must, you can’t survive long without it; but, in this day and age, you’ve also got to have a hook.  In business, a hook is known as a competitive advantage: something that you do better than any of your competitors.    If your food is the best around for your genre, then that IS the hook.  However, if your food is just mediocre, then you better start looking for something else to bring customers through your door.  The hook doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive; it could be as simple as an innovative sandwich (Primanti Brothers), a large menu (Cheesecake Factory), top notch customer service (Chick-fil-A), or a focus on your local neighborhood (Applebees).

Ideally, your competitive advantage will be something that is not easily replicable by competitors.  For example, while something as simple as free Wi-Fi can give you a short term competitive advantage in an area where it is not widely available, it’s not likely to last long once your competitors catch on and start to offer the same thing.

Be proactive about your finances

One of the key takeaways from this year’s NRA Show Keynote Session between Jon Taffer and Robert Irvine was that far too many restaurant owners are totally unaware of their finances.  They let a book keeper focus on the accounting, while they focus on the food, staff, and atmosphere.  That may work ok in times of fast growth and easy money, but it can really hurt your restaurant when the going gets tough.

The problem with not knowing your finances is that you can’t see potential trouble coming until it’s too late; you are forced to react to bad situations instead of being proactive and taking action to avoid them altogether.  For example, if you don’t look at your food costs on a regular basis, then you might not realize that certain foods are rising in price, and you will be serving dishes that are no longer as profitable as they once were.

While we’re on the topic of being proactive with your finances, there are two other things that you need to do before the next recession.  First, make sure that you stock away some extra “rainy day” capital when times are good.  Second, build a relationship with your banks commercial lending officer and open a line of credit as a backup source of funding should you ever need it.  If your profitability ever falls off a cliff for a couple of months, these should provide quick access to cash if you need it.

Maximize your free advertising

What is the first budgetary item to take a hit when business is slow or your restaurant is losing money?  If you’re like most restaurant owners, then the answer is probably advertising and marketing.  It makes sense that this is where many owners choose to cut; if the choice comes down to firing staff or not running that 30 second TV spot next month, then many small business owners would choose the latter.  Nevertheless, advertising during a recession is precisely what a restaurant must do to stay at the top of consumers’ minds and try to steal market share away from competitors.  Fortunately, thanks to the internet and social media, there are ways to promote your business that cost next to nothing, at least in terms of dollars.

We are lucky to live in a time in modern history where creativity and ingenuity can actually outperform advertising dollars.  So put on your thinking cap, and figure out a way to get your name out there.  If you have a great story to tell, call up your local papers and ask them to write about it.  If you are offering something special, make sure that all of your social media followers (I’m assuming you utilize social media at this point) know about it.  Take that 30 second TV spot that you were planning and plaster it on YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter.  Whatever it takes to get your name out there, do it.  A downturn is the perfect time for a little Guerilla Marketing.   Unleash your inner PT Barnum and market the hell out of your business, because it may be the thing that keeps the lights on until business picks back up.

Try to renegotiate your lease when the time is right

This one is tricky.  Landlords obviously don’t want to renegotiate a lease contract lower because they have you locked in (and may have you personally on the hook).  But, it isn’t impossible.  The one thing that landlords hate more than renegotiating lease space is vacancy.  If there isn’t a lot of competition in your area, or if the number of commercial real estate vacancies are rising, then you have some power to renegotiate, particularly if the alternative is going out of business and/or filing for bankruptcy.  Ask your landlord for a temporary rent reduction first.  If that doesn’t work, try to negotiate a reduction or partial deferral in exchange for a longer lease term.

Offer loyalty programs

One of the most important things you can do to survive a recession is to retain your current customers.  Did you know that it costs 500% more to acquire a new customer than to retain a current one?  How about that 81% of consumers surveyed said that they are more likely to continue doing business with brands that offer a loyalty program.  Knowing this, offering a loyalty program becomes almost a no-brainer.  If you can’t keep your current customers coming in the door, then it is going to cost you 5 times as much to acquire new customers.  Start a program that lets customers get something for free, or at least a percentage off, for every x number of times that they dine at your restaurant.  Sure, it’s going to impact your bottom line, so make sure that your margins are robust enough to handle the hit and make it up in increased volume.  It could be the difference between customers choosing your restaurant or the place down the street.

Stay positive

If you’ve been in management for any length of time, then you know that employees tend to mimic the attitudes of their bosses.  If you, as an owner or general manager are constantly showing worry, then employees will feed off of that attitude, which can create a negative customer experiences.  Likewise, if you let your worries make you irritable or moody, then employees will pick up that and will start to act in kind.

The hardest thing in the world to do is to keep a smile on your face when you don’t know if you’re going to make next month’s payroll, but it is necessary to keep your culture positive and keep employees motivated.  By no means are we advocating that you lie or hide the truth from them.  Let them know where the business stands, and give them all of the facts.  But, attitude is everything, and as the captain of the ship, yours is the most important in the whole organization.  Approach every downturn as an opportunity to innovate and improve your restaurant in anticipation of better times.  Get employees involved and make them feel ownership.  You might be surprised when the best idea to lower costs or retain customers comes from them.

Every business has its ups and downs, and the restaurant industry is no different.  We have enjoyed a long stretch of growth and good times, where the rising tide of demographics and changing social norms has lifted all boats.  Hopefully, that trend will continue, and this short lived down trend will end as quickly as it began.  If it doesn’t, however, following the tips above can help you to weather the storm and emerge from the other side in a better position than ever.

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Popular Restaurant Trends Throughout the Years

Popular Restaurant Trends

How many times a day do you see blog articles pop up on social media titled “25 Most Embarrassing Food Clichés of (insert year here)”? And once your curiosity has gotten the best of you and you’ve clicked on these articles, you see a list teeming with negativity about food and restaurant trends from years gone by. While these articles can be entertaining, hindsight is always 20/20.

It’s safe to say that the restaurant industry has had plenty of changes occur from its inception, some of them better than others. “New” trends are difficult to come by in the restaurant industry, with many ideas being perfected over the years. But as restauranteurs, it’s necessary to look back on restaurant history to see what’s coming in the future.

The 1950’s

The 1950’s easily became the golden era for American restaurants. The Great Depression and war were a thing of the past and left the economy booming. This time of prosperity made it simple for other industries to flourish as well. Due to improvements in the nation’s highway system, the need for stops along interstates grew. With more and more travelers on the road, franchise restaurants became more in demand.

McDonald's in 1954

Photo from allday.com

Many of these franchised restaurants are still popular today. In 1954, the McDonald’s restaurant we know today was bought from the original McDonald brothers and transformed into franchise gold by Ray Kroc. McDonald’s was not the first fast food restaurant, but the assembly-line system was revolutionary for fast food restaurants to come. Kroc was able to turn this humble hot dog stand into a quick and efficient franchising opportunity. McDonald’s franchise model became a beacon of success for other restaurants, like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Dairy Queen, to follow in suit.

Highway System

Photo from nesbittrealty.com

With the highway system improvements also came advancements in the automotive industry. The 1950’s was filled with car culture; so why would restaurants be any different? While the first drive-in was opened along the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921, the 1950’s were the true heyday of drive-in diners. Serving up burgers and shakes, sometimes on skates, these diners became social hangouts for teens and families alike. The drive-in trend continued through the 1960’s and then declined with the increasing number of drive-through options in restaurants.

The 1960’s

Steak and Ale Menu

Photo from cravedfw.com

Although processed and junk food captured much of the baby boomers’ attention, it wasn’t the only trend happening in America at the time. Steak and Ale (casual dining) began offering a salad bar buffet to guests, keeping them occupied while waiting for their dinners. Soon enough, salad bars were popping up in steakhouses all over the country as a way to customize a guest’s appetizer.

Dining in the 60's

Photo from petermoruzzi.com

This decade was also defined by the meats served in restaurants. Most entrees at this time were focused around beef of some sort. Beef wellington, steak Diane, and Swedish meatballs were all popular beef dishes of 1960’s. In middle class restaurants, beef and lobster (or surf n’ turf) dinners were commonly seen on the menu.

Howard Johnson's

Photo from slate.com

At this point in history, there was an increasing emphasis on family time outside the home (vacations, a meal out, etc.). Popular restaurants of the time, Japanese steakhouse Benihana and Howard Johnson’s were often patronized by these families looking to spend quality time together and bond over dinner. In the 1960’s, dinner became more than just food and more focused on the emotions associated with it as a family.

The 1970’s

The 1970’s marked the beginning of environmentalism as the newest social cause, affecting the food and restaurant industry. Changing their tune from the 1960’s, customers wanted healthier options that were unprocessed and uncomplicated. This shift led to a rise in vegetarianism and health food stores.

At this point in time, there was a shift in gender roles. With a larger number of women in the workforce, restaurants were used as experiences with the family or a chance to get away from the preparations and cleaning up required of cooking at home. More casual-dining chains began spreading across the nation like the Cheesecake Factory and Ruby Tuesday, both opening their doors in 1972. For a quick bite, the 1970’s marked Subway’s start into franchising. Much like the fame of the McDonald’s assembly line from the 1950’s, the Subway assembly line was just as important for future restaurants in similar niches.

In finer dining, Le Cirque (New York City) opened its doors in 1974 by Sirio Maccioni and became a landmark in the city. One of the most infamous dishes to come out of Le Cirque was pasta primavera. This entrée soon became one of the most ordered items at restaurants across the country, its popularity spilling over into the 1980’s as well.

Le Cirque, New York City

Photo from insatiable-critic.com

The 1980’s

Innovation ran rampant in 1980’s restaurants. Chefs were taking creative license to create new combinations and dishes, making restaurants trendy and modern. While there were many traditionalists who argued against these new methods, it was certainly an exciting time to be in the restaurant business.

Nouvelle Cuisine

Photo from caraandco.com

Nouvelle cuisine was popular especially in finer dining establishments. Chefs worked hard to create elaborate presentations with their dishes, using the plate as a canvas. Popular New York City restaurants like Odeon and Quilted Giraffe used this style quite fervently throughout the 1980’s. Championed by chef Michel Guerard and food critics Henri Gault and Christian Millau, nouvelle cuisine allowed young chefs to be more artistic and not held to the restrictions of traditional French cooking.

Although this cooking style allowed chefs to be more creative in their practice, it ended abruptly with the stock market crash of 1987. With the largest one-day drop of the Dow Jones in history, customers expected more out of their restaurant helpings than the smaller, artistic portions of the time.

Chef Paul Prudhomme

Photo from investors.com

Another popular trend in the 1980’s was Cajun cooking. While other American chefs looked to other countries to inspire their dishes, chef Paul Prudhomme looked to his Louisiana roots. Prudhomme used classic Louisiana ingredients like blackened beef, crawfish, and shrimp to create exciting menu items such as Chicken and Andouille Gumbo and Cajun Jambalaya. The blackening technique became very popular in the 1980’s, being used in fish and other meat entrees.

The 1990’s

Fusion cooking was on the rise in the 1990’s. A trend, fusion cooking is the combination of different cultural dishes to create something new. Laying the ground work for this new trend, celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck served dishes that combined French and Asian influences for an interesting mixture. Items on Puck’s Chinois on Main menu included foie gras with pineapple and catfish with fried ginger.

Wolfgang Puck

Photo from minnpost.com

While these dishes could be highly creative and delicious (like this Thai-inspired pizza), some chefs took it a step too far and created “con-fusion” which were unexpected flavor hybrids that didn’t complement each other well. The “con-fusion” was a result of the chefs trying to jump on the bandwagon and allow their restaurant to have the next big thing, which doesn’t always coincide with a customer’s palate. It is very difficult to specifically label certain “con-fusion” recipes as a failure because taste is extremely subjective. But something tells us that a recipe for spicy Asian green beans with blue cheese isn’t going to be our new favorite food either.

Fusion Cooking

Photo from guyeatsfood.com

Many chefs are not a fan of the term “fusion cooking”, claiming negative connotations from the 1990’s. Even though it is still a popular cooking style in the modern world, the term fusion cooking is not normally used.

The 2000’s

At the turn of the century, America became much more conscientious about their foods. Consumers were more concerned about where their food came from, how it was processed, and what was in it. This kind of curiosity led to many consumer-driven changes that effected food suppliers, distributors, and restaurants.

Super Size Me documentary

Photo from netflixlife.com

One of the most revolutionary food documentaries to ever hit the small screen was Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me, which premiered in 2004 to a shocked America. It was common knowledge at this point that fast food was not the ideal meal for a healthy diet, but this documentary took just how unhealthy fast food could be and made it a living nightmare. After this documentary, many fast food chains began to evaluate their menu offerings.

Fresh food

Many consumers demanded more health-conscious options from all of their eateries. Even big-box retailers like Walmart were starting to offer organic options to their customers. So why wouldn’t restaurants as well? More restaurants began creating and marking healthier choices on their menus while others provided more detailed information about where the food came from. This kind of communication with the customer makes them feel more in charge and able to make more educated decisions based on the information that is provided to them.

Because consumers were aimed to obtain healthier foods (for the most part) they frequented businesses like Subway, Jamba Juice, and casual dining establishments like Applebee’s and Olive Garden. Some of the most popular foods of this decade included sushi, bacon, super fruits (blueberries, acai berries), and cupcakes. Many restaurants assimilated these flavors as a part of their core offerings.

The 2010’s

While we are 60% of the way through the 2010’s, there are still prominent restaurant trends that will have sticking power throughout the remainder of this decade.

Chipotle Assembly Line

Photo from qz.com

Restaurants that offer assembly line-like service allow for customers to choose how they want their food prepared are huge right now. The customer is able to tailor their experience from station to station to have their food made exactly the way they want it. This customization ability can be seen in restaurants like Chipotle, Blaze Pizza, and even Starbucks.

Coffee craze

Speaking of Starbucks, the 2010’s are drink-crazed. Whether it is coffeehouses or microbreweries, the interest in mixology has skyrocketed. Many restaurants are not limited to regular or decaf coffee offerings anymore. Similarly, restaurants are also producing their own type of craft beer or wine. There is a certain fascination with making these concoctions because it is all about creativity, and is great for expanding your profit margins.

In urban areas where rent is astronomical and constantly changing, the newest restaurant trend isn’t to become a physical building; it’s to have a food truck. This trend has roots starting in Los Angeles with Kogi BBQ truck and chef Roy Choi. With the help of Twitter and the combination of Korean and Mexican cuisine, the Kogi BBQ truck became a success that inspired restauranteurs to take an alternative route for restaurant ownership.

If you’re looking to create something new in your restaurant, it is always helpful to look to the past for inspiration to create your future. These popular trends from the 1950’s all the way to today have their time and place in history. The restaurant industry has a cyclical nature; trends are bound to find their way around again. While the subject matter of the trends may not be your restaurant’s cup of tea, at the very least, you can get a theme night out of it!

What are some trends (modern or older) your restaurant has tried? Let us know in the comments below!

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How to Make Your Restaurant Successful on Yelp

Find Us on YelpFaced with large amounts of competition, businesses are constantly fighting for their customers’ attention. Word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful driving force in today’s society and has the ability to sway decisions like what to buy and where to eat. This type of marketing may seem difficult to harness, but with programs like Yelp, businesses have a way to engage with customers and help mold their opinions.

Yelp is a great way for small businesses to compete with larger chains by showcasing what they have to offer. In Q2 of 2016, Yelp had a monthly average of 23 million unique visitors who went through Yelp’s mobile app and another 69 million unique visitors who visited Yelp via the web. A Nielsen study reports that 78 % of users rely on Yelp to find restaurants (out of all categories), capturing the highest percentage of the categories. Needless to say, Yelp is a well-used resource for restaurant-goers whose importance is often under-estimated by restaurant owners.

How It Works

Imagine you’re on vacation and it’s your first time at a destination. Up and down your hotel’s strip, there is dinner option after dinner option. As a consumer, the choices are overwhelming. How do you even begin to choose? You could just waltz into the first place you come to and take your chances.  Or, you could leverage the experience of thousands of Yelpers that have visited before you and have left reviews of just about every restaurant in town.  Without the uncertainty and risk of visiting an untested spot, you and your family can get down to the business of enjoying your vacation.

According to their website, Yelp’s purpose is to “connect people with great local businesses”. Their automated software program scours the top reviews that are written by users (“Yelpers”) based on quality and helpfulness, and it ranks businesses according to a proprietary algorithm. So how does your restaurant get the highest ranking? Typically, a larger number of reviews lead to a higher ranking in Yelp search and many other search engines.  The strategy then with Yelp is to get your restaurant as many good reviews as possible.  In this article, we are going to show you how to get started.


Yelp Ads
Claim Your Business

Claiming your business is the starting point for all businesses on Yelp. To be proactive with a Yelp strategy, you must claim your business to have control of that page. After you claim your page, you can then personalize it to help distinguish it among other pages. The goal of this page is to drive traffic to your own site. Optimizing this page will help your restaurant appear, not only in yelp searches, but also in search engine queries like Google.

It is interesting to note that according to a Boston Consulting Group study, businesses that simply claimed their Yelp profile generated incremental revenues of $8,000 annually just from being on Yelp.  Wouldn’t it be nice if your business could bring in an additional $8,000 per year by spending a small amount of time setting up you page and managing your reviews?  By the way, according to the same study, those who claimed their profile AND advertised on Yelp through PPC campaigns (more on that later) generated additional revenue of $23,000.

Rack Up the Reviews

Although it is the core function of Yelp, many businesses may wonder how customers will know to leave a review. Be cautious of how you approach this topic.  Yelp prefers “organic” review, which means reviews that have not been solicited or, worse, paid for.  It’s understandable if you think about it.  Most businesses only ask for reviews from their happiest customers, not those who have had a bad experience.  That might be great for the restaurant, but it damages the overall credibility of the review system. Yelp wants your restaurant to earn great reviews through exemplary business practices, not through solicitation and/or reward.

Even though Yelp discourages direct solicitation, they do leave the door open for more subtle ways of generating reviews.  The first, and most obvious, is to make sure that your customers know you actually have a Yelp account. You may have a customer that comes to your restaurant every single day for their morning coffee, but if they don’t know you’re on Yelp, how will the world know that you have nurtured and cared for this customer, so much so they visit your business every day? Make customers aware that you use Yelp by using this form to receive a window cling for your business. Also, remind customers to visit your Yelp page with a link in your email signature and/or a badge on your website.

To attract customers that are in the decision stage, use a Check-In Offer to entice them. A Check-In Offer is a reward a customer receives when they check into a business on Yelp. This reward is redeemed by mobile device at the place of business. After a checking in from a mobile device at a restaurant, the user is later asked to write a review of where they checked in at. Be careful not to offer incentives to customers who give better reviews, which is against Yelp’s policiesCheck In Offer

While the tactics above are handy with a new restaurant or during a slow time to jazz up reviews, you should always try and go above and beyond for customers. Have the mindset of what kind of experience you want your customers to walk away with, and then double it. What sets your business apart from the competition? Is your atmosphere, food, staff, or price point? Find what makes your restaurant original and makes for a memorable experience for your guests. Inspire people to choose your restaurant, enjoy themselves, and then right a smashing review because their experience was just that good.

Take a look at this improvement calculator to see how many reviews it will take to attain a certain rating for your restaurant.

Interact with Customers

You’ve put the work into claiming your business, spruced up your Yelp page, and the reviews are pouring in. All of a sudden, your first bad review comes in: a piece of coal in your carefully cultivated glittering diamond mine of positive reviews. Your first instinct might be to ignore the review, hoping it gets lost in the sea positive reviews. Maybe no one will see it?  That is a big mistake.  You should always respond to a negative review, even if the response is private.  The last thing that you want is an already upset customer feeling like you’re ignoring them.  You’ll definitely want to reach out to that Yelper in a way that lets them know that their concerns have been heard and you will take their input into consideration when shaping future decisions.

Whether you handle bad reviews publicly or privately is up to you, but maintain consistency – don’t respond publicly to the reviews where you feel like a customer is wrong, and privately to the reviews where you know you messed up. The flow chart below outlines Yelps best practices for responding to reviews publicly or privately.

Review Flow ChartFinally, remember that your public responses will be seen by existing and potential customers so always be courteous and understanding. Practice up on your PR skills and don’t isolate customers. You don’t want jeopardize your future business with a poorly worded response.

Free Assets for Business Owners

Yelp has many free resources for business owners to use, making it effective and easy on a budget.

Yelp for Business Owners app is the most comprehensive of these resources. With the app (available in the App Store for iOS and Google Play Store for Android), businesses track engagement, leads, and clicks to their site from Yelp. The app also has the capability to track the number of check-ins to a business, calls (from clicking the phone number), and the reservations made off of Yelp. Not only do these factors help you gauge your success on Yelp, but could justify an increase of foot traffic in your restaurant. Through the app you also have the capability to respond (publicly or privately) to messages, upload photos, and report reviews or messages. For a busy, on-the-go restaurant owner, the Yelp app is extremely valuable in managing your presence on the site.

Again, you don’t want to come right out and ask for reviews. But if you want another, more discrete way to remind customers about giving you a review, place a Yelp review badge on your website. By placing a review badge on your site, your customers can see that people have a reviewed your restaurant and prompt them to check out your Yelp page. Potential customers will be more inclined to visit a restaurant with many positive reviews, which the badge helps them see at a glance. Every time your business is reviewed, the counter clicks up and/or reflects in the stars. Per Yelp’s brand guidelines, there are only two badges allowed on a business’ site that shows their association with Yelp.

Web Review Badges

It is important for business owners to stay up to date on ways to effectively use Yelp. Yelp offers free 30 minute webinars that improve upon your existing Yelp knowledge. Topics range from how to respond to reviews to becoming a 5-star brand. These webinars help clarify how your restaurant can use Yelp as a sustainable, effective strategy for the long term.

Yelp Ads

While Yelp has plenty of free resources for businesses, there are also advertising packages to enhance your profile even further.

Yelp’s advertising packages operate on a cost per click (CPC) basis and could be beneficial for your particular niche. There is no pre-determined set cost because the cost depends on the competition and relevance of your advertisement to the user’s search. Yelp Ads can help your business with targeted local advertising and a more prominent placement on search and competitor pages.

If you want to upgrade your Yelp experience by paying for advertising, the Call to Action button may be one you want to take advantage of.

Whenever potential customers have searched and found your business on Yelp, what is the next steps you want them to take? The best way to provide a specific direction for these customers is to have a Call to Action button. When set up, this button appears towards to the top of your business’ page, underneath the location and uploaded photos.
When narrowing down what your Call to Action should be, think of what your desired end goal is. The button will take customers to more information in the form of a specific page of your website or coupon.

Call to Action
In the example above, Olive or Twist’s Call to Action button promotes their happy hour and links to their specials section on their website. Make sure your button is labeled with a broad, but relevant statement. You don’t want to give away all the information on your Yelp page, because then there is no need to click. This button provides a next-steps for potential customers to take part in.

Compare the different products that Yelp Ads has to offer with this chart.

Please note that just because a business advertises on Yelp does not mean they automatically get better ratings. A business could be rated two stars and advertise, leading to more people seeing that rating. On the other hand, a business that does not pay to advertise can have a five-star rating. For more information on Yelp’s advertising policy, feel free to check out their FAQ page.

If you own a restaurant that has never used Yelp or only as a consumer, go claim your business. Doing a simple Google search will leave you with endless results on how to optimize Yelp and best practices. But the best way to use Yelp is to jump right in! There are so many free resources and options for a business getting started on Yelp. Don’t think the only way to be successful on Yelp is to shell out a portion of your advertising budget. Let your customers know that you have a Yelp presence, respond thoughtfully to their reviews, and keep providing excellent experiences to make Yelp work for your business.

Does your restaurant or business currently use Yelp as a strategy? If so, what’s your experience with having a page? If not, what are your reservations about it? Let us know!

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