Start thinking in customer-centric terms and move from good to great.
As I’m preparing for the Takeaway Expo this week, I sat down to clarify 15 tips for helping restaurants bring in new customers. I’ve elaborated on those 15 tips in this post.
Each tip is written from the perspective of your customers—because your success depends on them. It doesn’t matter if you build the coolest, most interesting brand if it doesn’t result in new customers or repeat business. This advice should hopefully help you to start thinking in more customer-centric terms and help you move your restaurant from good to great.
These tips are clustered in three parts. The first five are all about branding your restaurant. Number 6 through 10 are all about attracting new customers. And 11 through 15 are about increasing repeat customers.
1. Pick Three Dishes You Know I’ll Love
The cornerstone of any restaurant’s brand is its food. Forcing yourself to select your most unique dishes helps you to figure out your best assets. Sure you can just be another shop that serves lambchops, but what if you could serve uniquely large lambchops? What if you could be one of the first search results whenever someone Googled “large lamb chops London”? That’s exactly what worked for Tayyabs.
2. Pick Three Things that Define the Experience I’ll Have
Experience can be just as important as food. What makes your experience unique? Is it speed? Ambiance? Convenience? Versatility? You’ll need to know if you’re going to get customers excited about it. Nando’s has made a name for itself by merging delicious food with easy up-front ordering—something no other chicken shop had tried before.
3. Find Out What Makes Me Come Back
Restaurants must talk to customers. Find out what they love about your establishment. Find out what they don’t care for. Uncover new opportunities to meet customer needs or streamline your menu. You’ll find that many customers are willing to offer their opinions, if only you’d ask.
4. Learn from the Restaurants I Choose Over You
Benchmarking against your competitors isn’t radically new, but it’s a vital piece of improving your business. If your competitor is offering vegetarian and gluten-free options, or if they’re branching out to food trucks and markets, you’ll want to know. Customers have an abundance of choice when it comes to food, so your restaurant can’t afford to fall behind your competitors.
5. Give Me a Brand I Can Fall In Love With
Brand passion is a difficult thing to master, but if you can implement the first four tips here, you’ll be well on your way. Restaurants with clearly defined, unique dishes and experiences, and who’s management learns from customers and competitors, are in a great position to breed a passionate clientele. Pie Minister has done just that. The company built an entire brand around traditional British savory pies, but made with fresh, local ingredients. And it’s created an array of customer experiences from its own restaurants to market stalls, partner pubs and even a mobile van for special events.
6. Make Me Want to Come Inside
This one is so simple, it’s all-too-often overlooked. Make sure your windows are clean and your menu is easy to read, so that customers will want to venture in off the street. Keep busy during normally slow times with meal specials and deals—empty restaurants tend to turn off potential customers.
7. What is Your Website?
It’s 2013 — every serious restaurant should have its own website. Customers who Google food in their area should come across your site. You should be able to claim a simple and easy-to-remember URL. If possible, every restaurant should allow some form of online ordering. It’s an increasingly common convenience and, when done right, will boost your delivery and takeaway sales.
8. Help Me Find You Online
Beyond a website, it’s critical to make sure that potential customers can find you where they’re looking. Sometimes that’s as easy as keeping your information up-to-date on Google Places and Yelp, sometimes it’s more intensive efforts like Search Engine Optimization to ensure you show up high on Google searches. No matter what, it’s important to continually talk to your customers, find out how they discovered you and continue to keep those channels open.
9. Be Convenient
Many first-time customers are looking for a convenient experience. They need a good eatery that’s open 24 hours a day. Or somewhere that can whip up their meal in a few short minutes. Or one that can deliver a hot meal fast. Few restaurants can afford to do all these things, but finding a niche convenience that you can fill can be immensely fruitful.
10. Make Me a Deal
Slow periods are a natural part of the restaurant businesses, but when you get too slow, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Break the cycle by offering deals and specials to draw in customers during slow times (like weekday lunches).
11. Wow Me with Your Food and Service
At the end of the day, customers need to walk away feeling that both your food and service were great. This is core, standard operating procedure for restaurants, but it must be said. Many restaurants have a few truly great dishes and a few mediocre ones. Most dishes fall in the middle. Great restaurants should be constantly trying to improve each dish to bring it up to the highest level of excellence. Great food sells itself better than any marketer could.
12. Turn Me into Your Best Marketer
Word out mouth is the best marketing tool you have. Customers who love your food will likely spread the word, but there’s always ways to support and encourage them. Establishing a membership or VIP club gives you a chance to engage your most passionate customers more deeply and encourage them to keep sharing. And make sure they know about your social media presence so they’ll spread the word to their social networks.
13. Keep Me Posted
Many customers like to be kept informed of developments at their favorite eateries. You should be constantly trying to collect e-mail addresses and contact information in order to keep in touch and keep those customers coming back again and again. Whether you’ve got a new menu item or a new special or deal, your customers will want to know. Having your own online ordering system gives you the added benefit of being able to collect e-mail addresses in the natural course of customers placing their orders.
14. Reply to My Reviews
Whether they are good or bad, you should always respond to customer reviews on sites like Yelp. Reviews should never sound defensive, but make it clear that you are listening to customers. Many people will look to review sites before trying a new restaurant and it helps if they see that you’re the kind of restaurant that listens and takes customer feedback into account.
15. Get Me Involved
Many customers enjoy engaging with your brand. Photo competitions on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can be a great way to engage them while also collecting valuable collateral for your own marketing. Try to find ways to engage with your most passionate customers in different ways—there’s no limit to what you can do with social media and even traditional mechanisms, like VIP groups.