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The adage in the foodservice business is that if you only do four things you’ll be a success:

  1. Increase your customers
  2. Increase how much those customers spend
  3. Increase how often those customer visit, and
  4. Increase table turn

Easier said than done. The word increase is doing some very heavy lifting in that list. To accomplish this quadruple increase, a lot has to go on behind the scenes. It’s the attention to detail that helps accomplish the increase. Since the pandemic, resilient owner/operators have developed survival strategies that are now, as seated diners are returning to pre-pandemic levels, being re-evaluated and measured to either keep or discard as part of a multi-faceted restaurant business model.

5 Ways to Recession - Proof Your Restaurant Business
Optimizing restaurant operations in 2023 and beyond

In the spirit of sweating the small things on the way to success, we’ve put together six proven and actionable steps that can help increase restaurant sales in 2023:

1. The Unique And Memorable Dining Experience

Successful restaurateurs know that providing a unique and memorable dining experience is key to increasing new customers and encouraging them to return. This is the intersection of the art and science of restaurant culture and can often be achieved through creative menu offerings, exceptional service, unique ambiance, and attention to detail in every aspect of the customer dining experience.

You don't have to go so far as to combine an amusement park ride with an eight-course gourmet dinner, but that's exactly what they're doing at Eatrenalin, located in Europa-Park, one of the busiest theme parks in Europe. This self-described restaurant of the future features chair vehicles that transport guests through a series of themed rooms per dinner course.

Other more conventional ways to deliver a memorable dining experience that does not require a "You Must Be This Tall To Ride" sign can include:

  • To stand out in the competitive restaurant market, it's important to offer menu items that are creative, unique, and exciting. This could include experimenting with new flavors, fusion cuisine, or showcasing local and seasonal ingredients. Unleash your Chef!
  • Providing exceptional service is a crucial part of creating a memorable dining experience. Staff should be trained to be friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable about the menu offerings.
  • Your restaurant's ambiance and atmosphere play a critical role in creating a memorable dining experience. This could include interior design, lighting, music, and even table settings.
  • Every aspect of the dining experience should be thoughtfully curated to create a memorable experience. From the presentation of the food to the quality of the cutlery, attention to the small details make all the difference.
  • Hosting special events like themed dinners, wine tastings, or live music performances can add an extra layer of excitement to the dining experience and make it more memorable.
  • Adding personalized touches such as handwritten notes, customized menus, or special birthday desserts can help you create a more intimate and memorable dining experience and loyal customers.

2. Improve Your Digital Presence

It’s all digital these days… With more and more consumers relying on social media and online platforms to discover new restaurants and place orders, it's crucial to have a strong digital presence. Research points out that 41% look at your reviews on social media before making a reservation and 80% look at your website before visiting. So having an updated website, active social media accounts, and listings on the most popular food delivery apps is a good investment for attracting new customers.

Here's one prominent restaurant leveraging ALL the digital platforms: Well-known Sketch, in London, describes itself as a "destination for food, drinks, music & art, comprising an artist-conceived gastro-brasserie restaurant." The restaurant’s management team has invested heavily in optimizing its online presence.

In addition to having an interesting and interactive website relying heavily on the humble crouton, it has a strong and entertaining Twitter game with almost 20k followers. Sketch’s social media team is also busy on Facebook. On Instagram, some of the most-shared photos of Sketch originate from their loo, designed to encourage diners to take mirror selfies. Reviewed as one of the "16 Most Instagramable Toilets in London," Sketch’s bathrooms feature individual egg-shaped pods, all of which sit below a dramatic rainbow glass ceiling. This is one very photogenic bathroom!

If you lack Instragramable egg-shaped toilet pods, there are other ways to create your strong digital presence:

  • Social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter provide an opportunity to showcase your food and staff, engage with customers, and promote events and specials. A recent Restaurant Business News has operators raving about how extremely valuable TikTok has been to their company’s overall marketing performance.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO) can help your restaurant rank higher in search results and make it easier for potential customers to find you online. This includes using relevant keywords and making your site mobile-friendly.
  • With more customers ordering online, offer ordering through your website or popular food delivery apps to increase revenue.
  • Positive online reviews can help build trust and credibility with potential customers. Encourage satisfied customers to leave reviews on platforms such as industry favorite Yelp, Google, or TripAdvisor.
  • Email marketing can help your brand stay top-of-mind with your customers and promote upcoming events, promotions, or specials. Building a subscriber list and sending regular newsletters can help increase customer loyalty.

Choosing The Best Social Media Platforms For Restaurants

Online platforms and social media sites are incredibly useful tools for promotion. Your website is your digital storefront and should provide information about your menu, location, hours of operation, and contact information. It can also be used to showcase photos of the food, your staff, the ambiance, and special promotions.

  • Beyond your website, it’s effective to use social media sites Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
  • Leverage online ordering platforms like Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub to increase your online presence and SEO results.
  • If applicable to your business model, get on reservation platforms such as OpenTable and Resy to enable customers to book a table in advance, improving their customer experience and reducing wait times.
  • Review platforms such as industry favorite Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor can be used to encourage satisfied customers to leave positive reviews and improve your online reputation and local SEO results.
  • Email marketing platforms such as Mailchimp and Constant Contact can be used to create and send newsletters to customers, providing updates on events, specials, and promotions. Don't forget the Happy Birthday emails!

Online advertising platforms such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads can be used to target potential customers with relevant ads and drive traffic to your website and social media pages.

3. Offer Promotions And A Restaurant Loyalty Program

Offering promotions and loyalty programs are a proven way to attract new customers and retain existing ones. This can include discounts, special menu items, and rewards for frequent diners.

Before implementing any promotion or loyalty program, you should set clear objectives such as increasing sales, customer retention, or attracting new customers.

Highlight your promotions and loyalty programs through multiple channels – social media, email marketing, and in-restaurant signage can all be used to cost-effectively maximize their reach and effectiveness. Also, promotions and loyalty programs should have clear start and end dates, and create a sense of urgency to take action.

Promotions and loyalty programs should obviously be targeted at the right customers, such as frequent visitors, new customers, or those who have previously shown interest in a specific menu item or event.

Rewards offered through your loyalty program should be relevant to the customer's preferences and incentivize them to return to the restaurant. Think about receipt coupons.

Monitor the effectiveness of your promotions and loyalty programs and adjust them as necessary to achieve the objective of increasing sales and revenue. Experiment.

4. The Focus On Sustainability And Health

Fighting Inflation - MarketMan-min
Customers are increasingly interested in sustainability and healthy food options. The National Restaurant Association’s report “2023 State of the Restaurant Industry” declares that “consumers dining at restaurants say they want more sustainable and locally-sourced foods on menus.”

Here are some ways that you can focus on sustainability and health to attract these customers:

  • Source Locally: Sourcing ingredients from local farmers and suppliers reduces your restaurant's carbon footprint and supports the local economy.
  • Go Organic… A Little or A Lot: Using organic ingredients reduces the use of harmful pesticides and supports organic farming practices.
  • Use Green Packaging: Using eco-friendly packaging made from recyclable or biodegradable materials reduces your packaging waste and environmental impact.
  • For the Vegetarians and Vegans: Offering vegetarian and vegan options can cater to customers with dietary restrictions and reduce your carbon footprint by reducing protein consumption.
  • Source Sustainable Seafood: Sourcing sustainable seafood ensures that you are not contributing to overfishing and are supporting responsible fishing practices. Make sure to mention this on the menu.
  • Healthier Menu Options: Offering healthier menu options such as salads, grilled or baked dishes, and whole-grain options can cater to new health-conscious customers.
  • Provide Nutritional Information: Providing nutritional information on the menu can help your customers make informed choices about their meals.
  • Improve Inventory Management to Reduce Food Waste: Reducing food waste can not only save money but also reduce your restaurant’s environmental impact. This can be achieved through portion control, composting, and donating excess food to local food banks. Reducing food waste adds revenue straight to your bottom line.

5. How To Increase Your Restaurant Delivery Sales

The pandemic has drastically changed the business model of almost every type of restaurant and foodservice business. An amazing trend reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “A typical restaurant today is managing an average of seven service models, including table, curbside, delivery, catering, and drive-through.” Scrappy restaurateurs responded to the near 100% drop off of seated diners in 2020 by evolving their business model. Offering non-traditional delivery options saw many restaurants weather the shutdown.

Today, as seated diners are returning to near pre-pandemic levels, restaurateurs are keeping or even improving delivery sales as an ongoing element of their business models.

Veteran operators have used these strategies to increase both food delivery sales and attract potential seated diners:

  • Optimize your online presence by making sure your website and social media profiles are up-to-date, visually appealing, and provide accurate information about your menu and delivery services. This will help increase customers to the online platforms you use and improve your local SEO visibility on search engines.
  • Offer discounts and promotions to attract new customers. Offer ongoing discounts for first-time customers and test loyalty programs.
  • Partner with food delivery services like Uber Eats, Grubhub, and DoorDash to reach a wider audience and increase delivery sales. These platforms can also provide effective marketing and promotional support.
  • Improve your food packaging to enhance the delivery experience for your customers. Use sustainable and eco-friendly packaging options that keep the food fresh and secure during transit.
  • Survey and collect feedback from your customers to improve delivery service. Feedback can help you identify areas of improvement and make necessary changes to improve the overall customer experience.

Improve Delivery Sales With A Improved Delivery Menu

To improve delivery sales, some operators modify their menus to increase delivery sales. Some proven valuable steps to take:

  • Analyze your sales data to identify popular items that sell well in the delivery market. You can also use customer feedback to determine what items customers want to see on the menu.
  • A complex menu can be overwhelming for customers and can increase the chances of order errors. Simplify your menu by removing items that don't sell well and focusing on your restaurant's strengths.
  • Modify your menu to ensure that items can travel well and maintain their quality during transit. Consider offering dishes that are easy to package and transport, such as sandwiches, salads, and pizza.
  • Create specials that are unique to delivery customers, such as family meal deals or combo meals. Offering these deals can entice customers to order from your restaurant more frequently.
  • Consider including options for customers with specific dietary requirements, such as vegetarian, vegan, or gluten-free options. This will expand your customer base.
  • Make sure your online ordering system is easy to use and navigate. The checkout process should be simple, with as few clicks as possible, to reduce cart abandonment rates.
  • High-quality photos of your menu items can entice customers to order from your restaurant. Make sure the photos are well-lit and showcase the food in an appetizing way.

Choosing The Best Third-Party Delivery Services

Uber Eats, Grubhub, DoorDash, and Postmates can be good options. But as many restaurant managers have experienced, there are advantages and disadvantages of using third-party delivery services. So do your homework and choose wisely:

The Advantages

  • Additional Revenue Stream: Partnering with a third-party delivery service can provide you with an additional revenue stream without the need to invest in additional staff or equipment.
  • Convenient Delivery Management: Third-party delivery services handle the logistics of delivery, including driver management and route optimization, which can save you time and resources.
  • Increased Reach: By partnering with a third-party delivery service, you can reach a wider audience and attract new customers who may not have heard of your business before.
  • Added Marketing and Promotion: Third-party delivery services often provide marketing and promotional support to their customers, which can help increase your restaurant’s visibility.

The Disadvantages

  • High Commission Fees: Third-party delivery services charge commission fees for each order, which can range from 15% to 30%. This can eat into your profits.
  • Loss of Control: Owner/Operators have less control over the delivery process and customer experience when using a third-party delivery service. You’ll also have less control over the accuracy of orders and the quality of food during delivery.
  • Brand and Loyalty Issues: You may lose brand recognition if customers primarily associate your brand with the third-party delivery service rather than your restaurant.
  • Legal Issues: You may be held liable for any issues that arise during the delivery process, such as accidents or injuries caused by delivery drivers.

So, how should restaurants think about balancing growth in third-party delivery services vs. their in-restaurant dining? Check out this conversation among industry experts in a McKinsey Forum about the growth of the food delivery sector and what lies ahead for this complex ecosystem.

6. Evolve Your Restaurant’s Technology Stack

From online ordering systems to digital menus and self-service kiosks, technology can help streamline operations, improve efficiency, enhance the customer experience, and increase profitability. Investing in technology can also help you gather data and insights to make informed business decisions.

A recent article in the Michelin Guide reports on the trend that restaurants are turning to technology to tackle the global restaurant staff shortage.

5 Ways to Recession - Proof Your Restaurant Business
Optimizing restaurant operations in 2023 and beyond

Here are some of the best technologies that restaurants can use:

  • A Point of Sale (POS) system is essential for a restaurant to manage orders, process payments, and keep track of inventory.
  • Eliminating manual inventory and implementing an inventory management system can help you track inventory levels and reduce waste by predicting demand and optimizing ordering. Inventory management systems have been shown to reduce Cost of Goods Sold (GOGS) by 5% annually.
  • Online ordering and delivery platforms such as Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats can increase a restaurant's reach and provide additional revenue streams.
  • Online table management platforms like OpenTable can improve the customer experience by allowing your customers to make reservations online and reduce wait times.
  • Mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet can make the payment process faster and more convenient for your customers.
  • Digital menu boards can provide a more interactive and visually appealing menu experience for customers, allowing you to flexibly highlight specials and promotions.
  • Kitchen display systems can streamline the order fulfillment process by sending orders directly to the kitchen and reducing errors.
  • Loyalty and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can help you build relationships with customers and incentivize repeat business through personalized promotions and rewards.

In Conclusion

Increasing restaurant sales is never a simple formula, and requires attention to detail and the hard work of staff and management. But fortune shines on the prepared, and most restaurants succeed more through hard work than luck. So applying lessons learned in the tumult of recent years can be a playbook to use to increase sales.

Focusing on the customer experience; improving your digital presence in the age of digital native; launching effective promotions and a restaurant loyalty program; adopting sustainable practices; sharpening your delivery sales strategy; and improving your restaurant’s use of information technology, website, and social media are all foundational and necessary restaurant business needs today.

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