5 quick, easy ways to drive restaurant sales and traffic

June 25, 2014 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

You don’t have to tell restaurant owners the dining out landscape is more competitive than ever and getting more so. Every day, there’s a new concept, a new chain for development, another QSR location popping up across the street. Add to that the increasing costs for food, fuel and labor. Then top it all off with increasingly educated diners who, thanks to the Food Network and others, now dismiss their favorite burger and fries for a grass-fed, dry-aged burger stuffed with gorgonzola and thick-cut, honey-maple-roasted bacon with perfectly crisped pommes frites sprinkled with warm truffle oil and a side salad of watercress and heirloom tomatoes dressed with a homemade Chardonnay vinaigrette. Oh, and they’d like all that for $8.95. Do you add value, or discount the price? Times are definitely a’changin’.

The Restaurant Experience: What Customers Are Looking For

That’s where thinking and acting like a challenger brand can literally and figuratively turn the tables for restaurant owners. The key is acting. Don’t just think. Do! Here are five super-effective challenger moves to quickly drive your restaurant sales and traffic:

Take Care of Your Staff

Whether you acknowledge it or not, your employees ARE your brand. Yes, your customers come to your restaurant for great food and atmosphere, but your staff is the most important part of the equation and here’s why. The interaction with your hostess, servers, bartenders, counter staff –anyone interacting with your customers – is personal. It’s a physical connection. Great servers can rescue a bad meal. If the service is poor, it won’t matter how good the food is. Give your staff clear direction about the personality you want your brand to convey. Encourage them to deliver it and build relationships with their customers. Hold them to high standards and reward them when times are good with both your compliments and a share of your profits.

Surprise Your Guests

It’s no secret how powerful the word FREE is. But when you deliver FREE in a fun, engaging, memorable way, it’s twice as effective. There are a number of ways to pull this off, but desserts are a great place to start. Because they are sweet and at the end of the meal, many customers pass on dessert. But what if you could get five,10, 20 percent of your guests ordering one or more desserts? Here’s how you do it. Mark the bottom of a set number of dessert plates with your logo, or the word “winner,” and mix them randomly among the dessert plates. During service, your servers inform their tables that they have a chance of getting their dessert for FREE if someone finds the mark on the bottom of their plate. It’s fun and for many diners it’s the little nudge they need to order the dessert they wanted anyway. Another thought – reward large parties by bringing them your best dessert to share with your thanks for coming in. It leaves them with a great taste in their mouth and lets them taste something they might just order next time.

Lean Into Local Store Marketing

LSM can be a game changer – especially for QSR brands. What could be more important than connecting with your customers at the intersection of your brand and something they care about? LSM is all about building a relationship with your customers on a personal level. Because when you do, your investment in that relationship grows exponentially through repeat traffic, word of mouth, mentions in Social Media and honestly, Karmic goodwill. There’s a QSR brand where I live that’s committed at the corporate level to serving the communities where they do business. Over the past three years, our Boy Scout Troop has held probably 30 Eagle Scout fundraiser car washes in their parking lot. They don’t charge us for the space. They don’t charge us for the water. You know what they do? They bring chicken out for the boys and give us FREE jugs of tea to sell to the customers coming through for a wash. Does that cost them something? Sure. But I promise you that investment has been repaid 10 times over from our troop and the hundreds of people we’ve told about the experience. There’s a Dairy Queen franchisee in the Northeast who literally never turns down a request to support his community or hold a fundraiser at his store. Some scoff at how much he “gives away.” Reality? He’s one of the most successful operators in the country. Ask yourself, where and how can I make that kind of connection?

Give Your Customers A Reason To Bounce Back

Giving your customers a Bounce Back coupon with a valuable offer is a fantastic way to get them back in the door. Bounce Backs function in the same way gift cards do. Psychologically, we know we have something of value in our wallets and we feel like we’re missing out if we don’t take advantage of it. It’s certainly a balance between value and profitability but remember, the stronger the offer, the quicker and more likely your customers are to return.

Live In Social Media and Encourage Your Customers To Join You.

It’s no secret Social Media has given everyone a voice. Depending on how connected your customers are and what kind of experience they have in your restaurant, that can be really good, or really bad. Whether or not you are presently paying attention to the conversation that’s happening about you and around you on Facebook, Twitter,Yelp! and Instagram, it’s happening and it’s imperative that you engage with it. Create positive content and posts about what’s happening in your restaurant and encourage your staff and customers to do the same. When something negative comes up, don’t ignore it. Embrace it and look at it as a chance to both improve and make things right with that customer. Handled properly, that person may become a brand disciple. Handled poorly, or not at all, that person becomes a terrorist and will recount their negative experience to anyone who will listen. First rule of thumb, keep the customers you have. That’s still a lot easier than getting new ones.

Michael Tuggle is Chief Imagination Officer at leading Dallas ad agency The Loomis Agency.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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