I own a hotel with what I consider to be a good quality restaurant. But I'm a few miles out of town and suffer from very poor diner numbers. How do I improve my turnover?
Carl May, Catered4 You say you're operating a good restaurant, but how have you monitored this fact? So many people have an idea of what they consider to be the best restaurant, but without good local patronage, great business levels are hard to achieve. Make sure the package is realistic and stay consistent.
- Get away from the idea that the restaurant is part of the hotel and sell it as a separate item. Getting non-residents to eat in a hotel has always been a problem. Try naming it.
- Use local suppliers and state this in detail on your menu. They will also advertise you verbally.
- Keep your menus seasonal and change regularly to keep both your staff and customers excited.
- Find out who the local big business people are and invite them in for a familiarisation dinner.
- Make sure each guest receives a warm welcome and go the extra mile to make it a great experience that they have to come to you for.
- Check your website. Is it doing what it should? Ask for people's opinions.
- Try writing a monthly news/recipe/events letter and send it to as many local addresses as you can.
- Consider the access to your restaurant. Is it well signposted and illuminated? Is car parking easy?
- Think things through and plan a strategy. Running in headfirst will only confuse your staff and send out the wrong signals to your customers.
Clive Holland, Sugarvine The key is to attract repeat local custom. Here are some ideas:
- Hotel restaurants traditionally find it difficult to attract locals. Consider creating a new identity and theme for your restaurant, and promote it to the local market separately from the hotel.
- Use the local press and internet to advertise your restaurant. But make sure your promotion offers something tangible that will appeal to locals, encouraging them to make the trip out to visit you. Offer a choice of menus too, catering to kids and vegetarians.
- If you don't have a website, get one. Make sure the restaurant doesn't come across as the poor relation. You may even consider a separate website for it.
- Gather customer data such as addresses, e-mails and mobile numbers and then work your database to encourage repeat business through loyalty cards, e-mail newsletters, and SMS text messaging of special offers.
- Highlight advantages that set your restaurant apart - better service, bar and lounge areas to relax before and after a meal, space for kids to run around, easy parking, a rural getaway.
- Theme nights, music events, wine weekends and the like can increase your profile. Also target local businesses for corporate functions. People who visit for the office Christmas party and are impressed are likely to return again during the year.
- Listen to what your customers have to say. Feedback cards, as well as gathering vital customer contact data, can shed light on problems that might account for your poor diner numbers.
- Driving will always be an issue. Try and turn your out-of-the-way location into a positive by providing reduced room rates for diners who stay over.
- Build your restaurant's reputation as a destination restaurant and attract foodies looking for a weekend away.
Guy Holmes, The Restaurant Ingredient There's a tendency for restaurateurs to rely on expensive advertising to get new customers. However, the strategies below are a lot less expensive and more effective.
- Media - contact journalists from local publications and invite them for a meal on the house in return for a review. Set up a competition in the local press with a prize along the lines of a meal for four with wine. The competition won't cost you anything, but will have a better effect than advertising.
- Be sure you're in local guides.
- Offer discounts such as 20% off to two or three of the biggest employers in the nearby town. Ask them if you can promote the offer on their intranet system and with posters in the staff room supplied by you. Put a time limit on the discount to encourage people to use it sooner rather than later.
- Contact local hotels and make sure they have information, including menus. It would also be very useful to invite the head concierge or receptionist for a free meal. They will more often than not recommend your restaurant to their hotel guests.
- Another cheap way to gain publicity is to offer a prize of a dinner at your restaurant for some kind of charity or school event. You will get a write-up in the charity/school newsletter, publicity at the actual event and there's a good chance the local press will run a story.
- Make sure your restaurant is well signposted. It's no good if people get lost and find one of your competitors instead.
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