After the holidays, many restaurants see a dip in business. Motivating your best guests to come back will be especially important to keeping business on track. But when you think of your best guests, does a specific person come to mind — or just a list of traits? Creating a set of guest personas can help you understand who you’re trying to attract and fine-tune your marketing so you encourage them to return. According to The Rail, it’s important to combine both qualitative and quantitative data in your research. Studying your Google analytics data may tell you the age and sex of your average website visitor, for example, but may be less specific about their food preferences. For qualitative information, interview and survey your guests — canvass your mailing list and offering a discount or other promotion for their participation — and ask what they care about. Try to elicit quotes from them to understand what influences them. Your final guest personas — and you can have several categories of them depending on the diversity of guests you serve — can be given a name, vocation and other personal information but shouldn’t necessarily be specific individuals you know in real life. Instead, they should be composites of people who encompass the range of qualities you see in your guest community.
Does this sound familiar? Third-party delivery services can be like a drug that addicts restaurant owners: You sign up at a significant expense to get quick hits in the form of incremental sales, then pay even more to sustain business as more companies join the platform. That’s the view of Noah Glass, the CEO and founder of Olo, a mobile and online ordering platform. Glass advises restaurant operators to control their own online ordering site and he built his company to help them do that. While it can be more work to get customers to visit your site or download your app, he says, you will reap the benefit of more money earned on each sale. Others agree. Keeping your ordering in-house could increase your profitability by 35 percent, according to Software Advice, which advises operators to use a simple equation to determine how much they could be spending on third-party platforms. (Take the value of your monthly revenue and multiply that by 25 percent, which is the average percentage of commission fees charged by the platforms, and your answer will be the amount of money you will lose each month.) Instead, you could keep your ordering in-house for a lower monthly fee and supplement your system with Google’s My Business to benefit from the marketing exposure in your area. Then, when you capture the contact information and order history of customers, you can send targeted push promotions to them to entice them to return. Finally, keeping your ordering platform in-house keeps you in the driver’s seat when making menu changes or updates, or when managing issues with orders. Even if your third-party vendor seeks to provide a good customer experience, the may not be able to update your information as quickly as you would and they don’t necessarily value your business over the growing numbers of other restaurants on their platform.
Do you have an item on your menu that should be popular with guests but somehow doesn’t get many takers? Before you exchange it for something new, consider adjusting how you describe it on your menu. Even if you use colorful language to paint a mental picture of a dish, it may not strike an emotional chord with a guest. Cake suggests guiding guests to make a decision using nostalgic language rather than logic. It worked well for Dolester Miles, who earlier this year was named the best pastry chef in the nation by the James Beard Foundation. The Washington Post reports that she created a layer cake containing zabaglione — a foamy custard sauce flavored with marsala wine — but no one ordered it when the menu description mentioned the ingredient. When she changed the name of the dessert to Frank’s Favorite Cake, however, “it started flying off the shelf.”
Off-premise dining is on the rise — 86 percent of consumers are using off-premise services at least monthly, while one-third of consumers are using them more frequently than they did a year ago, according to Technomic. As the demand for off-premise dining climbs, it will have impacts across your business well beyond your choice of a delivery provider. For example, it is likely to affect the mix of items you offer on your menu, the customers you target, how you design your restaurant, how you package your food and how you develop your loyalty program. Restaurant Business suggests offering meal bundles with entrees, sides and desserts for busy families looking for easy and affordable options — create some pre-set or customizeable options so the customer can avoid ordering items a la carte. Since younger consumers are big supporters of off-premise dining (Technomic’s Takeout & Off-Premise report found that nearly half of 18- to 34-year-olds are ordering food to go more often than they did three years ago), consider offering some lighter, nutritious, unprocessed options that appeal to health-conscious people on the go. Your restaurant design should streamline the process of picking up food for customers and delivery drivers, and evolve with the idea that an increasing share of your business will be from off-premise sales. Choose packaging that ensures each item gets to the consumer in good condition — fries, for example, should not be in packaging that traps steam. Offer discounts or free items when customers bring in friends, visit on their birthday, or spend a certain amount of money with you. This is all to say that while your off-premise strategy impacts more than just these areas, it’s important to trace it through each step of your business. You may understand what your customers like, but your front of house and back of house (and the technology supporting them) need to be ready to deliver it.
Businesses of all sizes crave customer data, and restaurants are no exception. Eater reports that a new coffee shop in Providence, R.I. started an experiment whereby patrons (many of them college students) are given a free cup of coffee in exchange for providing details such as their name, birthday, phone number, email address, major and professional interests. While such data collection could be a dystopian sign of things to come, restaurant operators have an advantage in that a consumer sharing information is readily doing so in order to access promotions (unlike a person searching online for a clothing item and subsequently getting barraged with banner ads featuring that item). But as consumers guard their data more closely, make sure you are careful about how you and your vendors are using it — i.e. don’t surrender it to third-party delivery partners who might sell it to competitors — and make sure you have a technology crisis management plan in place so that if and when a breach occurs, you can demonstrate you have taken steps to protect your guests’ information.
America’s most food-focused holiday is coming up. Are you ready? On Thanksgiving weekend, your restaurant has an opportunity to give consumers a break from cooking, shopping or both. Upserve suggests creating a Thanksgiving-day menu for eat-in or take-away. Have an Instagram contest that challenges guests to share what they are thankful for. Poll your most loyal customers on social media about their favorite charities and donate to the winning cause. And since Black Friday kicks off the holiday shopping season, make sure you’re ready with gift cards for guests looking for ideas, as well as a selection of meal or snack specials that can entice consumers looking for a break from the crowds. Make sure your inventory and staffing plan are ready to handle extra foot traffic too.
Your restaurant’s values play an increasingly important role in engaging guests these days, and as the holidays approach, your charitable giving efforts can help you demonstrate your values to consumers. Fortunately, technology can make the process seamless for you. Consider using a platform like GroupRaise, which allows local non-profit organizations to request fundraising events online, which you can then respond to. During a given time frame, you can donate a portion of each check’s proceeds to a charity your guests value. It can help you bring in business on a slow day and also show that you’re a business the community should support.
As investors look to bring the next foodservice concepts to fruition, a new trend is becoming clear: Much like the transportation, retail, media and logistics industries before it, foodservice businesses are now attracting technology investment designed to streamline and bring efficiencies to multiple operations at once. For example, Tech Crunch reports that millions of dollars are now flowing into networks of shared kitchens, storage facilities and pickup counters that are likely to become the next big restaurant brands. These networks can help cut back on overhead and make operators more nimble when it comes to hiring labor and conceiving of new menu concepts. The trend is something existing operators can put into practice too: How might you and your neighboring businesses collaborate or share resources to become more efficient and flexible?
If you operate a quick-service or fast-casual restaurant and are eager to see a quick boost in downloads of your restaurant app, take note: A number of large brands have seen their downloads skyrocket in recent months by offering a small free item. QSR Magazine reports that when McDonald’s offered free medium fries in exchange for a download of their app plus a $1 purchase, it jumped 56 places to become the No. 2 app on the U.S. App Store within a week — and Dairy Queen, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A experienced similar jumps in engagement. While it remains to be seen how successful these brands will be at retaining the consumers they have enticed, it shows how much mileage a simple free item can get you when you’re looking to build (and better understand) your consumer base.
Before any product arrives at your door and on the plate of your guest, it passes through many hands and layers of pricing and profit formulas. The system is complicated — and ripe for pricing errors due largely to the manual processes still used to conduct business. One weak link in the supply chain can result in billing errors between manufacturers, distributors and you. Team Four launched a new program — Alignment4 — to help you identify those errors and correct them quickly so you can proactively manage your food costs. The program starts by analyzing receipts from your distributors, then examining product-level detail by invoice for a set amount of time. We can then plug in items that have been specially priced and compare them to what you were actually charged. The program can not only determine if a billing mistake was made, but it can also help you identify purchasing trends so you have a better sense of market values. If you are having a food-cost problem, Alignment4 can analyze your data and determine (soon at a daily speed) if a pricing mistake was made, if there was a temporary change in the market following a hurricane, or if a simple shift in your product mix might solve the problem. It converts data into actionable steps to lower food costs while helping you maintain standards for food quality and guest satisfaction. Gaining this insight into your data (all while keeping it anonymous) through Alignment4 provides other benefits too: You will get a customized inflation and market report that considers your past purchases and product mix, providing you with meaningful information to help you set menu selections, prices and portion sizes. Team Four can also approach suppliers on your behalf and solicit opportunities for you to consolidate purchases with other operators, whether you have 1000 locations or just one. For more information about how Alignment4 can help your restaurant, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.