Foodservice is a difficult business and an extremely competitive one. Even if you cook up the best bites in town, it can be a challenge to grab the attention of fickle consumers and even more challenging to keep it.
Developing a loyal following is critical when launching a restaurant, and to do that you have to make your establishment stand out. Surveying the industry, we've come up with a short list of ways to set your venue apart from the competition. You'll probably need to fine-tune each of these to meet the needs of your specific restaurant, but these examples should point you in the right direction.
Create the Right Atmosphere
Your restaurant is more than just the business name and the food on the menu. The theme and the values of your restaurant should be communicated and reinforced throughout the dining experience. This might be done through the use of good ambient lighting, a well-curated selection of artwork for guests to enjoy or easy-to-read wayfinding signage that makes dining at your restaurant stress-free.
Many restauranteurs use a soft open to collect feedback from people about their new business. This is the perfect time to ask whether guests respond to the look and feel of the place.
Make Your Guests Feel Special
Not everyone needs to hear "Happy Birthday" sung out of tune in a foreign language by the restaurant's finest, but you should look for ways to create a unique experience for your guests. Some examples of this include setting up a special seating location that resembles a wrestling ring at a Mexican-themed taqueria, offering an eating challenge that involves recognition and a complimentary meal, or adding a new menu item inspired by one of your better-known guests.
Participate in Community Events
Breaking in can be difficult in the restaurant industry, so community events offer a great opportunity to get your food out in front of potential customers. You might partner with a local radio station or bar to provide limited-time-only food perks for guests. Make sure to have some promotional materials on hand. You might have to sell a few discounted meals now, but if those people tell their friends and bring them to your restaurant, you'll have made your money back and then some.
Bring in a Guest Chef
Just as you can feature your food at a community event, you can also create some excitement for guests by changing things up with a guest chef. Your restaurant will look trendy and hip if you can get someone with prominence from a TV program or another successful establishment. Have the chef create their own variations on the type of food you would normally offer. When guests come back, they will still feel like they're having a special experience.
Make Your Food Prep Entertaining
This doesn't have to mean trick bartending or Japanese teppan-style cooking where food is prepared in front of the guests in creative ways. If your restaurant makes its own homemade tortillas with an antique machine, why not show it off for your guests to enjoy? If barbecue is more your style, put your restaurant's giant smoker on the patio so everyone can see the tasty morsels being prepared.
Making your restaurant successful is equal parts quality food and service and an interesting experience. If your guests remember the way your restaurant made them feel in combination with the delicious cuisine, you'll stand a much better chance of earning their repeat business, in addition to their friends. It's competitive out there, so get creative and be expressive with your new spot.