As a marketer, I realize there is a never-ending list of advice, freely provided to restaurant owners, promising them a one-size-fits-all solution for their business. As if it were that simple. Marketing is complex, but with some common sense and help, you can get the most out of the whole 15 minutes you have to dedicate to it each day.
Know Your Business and its Environment
A SWOT analysis gives a complete picture of what is going on and helps you organize your thoughts and prioritize your actions.
While it may seem pretty obvious, it is worth reflecting on it and truly asking yourself the hard questions. Professional marketers and strategists swear by the SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to your business. You can greatly benefit from putting such an analysis together for your restaurant. A SWOT analysis shouldn’t take very long and can be updated on a regular basis. It gives a complete picture of what is going on and helps you organize your thoughts and prioritize your actions.
Take a piece of paper and divide it into four squares. In one square, define the strengths of your business: Is it a great location or a unique menu? In an adjacent square, write what you consider the weaknesses of your business: Is it a lack of serving staff or a difficulty procuring specific ingredients?
On the two remaining squares, you can list the opportunities and threats that are beyond your control but have inevitable impacts on your business. It can be trends, such as a strong demand for organic meals, and events, such as the grand opening of a competitor across the street.
With this in hand, you can now define what you are going to do to mitigate your weaknesses and react to the threats, while promoting your strengths and benefiting from potential opportunities.
Know Your Customers and Evolve with Them
If years of marketing have taught me one thing, it is that common sense can be my worst enemy. We are all the results of our own upbringing and social backgrounds, and while we can be pretty smart and savvy, it is impossible for one person to think like every single segment of the population. When starting any type of business, we come with preconceived ideas of whom our customers will be and what they will want to see on our shelves — or in our case, on our menu. However, we have to be ready to consistently re-evaluate our decisions, our offerings and our customer target. For example, Facebook was created for University students and young adults, in general; its creators believed it would be all the rage amongst young adults. While there is no denying that it has been quite a success, the creators never anticipated that older adults would actually be one of its largest user groups. With 20/20 hindsight, it makes sense; Facebook is easy to use and allows you to reconnect and stay connected with far away relatives and friends, even though it was not initially created with that group in mind.
The same goes for your restaurant. Let’s say you are located next to a university and believe most of your customers will be students who are going to want cheap coffees and sandwiches. Don’t get stuck in that mindset. Be open; observe and communicate with your customer base. Very few businesses open and stay exactly the same as when they first opened their doors. Google started as a search engine, and while they still offer that service, they have grown into an advertising giant amongst many of the services they provide. So be ready to observe and evolve with the demand while remaining true to your value.
Know Your Staff and Acknowledge their Role in Your Own Success
By now, you know how hard it is to hire reliable, flexible, yet friendly employees. In the long run, it will be worth your while to find those rare birds and make sure you retain them.
First, make them feel welcome and like a part of the team on day one – this goes for everyone on the team, from the busboy to the front hostess. Many companies have been training every single one of their employees to be front-of-the-line employees and there is a good reason. Customer service doesn’t start and stop with employees in the restaurant room, it also applies when the customer crosses paths with the chef on the way to the restrooms, or when you walk around the restaurant and see the kitchen staff on a break. And even when members of your staff leave your restaurant but are still wearing their work attire, they are still representing your brand, so make sure they understand that.
Very few businesses open and stay exactly the same as when they first opened their doors.
Second, encourage them to work as a team. There are different schools of thought on the subject, but there is a very popular restaurant in my hometown where the serving staff works as one and shares all the tips equally among the staff. As a result, you can ask any waiter or waitress for anything and they will help you. They also have a common interest for everyone to be smiling and polite, so peer pressure works in your favor. It has definitely been a successful strategy for that place.
Also, provide your staff with good technology that makes their life easier. The customers will thank you for faster, more responsive service, and your employees will appreciate a general manager who listens to their requests and makes sure they have all the tools they need to do an amazing job. It also goes a long way to prove you care about them and about the service they provide to your guests. And if you have to let them go, do it humanely and with discretion. Remember that the others are watching and will appreciate if you respect their co-workers even if they don’t always deserve it.