I get asked a bunch of questions about… you know… stuff. And in the early morning hours I enjoy responding (hopefully) thoughtfully and thoroughly. A couple members of my team suggested I start sharing my advice. Previous AMA’s are here. So, without further ado, please enjoy this installment of Ask MilEs Anything:
A reader asked me: “How do I get people to come into my restaurant”
First of all, let’s start by separating fact from fiction.
You may have heard 90% of all restaurants fail within the first year. I mean… we’ve all heard that, right?
One small problem is that it simply isn’t true. Good ole’ fashioned actual research by H.G. Parsa et al., shows approximately 25% of restaurants—one in four—fail within the first year and that number increases to three in five—60%—when expanded to a three-year period.
So, frankly, the odds still aren’t in your favor… but they’re far better than the mythical-pulled-from-thin-air-numbers your negative friends and family have been bleating into your ear.
So, I’m going to start by throwing your “how” question back in your face as a “why” question:
Why should people come to your restaurant? What’s delightful about it?
And do you have social proof? Because you desperately need it. I not only need to know why you think it’s worth my time and hunger, I need to hear from your delighted customers.
If your food is good and your prices are appropriate – I have very good news for you! We all eat three times a day.
If you were a roofer and I only re-roof every 20-30 years, you could have a real challenge because the product purchase cycle is so long.
Because the product purchase cycle is so frequent with a restaurant, you can see action fairly quickly.
The first thing you gotta do is make sure that it is worth coming to your restaurant.
There are only three reasons why people aren’t coming:
- They don’t know about you.
- They think they know about you but they don’t really.
- They do know about you. Oof. Either your food’s not as good as you think it is, or you have service challenges. In other words, you’ve got deeper problems to fix before you should focus on advertising.
If bad food or service challenges are truly not your problem, then you first want to identify and celebrate your regulars.
Start with that inner circle you have of regulars; people who do know all about you and evangelize them. Make them superstars.
Give them opportunities to invite their friends in so that they look cool, because you’ve made them the hero of the story.
You know, give them coupons, invite them, let them come in and have private dinners and when they’re in for private dinners or lunches or whatever meal they want, let them have a bounce back coupon for every one of their friends with their name on it.
Give them credit for your success.
Find that inner circle of regulars that you’ve got and empower them to talk about you on social media.
At the very least, even if you have only 100 people who like your Facebook page, if you have a daily special, you need to take a beautiful picture of it with your phone, well lit, like under the heat, under the lights, and share it each day on Instagram, on Twitter, on Facebook.
Share your specials every day. Take pictures! Shoot videos!
Shoot pictures of (at the very least) your daily specials board and share on Facebook, twitter, and Instagram. Even if only 100 people that see it, how many do you need to break even at your restaurant every day?
I know food costs are going up and labor is always going to be a challenge, but make sure your food is worth sharing.
Start with your inner circle and be consistent about using social media. If you start to see traction from one social media channel, begin investing paid dollars into that social media channel.
Let me give you Facebook for an example. If you choose to advertise the picture of your daily special, let’s say within a one mile radius or a certain zip code around your restaurant, you’re making a really smart investment because you can track it and you can see if it’s working.
You can also have secret passwords.
Use the password “lemon zest” to save 10% off your next visit. Have fun with it and leverage the power of social media to your advantage because, like I said earlier, we eat three times a day.
You can use permission based texting if you have a special that people love. Let’s say you have this baked ziti that’s amazing and hoards of people come in for it. Have your servers at the end have a conversation like this:
Server: “Well, do you want us to text you the next time we have this special?”
Customer: “Oh my gosh, yes!”
Well then you’ve just gotten permission to get a repeat customer.
I mean the thing about restaurants is, if you can get a visitor who comes two times a month, to visit just one more time a month – increase their repeat business by 50%, think about the value of that customer over the next 20 years.
What that does to your restaurant is keep it in business. And that’s what we’re really talking about. And you and I both know it, if you’re a restaurant owner, the first two years especially, but even the first five years, they’re all about survival.
Continue to improve!
Oh, and PS – Restaurants are hard work. If you’re a great cook but not necessarily a good business owner, I highly recommend Part I of Michael Gerber’s The E Myth Revisited and the entirety of Gino Wickman’s Traction to you because they both talk simply about systematizing and delegating things that aren’t necessarily your strengths. It is an absolute key to survival in the restaurant business.
If you have a question you’d like to ask and don’t mind (a) replies in the wee, small hours of the morning, or (b) me sharing the answer with the rest of the class (removing any personal info, of course), please reach out to us. If you get our emails, just reply. If you’re reading this on our site or in your RSS feed, click me.