So, you make the best crab cake in the Western Hemisphere and you want to sell your culinary creation by opening a restaurant. Fabulous! That's easy….find a location, sign the lease, and start making crab cakes. If only it were that simple! The "build it and they will come" theoryÂ does not apply to the restaurant industry. The fact is 75% of newly opened restaurants will close withinÂ the first five years. So what are the other 25% of successful restaurants doing to beat those odds?
In today’s market, building, branding and running a restaurant that will turn aÂ PROFIT is no easy feat – running a restaurant that does not make money is. You can make the cutest cupcakes a foodie has ever seen but if you only sell a fewÂ hundred a day, your doors will close before the new paint on the walls is dry. Why? Chances are you have put more start-up money into buying equipment and fancy fixtures to make and display yourÂ product than you did on marketing and advertising your product. I see this every day.
All restaurants, big or small, chain or independent, are on the same playing field when it comes to the consumer. They are hungry and you offer food. This is a simple idea yet restaurants have a hard time understanding that they can’t just open their doors and expectÂ a line ofÂ hungry people waiting to get inside.
Your target market is everyone who eats… and everyone eats. You need to reach each and every one of your consumers and inform them of the four W's.Â The four W's is the simple rule ofÂ WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN. Feed the public the information they need; and you will feed them on the food that you serve. Here is an example:
WHO:Â Â Capt. Jack’s Crab Shack and Seafood Market, 540-582-8868 www.welovecrabs.com Voted "Best Seafood", as seen on NBC News and inÂ The Washington Post.
WHAT:Â A fresh seafood market, restaurant and dry goods store rolled into one.Â Â Offering over 350 kinds of seafood, you can buy it live or fresh and take it home or order a platter and eat it here.Â You can alsoÂ shop our store for hard-to-findÂ and specialty merchandise, from Alligator to Key Lime Pie and everything in between.
WHERE:Â So easy to find, so hard to leave at 6330 MorrisÂ Rd. on Rt. 606 across from Indian Acres in Spotsylvania, Virginia, right off of I-95 and Rt. 1.
WHEN:Â OpenÂ 7 days a week all year long, outdoor seating, ABC On/Off.
To attract customers youÂ MUST reach out and touch the reader, entice the reader, intrigue the reader and even seduce the reader into coming into your restaurant. Can you do that with words alone?Â Yes, but it is more effective alongside close-up, sharp and glossy food photos and mouth-watering descriptions. This is whatÂ Monica Van Cleve,Â 24 year old founder and C.E.O. of Let’s Eat OutÂ MenusÂ Magazine,Â has termed "menutising", meaning everything a consumer needs to know aboutÂ your restaurant.Â ”InsteadÂ of advertise, MENUTISE!” says Monica. This will market, advertise, promote, and brand your restaurant all at the same time. You have to SHOW and TELL consumers WHY they should come in and eat at your restaurant. “Our company does just that, it puts the menutisement into the hands of the consumer 24/7, we transport the eater into the restaurant.”
YOUR BABY, YOUR BRAND:
Consumers have to become familiar with your logo in order to visuallyÂ connect you with what you sell and where you are located. Branding takes many forms and takes time.Â A crab with funny eyes, a napkin around his neck and a fork and knife in each claw seen over and over again will make me connect the name to this logo. If I have never seen the logo or graphic, I cannot possibly know the name of the restaurant it belongs to.Â To effectively brand your restaurant you need to market your business so that the consumer recognizes you. If you do not accomplish this goal right from the start, any and all money spent on marketing or advertising has been in vain – you’ve missed the boat on branding.Â A good way to testÂ how well you are doing is to take a poll by asking shoppers within walking distance from your restaurant to identify the logo you show them.Â If you have done a great job branding your restaurant they should be able to identify it and be able to tell you the four W’s. If not, you know where your weakness is and can get to work on branding.
When choosing domain names for your restaurant pick a second dot com name that is short and memorable to forward to your site.Â An exampleÂ would beÂ "Jennifer’s Sweet Treats and Coffees" couldÂ use a dot com likeÂ Sweet.com, BonBon.com, JavaJen.com, etc..; this is easier to market, easier to read and easier to remember when only heard or seen for a second. Only use dot coms as they are the first one people will try and with all of the other something's, they will give up.
IS YOURÂ TAKE AWAYÂ MENU A KEEPER OR AÂ SLEEPER?
If it is a sleeper, you have just missed the opportunity to market your restaurant to those who are already in your restaurant and to those who you distribute your menu to.
If your take-away menu looks like it was printed off on your home computer, if it is all text and no pictures, if it’s in black and white,Â if it lacks the information of the four W’s in detail, then you opened your doors making the first, and worst, restaurant mistake.Â You are printing something the consumer deems as "trash" and they will properly dispose of it.Â Was that your goal?Â If so, mission accomplished – if not, change your menu to a menutisement and make them want toÂ keep it.
Look at your take-away menu and ask yourself "would I keep this or throw it away".Â Does it let me "eat with my eyes"? Does itÂ wake up my stomach from its sleeping stage and make my mouth start to water?Â If you have any doubts, stand outside a grocery store and poll a few shoppers about your menu. You’ll get the answer pretty fast.
Set your restaurant apart from the competition by offering a competition.Â Hold an eating competition annually to market your special product.Â If you sell burritos, hold a burrito-eating contest.Â If you sell cupcakes, hold a cupcake eating contest.Â If your specialty is falafels, hold a falafel eating contest.Â You will build interest in your product and it will open up a whole new avenue for free advertising when you announce the event with a press release.Â Post the contest in on-line food contest blogs and web sites, submit the information to local print publications and newspapers. Contest winners can win your food, like cupcakes for a year, and a trophy or framed certificate.Â Place pictures of winners on your web site and on the "wall-of-shame" inside your restaurant. This further promotes the event and consumer's interest.
Establish the slowest day of the week for a special cuisine or an all-you-can-eat promotion.Â Meatless Mondays, Teriyaki Tuesdays or All-You-Can-Eat Onion Rings every Wednesday works wonders for bringing customers in as well as repeat business.Â Consumers will spread the word for you, as they always share good deals with their friends and co-workers, and soon your business will build a following on these days.
Another great promotion is tee-shirts. Printing quality tee-shirts with your logo and information and a funny graphic or saying will make people want to wear them around town and not use them as sleep shirts. No one will see your tee-shirt if it never leaves the house!Â Selling them at cost will encourage a good price point for purchase making this walking billboard FREE to you. Hundreds of people can see your information on just one shirt-wearer, so make sure you put the four W’s on it, not just your name and location.Â I am amazed at how many shirts I see that lack information or information large enough that I can read without feeling like I am hovering over the back of a shirt-wearer.Â Put your web site in BIG and BOLD print – with so many smart phones in use a reader does not have to wait to get to a computer anymore.
ONE TIMER? OR A LIFE-TIMER?
Businesses are built on sales of a product and/or a service. It is far easier to get a hungry consumer to try you out than it is to make them come back.Â And not just come back next year, you need them to come back in a few days or next week if you are to build a base of repeat customers. Unless youÂ can afford toÂ give away free food (and coupons are free food) you need to have a plan to turn the one-timer into a life-timer. Menutising and distribution can bring ‘em in but it is then up to you to turn them into repeat customers and salespeople for your restaurant.
The number oneÂ loyalty trigger a consumer responds to is CUSTOMER SERVICE. This is true with you when you shop or dine, isn’t it?Â The food sometimes will taste better and the value they perceive will be higher because they received excellent customer service.Â Smiles are free for you and your employees to give to customers. Engaging your customers is forming a relationship, meaning you have a connection, human to human. Greeting and treating them like they are your ONLY customer will go a long way and prevent it from being the truth.
Quality in your food, presentation andÂ product knowledge cannot be given enough time and attention. And last, but not least, is the atmosphere.Â From the decor, the music or lack of, to the condition of the entry and bathroom, all of it should be clean, friendly,Â and welcoming.Â Again, if you need help on this, take a survey from your own customers and see where you can improve.Â The proof is in the pudding, pun intended.
In thisÂ highly competitive, labor intensive industry it is usually the fault of the restaurateurÂ if the business fails and usually due toÂ one or more of the above mentioned outlined tactics being ignored.Â It is a fact, the stomachÂ overrides the wallet, and it wants what it wants when it wants it.Â Food rocks and rules our daily life and a true foodie willÂ go out to eat even when the electric bill is past due.Â It is our job in the restaurant industry to be there and be ready to satisfy.
About the author: Shelly Van Cleve has been a restaurateur for over 30 years and is the leading expert inÂ restaurant marketing and branding.Â She is the founder and operator of the award winning Capt. Jack’s Crab Shack and Seafood Market as well as The Virginia Crab Cake Co., located near Washington D.C. Her companies have been featured by NBC News, The Washington Post, Northern Virginia Magazine, Virginia Neighbor’s Magazine, Currents Magazine, The Free Lance Star, Monkeysee.com, and repeatedlyÂ voted ‘BestÂ Of’ by the Freddy Awards.
Shelly is publisher and co-owner of Let’s Eat Out Menus, the nation’s only ad-free restaurant directory distributed to hotels, homes, offices and colleges.Â Married for 31 years she has three grown children whom share her passion and love for food.