From the moment guests arrive at your restaurant, you are presented with both a great challenge and great opportunity.
The challenge is finding ways to meet the guest's expectations and show them how much you appreciate their business; the opportunity is the chance to positively influence their impression of the restaurant and to encourage return visits.
While guests are at your restaurant, you have control over their experience. Once your guests pay for their meals and head out the door, it can be difficult to re-engage them.
In today’s digital world, there is, rightfully, a focus on how to attract guests after they leave the restaurant through a useful and engaging restaurant website and various social media platforms. While these things are important to stand out from the competition, many restaurateurs are not taking advantage of the opportunity to market to guests while they are actually in the building.
Peter Christie, former President of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, refers to this concept as “4-Wall Restaurant Marketing” - what you do to promote your business while guests are within your restaurant’s walls.
Here are seven ways to implement 4-Wall Restaurant Marketing in your business:
Think about the decision-making process customers go through before they arrive at your location. They have to make the decision to dine out. Then they have to decide the type of cuisine they are ‘in the mood for’ and they likely have a surplus of options to pick from. Consider the vast number of restaurants your guests pass on their way to your restaurant.
It takes a lot to get customers in the door. When guests finally do arrive, show them how much you appreciate the fact that they chose to dine at your restaurant. Make sure hosts and hostesses are properly trained as they are often the first members of your staff to interact with guests. They should greet guests when they walk through the front door and make an effort to recognize returning customers. Your servers should be friendly and attentive. They should never congregate around the front desk or the POS terminal. Managers should touch each table and do their best to recognize returning customers. There are an endless number of ways to make guests feel that you appreciate them. The little things go a long way.
When guests make the decision to dine at your restaurant, they are making a choice based on some set of criteria. Their expectations are almost always set before their arrival and based on things like past experience, recommendations from friends, interactions with your website, online reviews, etc. While it's rarely possible to track what specifically influenced a visit, you can make some assumptions based on your restaurant service type. If you’re a quick service restaurant, guests likely choose you for convenience, speed, and price. If you’re a casual restaurant, diners probably expect good value for their dollar, friendly service, and a comfortable atmosphere. At a fine dining restaurant, guests expect high quality food, professional service, a bigger bill... you get the idea.
Once you have a sense of what guests expect their experience to be like, it's your job to meet and exceed those expectations. Even if you have great food, ambiance, and service, failure to recognize and meet guests' expectations can ruin their experience at your restaurant.
Placing table tents on all of your tables is not only a great way to promote menu items, but it can also be a great place to market to guests while they are at your restaurant (of course, keep #2 in mind before you put advertising on tables). You can include things like information about upcoming events, special deals, and your awesome loyalty program to encourage return visits. Maybe a live band is playing at your restaurant next week or you’re going to offer a special on wings during an upcoming sporting event - you should include that information on your table tents.
If your restaurant allows guests access to wifi, find ways to gain value from the free service you are providing. Consider capturing guests’ login information through social media or a small survey. If you have a POS system with a built-in CRM, adding it to your customer database will give you access to that data later on. It is also a good idea to direct wifi users to a page on your restaurant’s website, or feature marketing messages on the login page.
There is no better time to invite guests to join your restaurant’s loyalty program than while they are actually in your restaurant. At the end of the meal, after they’ve enjoyed your great service, food, and atmosphere, encourage guests to join your restaurant’s loyalty program while that experience is still very fresh in their minds. If your restaurant has a customer rewards program integrated into the POS system, it only takes seconds for guests to opt-in to the program while they are completing the payment process. Train your staff to encourage guests to join the restaurant's loyalty program so they can cash in on enticing benefits and special deals.
Before they leave, give guests a reason (beyond your great food and service) to come back. Even something as small as a free appetizer or a small discount on their next meal can be enough to get them back through the door. If you really want to delight guests, personalize the offer based on what they ordered during their current meal.
Managers should take advantage of the time they have during pre-shift meetings to set objectives for the upcoming shift. Managers can use this time to educate staff about the day’s specials and how to upsell those items while interacting with guests. One day, the goal might be to sell a specific beverage special, the next it might simply be to get to know the guests. Introduce contests and prizes for the staff member that does the best job of fulfilling the day’s objective. This incentivizes the staff to execute on the strategies you've put in place for improving the guest experience.