In the restaurant industry, financial success depends largely on one thing: sales.
According to Food Newsfeed, two burning questions that keep restaurateurs up at night are “Where can we save money?” and “How can I boost my sales?” Often the two feel mutually exclusive: cutting costs means compromising customer service… right?
Not necessarily. If you want to increase restaurant sales and improve customer service, without blowing your budget, all you have to do is sell to the senses.
For a deep dive on everything you can do to increase restaurant sales, check out our sales guide.
How to increase restaurant sales without advertising
One proven way to increase sales is to double down on your marketing and advertising efforts, but these tactics don’t usually come cheap. Depending on how long you’ve been in operation, and on your bottom line, today’s restaurateurs should plan to set aside between 10-35% of sales for their restaurant marketing budget.
However, there are other ways to increase sales. This post will explore low- and no-cost ways to create a memorable sensory experience that will drive new customers through the door and keep existing customers coming back for more.
Creating a sensational sensory experience for your guests means carefully considering how your customer experience appeals to the senses, especially taste, sound, and sight.
Don’t shy away from samples.
Samples are a great way to promote your restaurant and build brand recognition. Not only that, but they tend to be more cost-effective than advertising. How’s that? Because your audience doesn’t have to take you at your word — they can taste the product for themselves.
Whether you take a similar approach to companies like Starbucks and circulate the room with trays of free samples to customers already inside your business, or you drop off some surprise goodies to a local business in your neighborhood, or you plan to pop up at an upcoming event, samples are the perfect way to get in front of new faces and, quite literally, give them a taste of what’s in store.
People love free food, and they love sharing about free food on Instagram. Your guests will be delighted by the extra treat they get for free, and it's likely they'll feel the impulse to share a picture online, giving you a boost on social media.
Cater to dietary needs.
Food lifestyles, health needs, and special diets have been on the rise for years and show no signs of slowing down: vegetarianism, veganism, gluten-free, dairy-free, keto, paleo, Whole 30, the list goes on. By offering options that cater to these needs, you’re able to serve a broader segment of the population, which makes your restaurant a viable option for large bookings where guests may have a variety of dietary restrictions.
Keep in mind this doesn’t mean you’ll need to design entirely new plant-based or gluten-free menus. Instead, take a look at your current menu to see where and whether you can offer customizations (for example, a gluten-free bun or a dairy-free sauce) to keep your customers happy and well-fed.
Delight your diners’ taste buds.
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but it warrants a mention: If your meals aren’t appealing to your audience (both in terms of aesthetics and taste), no amount of advertising will convince them to choose you for their next dinner date night.
Converting customers into promoters means you need to be serving up consistently delicious meals. Monitor your sales data consistently — it’ll tell you which dishes are heavy hitters, and which aren’t making waves like you’d hoped. Then, you can apply the principles of menu engineering to increase your profit.
Update your online listings, and keep them fresh.
Services like Google My Business, Yelp, and TripAdvisor are the modern, digital equivalent of the Yellow Pages. To make sure you’re among the first to come up when a hungry potential customer types “restaurants near me” into Google, it’s important you have complete, up-to-date information across all of these online listings. If you’re easy to find online (with an updated website and social profiles to boot), you’re likely to be perceived as more credible than a competitor with a non-existent or outdated digital presence.
When trying to decide on a restaurant to dine in, the number-one factor is recommendations from family and friends, according to Toast’s 2019 Restaurant Success Report. However, 35% of survey respondents ranked online reviews as one of the biggest things that influence their dining decisions. That’s why it’s important to not only claim your listings, but to engage in community management, too.
Stay on top of social media.
If you’re not on social media — especially if your target market includes the millennial or Gen Z generations — you ought to be.
There are two directions restaurants can take with their social profiles: building a following through pay-to-play (sponsored posts, ad campaigns), or through an organic social media strategy. Focusing on the latter means striking a careful balance between education and entertainment, taking care not to spam users with salesy promotional posts. And don’t just talk at your customers — converse with them. What’s unique about social media is you have the ability to reach people from around the world, and connect with them on an individual level.
Keep your restaurant squeaky clean.
You only get one chance at a first impression. Chances are you hold your staff to a high standard around their appearance and conduct, but are you applying the same scrutiny to your restaurant? Remember: guests take hygiene seriously when they go out to eat. Not only should your cutlery be sparkling, but modern decor and clean restrooms tell diners you care about appearance and cleanliness.
The sound of music.
Music in restaurants is a great way to create ambiance and prime guests for the experience they’re about to have. Proven to affect mood and even purchasing decisions, the types of music you play (and at what decibel you play them) matters a great deal. You want your music to match your ambiance and your food, and for it to never be bothersome to your diners.
Connect with your customers.
If you want to convert a casual customer into a loyal regular, you’ll need to invest time in relationship-building. Genuine conversation is a surefire way to spark connection, ensuring your customers leave your restaurant feeling special and well-looked-after.
When it comes to increasing restaurant sales, another important talk tactic is knowing when and how to upsell. Upselling is not about pushing products onto customers; it’s about picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues and stepping in as a gentle, helpful guide. For example, if you notice a guest flipping through the pages of your menu and looking confused or disappointed, send a server in to recommend an appetizer or an entree that pairs well with the cocktail already in front of them.
Lastly, train your staff to always thank each party for choosing your restaurant. Showing appreciation is key to building a relationship with a potential regular.
Word of mouth marketing.
As a restaurateur, it’s your responsibility to create the best guest experience possible so that when someone’s talking about your restaurant to their friends, family, or coworkers, they’re singing your praises… not dragging your name through the mud.
As mentioned above, customers these days put a lot of stock in recommendations from people they know, so encouraging customers to spread the good word (online and IRL) with a suggestion in your billfold or on the table can have a big payoff in the form of referral traffic.