This post was last updated on Jul 08, 2020.
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Opening and managing a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. Thin margins and evolving food trends make it difficult, but competition from a multitude of dining options is often cited as a difficult aspect of managing a successful restaurant.
In fact, one in five restaurateurs named tough competition a top challenge in 2018.
However, there is always room for opportunity. 85% of consumers don’t know what they are going to eat for dinner just hours beforehand, so restaurants that market and position themselves wisely can win guests over a competitor.
Toast surveyed 1,253 restaurant owners, operators, and staff and 1,030 restaurant guests across the U.S. for the 2019 Restaurant Success Report to better understand how restaurants can help themselves stand out in such a competitive landscape.
In order to effectively thwart the competition, following these three simple steps will make your restaurant stand out.
1) Know Your Target Audience & Define Your Customer Persona
You’re probably asking, "what is a 'customer persona'?”
In short, a customer persona is the demographic and behavioral profile of the people that will be coming into your restaurant night after night. For example, in a college town, your customer persona is probably an early 20-something looking for a meal at a the most affordable price possible.
For most restaurants, you’re going to find you have multiple personas, but your top three personas should tie back directly to your best customers. For inspiration and clarity, ask the employees in your restaurant who they think the best customers are. They should be able to give you a handful of personas off-the-cuff.
After you have a list of potential customer profiles, go back to your restaurant's sales data and correlate the customer type with what food they are ordering. You should also make sure your restaurant is set up to create the best experience for each persona based on the insight from your restaurant's CRM.
There are a lot of easy fixes that would optimize a customer persona experience. If one of your personas is a family with young kids, then you should probably have high-chairs and changing tables readily available, family-sized meals, and/or specials. If you operate in a college town, having a "starving student" special (like the one at Tasty Burger) speaks to your understanding of your restaurant's personas.
2) Map Your Restaurant's Competitive Footprint
Google Maps has a wealth of information on your competitive landscape, and you can filter based on how your top customer personas access your restaurant. Ask yourself “how do my guests get to my restaurant?”, and you’ll likely land on a few options.
Think about the ways your customers would search for your restaurant, whether by your food concept (Italian food), by your most popular dish (spaghetti and meatballs), or by your dining style (family friendly). Once you have your restaurant keywords identified, you're ready to start searching for and identifying your competition.
Now to the tricky part – narrowing down the list of competitors.
You know how your best guests are getting to your restaurant, which will make it easier to circle important parts of the map.
If you cater to foot-traffic, search within one square mile of your restaurant. Is your restaurant most accessible by public transportation? If so, look at the nearby bus or train stops to see which restaurants are also easily accessible.
For restaurants that have guests coming by car, you’ll want to search a much broader area, looking at the ~10 mile radius.
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44% of millennials will order from a third party delivery service every few months. If your restaurant is not positioned effectively on site such as GrubHub or UberEats, you may be overlooked by potential customers who are evaluating delivery options only.
Look at the third party sites that your restaurant is using and make sure your brand is sticking out from the other options available. In addition to third party delivery platforms, make sure you are optimizing your own online ordering experience. There are a number of ways to optimize your online ordering platform, seek out best practices for online ordering to learn what others are doing to make a great customer experience.
3) What Makes Your Restaurant Worth the Trip?
The key to differentiating your restaurant is to create a unique experience and making sure that experience maps back to your customer personas. In the eyes of your guest, they are evaluating the experience they’ll get from a meal at your restaurant.
Is the experience at your restaurant differentiated enough from your competitors?
If you can’t come up with two or three differentiating factors after looking at your competitors, it is likely that your guests won’t be able to justify a regular visit.
Think about aspects like:
- Variety of food and drink.
- And of course, price.
Once you do identify your key differentiators, don’t keep it a secret. Tell your employees, store managers, and customers. Make sure your menu reflects these differentiators as this is often your best marketing tool.
Creating a Winning Formula for Restaurant Success
You can set yourself and your restaurant up for success by:
- Knowing your customer.
- Understanding your competition.
- Capitalizing on your core competencies.
With this knowledge, you will come to understand how your restaurant will give customers the best experience possible.
A winning formula is one where you can clearly demonstrate customer value, and where your competitors are unable to replicate the experience that your food, drink and ambiance provide.