It’s natural for business to be up and down. We call it the cycle of business and we accept it. However, what do you do if your restaurant sales are really down and seem stuck there?
Here’s what not to do: Panic.
Yes, it’s hard when you see your sales trending down with no sign of relief. The last thing you want to do when your sales take a dive is to react. Reaction is pure emotions driving the bus. You do not want emotions to drive your business. It makes for a great reality TV episode, but it's not good for brand stability.
It’s usually in this very vulnerable state that a “friend” suggests trying this or that. Problem is, this “friend” has never owned a restaurant and most are not restaurant experts except for the fact that they eat out often. So you try their idea and maybe it works… for a few days. So, you try another idea and that works for a few days, and then another, and so on.
However, soon you notice that the few loyal guests you have are not coming back. You see one of them on the street. You mention you have not seem them at the restaurant and then they drop the bomb on you by saying, “you’ve changed.” Welcome to brand drift.
Brand drift is when you have changed so much that the original elements that made your restaurant great are barely visible. It comes from being desperate. You have drifted away from your original brand identity and are lost. If you don’t know what your brand is, how do you expect your guests to know?
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Here’s What To Do: The 12-Step Process to Increase Restaurant Sales
Take a look at the anatomy of the guest experience. There is a process that every guest that comes to your restaurant experiences. If you take a look at each piece of the puzzle you will uncover the ones that could use a tune up.
1) The Prescreen: The first thing you need to know is that your customers are using cell phones and social media to find out if you are worth their hard-earned money. They will look at Facebook, Yelp, Tripadvisor, and Google to get a better idea of who you are. Make sure your menu is updated on your website and across any social media channels where you might have it posted. People reading your menus online can get hooked on the idea of having that certain dish - only to be extremely disappointed when they get to your restaurant find out the menu is different.
2) The Entrance: The customer experience starts in the parking lot. Be aware that some things might be beyond your control, like the lines in the parking lot. To the guest, these little things start a chain reaction that can stack the deck against you if you do not monitor them. Every shift, a staff member should do a complete walkabout of your property to see things from the guests' point of view, because that’s the only point of view that matters.
3) The Dining Room: Now we really get into setting the tone for the customer experience. Look around your dining room and imagine seeing it for first time. Try to pick up on some of the things that might throw a guest off. Chipped paint, worn-out carpets, and tired décor send a signal to the guest that your heart is not in it. In the mind of the guest, perception is projection. If they think it’s true, it becomes true for them.
4) The Greeter: This is the first real interaction that the guest has with someone on your team. Believe it or not, a lot of negative guest experiences are due to this touch point. The greeter sets the tone. You need to have high-energy, outgoing, and personable staff up front - this is where putting the right people in the right position is paramount. You cannot easily train people who are not happy and do not naturally smile.
5) The Server: This is another critical position that you need to hire for personality over skill. Service can be taught - it is just the mechanics of the dining experience. Serve from the left, clear from the right, and so forth. The missing element is hospitality. That’s the human connection. It’s what takes service and elevates it to a higher level. Hospitality is a feeling, and the restaurant business is truly a business of emotions. If the greeter sets the tone, the server reinforces it.
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6) The Table: Now that their order has been taken, the guests will start to settle in. Whatever tone you have set up until this point is going to be amplified by what the guest sees while sitting at their table. If you’ve set a negative tone, then they will start looking for little things that reinforce their impression of your restaurant, like food under the tables or unbussed table-tops. The sad thing is, we’re six steps into the cycle of service and they have not even had your food yet. For some restaurants, those are tough odds to come back from no matter how great the food turns out to be.
7) The Food: The moment of truth. The first thing the guest will take in is the plate presentation. The brain is wired to process pleasant and appealing objects. They say that we eat with our eyes and it’s very true. Remember that comment earlier that perception is projection? It rings true when the food is placed in front of the guest. You have to make the food look good and then you have to back it up with flavor.
8) The Check Back: Here is where busy restaurants start losing points again. Having a presence on the floor is critical to elevating guest experience. Your team needs to understand that difference between service and hospitality. Hospitality is an art and it requires constant attention to the needs of the guest.
9) The Manager or Owner: Human beings have a need for significance. We crave acknowledgment and praise is hardwired in our DNA at birth. There's nothing quite like human interaction with customers, especially if it comes from an unexpected face like the owner, chef, or manager. This adds something special to their visit that won't be easily forgotten.
10) The Busser: Yes, the busser. This position is a key player in helping solidify the guest experience. It’s disappointing because the position is often overlooked and not well-trained. Many times the busser will have direct interaction with the guests when they ask the most common question, “Where’s the bathroom?”
Make sure your bussers are dressed in a uniform that is clean, neat, and meets the standards of your brand guidelines. Baggy jeans hanging down might make them look cool to their friends, but it makes a negative impression on most of your restaurant's guests.
11) The Restroom: Nothing can take a pleasant dining experience and turn it around quite like dirty and poorly stocked restrooms. Some diners are known to furiously storm out of a restroom looking for a manager because the bathroom was out of toilet paper. There are plenty of pictures on online review sites of restroom fails - don't let your business become one of them.
12) The Goodbye: Here is your final chance to leave a great impression with your guests. Nothing is as powerful to humans as saying these two simple words - thank you. Research has shown that the last thing the guest remembers tends to form the foundation of the memory from their dining experience. It’s called Recency Effect. Always finish the guest experience with the highlight, not a disappointment.
Everyone is looking for new ways to increase restaurant sales and drive more business. The great restaurants are constantly focused on the fundamentals. School is never out for the true professional. You train, and then you train some more, and then you train some more. Maybe your sales have slumped because you lost touch with the fundamentals. The best way to recover from slow sales is to take a microscope to your existing operation - step-by-step - and make sure you’re doing everything you can to ensure an outstanding guest experience.