- Posted by The CorkGuru
2018 is right around the corner, and savvy business owners know that you must constantly improve your restaurant in order to stay relevant in this ever-changing market. You need to always be aware of what the consumers want and where the industry is headed. Make a point to shop your competition often and then take an unbiased look at your restaurant and try to see it from your guests’ point of view. How do you compare? Are there any areas for improvement? Are your sales increasing, decreasing or stagnant?
Below are suggestions on how to shop your competition and then how to make necessary changes to your menu and/or venue when the time comes.
Shopping Your Competition
Knowing your competition and what they offer is just good business. While it is said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” this is not necessarily true with a direct competitor. Instead, you should visit competitors to understand what they offer and how they offer it. This will allow you to learn from them, and to differentiate yourself from them. In turn, this helps you better understand both your similarities and differences so that you can find your niche.
Here is how to shop your competition effectively:
Look at their website. How do they position themselves? What kind of feedback do they get from guests? Do they have a blog? How about a newsletter? If so, subscribe to their newsletter to keep on top of their ongoing marketing efforts.
Observe their guests. Are the guests similar to yours, or the type of demographic you pictured when you opened your doors? If so, can you pinpoint where you are missing the mark of getting these folks through your doors? If not, identify what makes your restaurant interesting to a different demographic and play it up!
Watch how their employees behave. Are they friendly and engaged? Are they working as a team and helping each other out? Are they running each other’s food and filling drinks? These behaviors play into the overall dining experience of your guests.
Note their menu offerings and pricing structure. How is it different from yours? Price is typically not a deal breaker if there is perceived value in the product. Guests appreciate value, and are willing to pay for it; but if you are offering a similar product and your prices are not in line, it will be noticed. If you can’t match their pricing, then focus on value.
Check out the technology are they using. This applies only if it is in plain sight. Are you familiar with the systems? Get online and compare it to what you use, and see if the technology is giving them any type of competitive advantage.
Lastly, keep in mind that even if they are your greatest competitor, they deserve to be treated with respect. The intention of shopping your competitors is not snooping or trying to dig up dirt. The goal is to understand your similarities and differences in order to improve your performance, not diminish theirs.
Updating Your Menu
Food is like fashion – it changes over time. And while you don’t have to dive into every foodie fad out there, you do need to be flexible to keep up with the times. What once worked may now no longer be relevant.
Here are a few ways to make sure that your food offerings and prices are in check.
Tread lightly on the top sellers. These are the items that bring people through the door, and keep them coming back. If you are not making a decent profit on these dishes (food cost should be around 30%) then you might need to rework the recipe, portion, or price. But be prepared for a little backlash, as people do not typically like change. Remember, it is alright to tell regular guests the reason behind the change. For example, most reasonable people would understand an explanation such as “with the spike in oil prices, we can no longer keep Chilean sea bass on the menu at a reasonable cost to you, so we have replaced it with a fresh water white fish that we procure locally.” It is hard to argue with the truth.
Reconsider low selling and/or low profit items. Look at your sales reports to see what is not selling, and what is not bringing in a profit. These items need to be removed from the menu or have the recipe reworked. Should you not be able to part with an item and choose the latter, be sure to let guests know it is “improved,” or change the name of the dish so those who didn’t care for it before may give it another chance.
Talk to your guests. Do table visits. Let them know you are looking to refresh your menu, and you would value guest input. Ask what they enjoyed and what they didn’t. What would they like to see on your menu? If you want a more honest opinion (or you don’t have thick enough skin to hear some negative feedback) consider comment cards. Since people tend to be less honest if they have to give a negative review to your face, you may receive more useful information with a comment card option. Make sure your servers personally ask each guest to fill out the card at the end of the meal – you will get more responses than if they are just left on the table.
Know the difference from a fad and a trend. The difference between these two is usually the amount of time they stick around. For example, everyone might be offering bacon-infused chocolate desserts right now, but in a few months there will be a new twist on flavor fusions raging through the industry. However, the organic eating trend is here to stay for those who have embraced it. This crowd simply will not decide one day that pesticides or GMOs are not so bad. When trying to stay up-to-date in the restaurant industry, it is more important to follow trends than fads, and it will reduce how often you need to rework your menu.
Test weekly specials. Trying out new menu and drink items as specials is a safe way to see if they will be embraced by your guests. You can phase these in gradually – Vietnamese sandwiches only available Friday through Saturday, or curry night every Tuesday evening, courtesy of your new chef. This gives the impression that these dishes are truly specially crafted, and you may even find guests asking if they will become available on the regular menu. Show behind-the-scenes kitchen work on your social media, and get people talking.
Refreshing Your Restaurant
Sometimes even the most beloved establishments need a refresh. Failing to do so can make your restaurant feel stale and dated. It could be the reason that you are losing (or not attracting) guests. Here are a few ways to improve your brand:
Décor: Has your guest base grown or changed since you opened your doors? Are you attracting the types of crowds you desire? Décor that may have worked when you first opened may now be dated. When was the last time you updated the look? It may be time for fresh lighting and fixtures, upholstery, paint, window coverings, and/or uniforms.
Lighting and music: Lighting and music both make a huge impact on the dining experience. Low lighting and soft music encourage diners to be more relaxed, enjoy the food, and stay longer. Bright lights and fast/loud/upbeat music stimulates diners and encourages them to eat faster. Be sure that your music and light match the atmosphere that you are trying to capture.
Technology: While you may not think that technology and brand have any ties, they do. Consumers (and employees) are so used to new technologies that they are now expected. They want the entire dining experience to be perfect. This includes everything from reservation to quick payment. Don’t let dated technology effect the dining experience. We here at CorkGuru can help you out with this.
Employees: Are your employees just phoning it in? Great service is what keeps guests coming back. It could be time for some retraining to make sure that your staff is meeting your service expectations. Many restaurants hold weekly or monthly contests that engage and encourage staff in a fun way, while also boosting sales.
On a final note, don’t overlook refreshing your restaurant because it seems too expensive or exhaustive. It does not need to be done all at once. Just start with one of the categories above and keep moving forward. Keep what is working and update what is not. And as far as the cost? Well, the price of not keeping a fresh and relevant brand can certainly end up costing you more in the end through loss of revenue and profitability.