Increasing Restaurant Foot Traffic: Optimizing Opportunities
Off-Premise dining has become an increasingly popular way for customers to enjoy your food without needing to stay in your restaurant. If you’ve jumped on the bandwagon, you probably see increased sales and (hopefully) profits due to the new revenue stream. One thing you don’t want to neglect is your in-house customer, though.
Dining in-house provides restaurant operators an opportunity to “wow!” guests with the atmosphere, service, aromas and an overall experience that off-premise orders can’t. It’s that experience that keeps guests coming back to your restaurant. Maximizing this opportunity doesn’t take loads of time or cash, just a few best practices.
Let’s talk about how to give consumers a reason to WANT to visit your brick and mortar location, spread the word through social media, and repeat again and again.
Hire and Train the Right Team
Ensure you have the right team in place, both in quantity and quality, prior to launching a strategy to increase your restaurant’s foot traffic. No matter how hard you work to drive guests, a poor service experience can undo it all. Determine how many people you need with a staffing calculator; there are many available online. A general rule of thumb is that your overall labor expenses shouldn’t be more than 30% of your total revenue. Adjust staff schedules as necessary to ensure coverage in the right areas. Train your team members on expectations and hold them accountable for their performance. Seek ways to standardize that training. Bad service with great food or vice versa creates an unpredictable environment where customers don’t know what to expect, and they may choose another restaurant with more consistent service and food experience instead.
Examine Your Restaurant Through Your Customers’ Eyes
Similar to the previous point, before you begin efforts to increase your restaurant’s foot traffic, try to envision your restaurant from your customer’s point of view. Sit in your dining area as a customer would, and look around. Is your restaurant clean? How does it smell? Is it organized and running efficiently? Be honest with yourself. When you put yourself in your customer’s shoes, you can identify your opportunities for improvement. Address any cosmetic or maintenance issues immediately. Organizational matters may take a little more work, like modifying the front counter layout or the beverage area. You might also consider your capacity at the front, as an understaffed lobby can create significant holdups. Do your best not to get into a rut where you’re not considering outside perspectives. While you have a big picture of your restaurant, your customers only know what they experience in the dining room.
Get to Know Guests Personally
You can do this by collecting guest information as part of a loyalty program or just by being present and chatting with tables. A loyalty program will provide guests the opportunity to “opt-in” to a data warehouse, which can be referenced for marketing efforts. If your seating solution or POS system tracks loyalty information with each visit, you can learn how often they dine with you, whether or not they dine in or carry out and how much they spend. You can even determine how much they buy on different days of the week.
If researching and paying for a third party loyalty program seems overwhelming, going out and talking to guests can accomplish many of the same things. Seriously! Take time out of each hour of each day to speak to guests. Observe their dining and drinking habits. Are they younger, older, do they have young children, grandchildren, no children? Do they tend to walk in or make reservations? Do they spend any time at the bar while waiting for a table?
Reach Out to Them
When striving to increase restaurant foot traffic, knowing and understanding who dines at your establishment can help you create targeted marketing. During weekdays, if the clientele is families with children, add a “kids eat free” night. Choose a night that is typically low volume and give parents an easy answer to “what’s for dinner?”. Without breaking the bank, you can print flyers and hang them in the windows, add a receipt message that shares the event with each ticket printed and use social media for marketing this message.
Guests that spend time in the bar might enjoy happy hour specials on drinks and appetizer or live music if your venue has space. Advertise these events on social media. Keep in mind though, something as simple as a sandwich board in front of your location can also work.
Leverage the Internet and Social Media
If you’re trying to get millennials in the door, you know the importance of restaurant social media. In a world that’s continually evolving beyond the traditional broadcasting mediums like TV, print, and radio, social media becomes the primary way to reach people. The largest social media user base is Facebook, followed by YouTube and Instagram. These platforms become invaluable to operators, as users take pictures and share their experience with their network, essentially advertising for you. These followers, more likely to consider restaurants based on user reviews more than other generations, see these posts as being validated by a peer, and check out your restaurant.
All you need to do is choose a platform and build a page. It’s straightforward, and typically doesn’t cost anything. Once your page is up and running, and you’ve created a few posts with images of your venue, invite your customers to like the page. By doing so, you create a modern, word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
Take time each day to monitor your social media presence and respond to comments with a quick message thanking guests for taking time to post or that you’re glad they enjoyed the experience. If there is a customer complaint, respond to that, too, and be sure to be gracious. A lousy guest experience can be a positive learning experience in the end. Remember to also claim your restaurant SEO by claiming and optimizing your Google My Business listings and website. Furthermore, maintaining a presence on sites like TripAdvisor, Yelp and others shows that you’re proactive and responsive to your customers. The entry rate is free and provides features that can advertise your restaurant to an audience that is traveling or doesn’t usually visit your location. There are paid options that allow you to post advertisements, as well.
Get down to the Community Level
One way to increase restaurant foot traffic is to get your name out and establish yourself within the local community. Connect with other businesses in the area and run joint specials. For example, if a customer shops at a local retail establishment, they could bring in your receipt and save 10% off your next food purchase, or a free appetizer.
Entrench yourself in the local culture, and show support of happenings in the area. If your branding allows, post a bulletin board in the lobby and encourage local artists, bands, and businesses to advertise on it. Develop a good sense of the local vibe, and do anything you can to establish your restaurant as a safe, fun and welcoming hub. Millennial diners (and even Gen Z!) are continually conscious of these relationships, between new businesses and the local ecosystem, so being forthright, involved and open with the locals will send a welcoming message that will keep them returning.
Help Create Experiences – Not Products
In modern times, the intangible experience over the tangible object is becoming rarer. So rare, that people like your customers crave it. You can tap into this collective drive by using your restaurant to host events and promote them on social media, or even use sandwich boards on site. You might also try bringing in a visiting chef with an exclusive menu line up for a weekend, creating a unique “one-time only” feel.
Live music with a local band brings in a particular crowd, and you provide some social good by charging admission and donating the proceeds to a charity that’s close to heart. One way to be strategic is to choose a slow night of the week, and use an event to encourage people to visit. Or, if you’re trying to increase your restaurant’s foot traffic during traditionally slower hours, you can have a chef host a workshop or cooking night. You can provide appetizers, small plates, snack foods or offer entrees at a discount to encourage people to come in earlier to eat.
Lastly, another option could be to have a movie night. That’s right! You could choose a theme (holiday movies, scary movies, classic movies) and stick with it either on a seasonal basis or monthly/quarterly schedule. This doesn’t have to be every week, but by offering something “different,” every now and then, your restaurant can be set up to attract a crowd that it otherwise may have missed.
Creating fun events will fill space during those operating hours that are typically lower volume. You also establish yourself as more than a restaurant, but a source of entertainment which customers will regularly seek.
Always Think About the Customer
We’ve covered several ways to drive customers into your brick and mortar restaurant. Many of these are realistic and economical, and help build upon your community leadership and branding. Remember to perform these gut-checks regularly, as trends and developments change. Above all else, remember: with everything you do, consider how it impacts the customer’s on-site experience, and go from there.
Increasing restaurant traffic in the modern age is multifaceted. Read our piece on how to increase lunchtime sales for more insight on how to create and ensure an experience that keeps guests returning.
About the Author
Shari McCauley is the Product Training Specialist at QSR Automations, where she focuses on educating employees and customers on the benefits and uses of QSR technology. You can reach Shari at firstname.lastname@example.org.