How to be an incredible restaurant in a down economy

A smattering of ideas for you to chew on.  After my last post I felt a need to balance the scales a bit.

I’ve had three great restaurant experiences in the last ten days, and there were some consistent reasons.  Some of these may not be applicable to your establishment, but I think a bit of creative thinking goes a long way in an economy like this.

  • Off night focus. All the following ideas are for during the week, which as we all know is the time that can put the financial statement in the black instead of the red.  You need to get people to go out on Tuesday or Wednesday much more so than Friday or Saturday.  And I suggest these are not broadly advertised, but rather (if you can afford a bit of time to let them build) word of mouth.  “For the next month every weekday night we are …”
  • Little freebies. Which are of course not free (nothing is), but on the slower nights a little plate from the kitchen, a free taster of a new wine, free dessert, etc. goes a long way.  Again, however, it does not BUILD the business unless it is explained that we appreciate you coming in tonight and for the rest of the season on weekday nights we are ….
  • Fixed price menus that are affordable. This has been done with great success for many years by many restaurants.  If you’re not doing it, you are losing potential business.  A three course meal for $20 will draw people in, no doubt.
  • Wine specials. The half price bottle night still works.  How about half price glasses?  Again, the idea is that it gets people in the door.  Food sales will follow (for the most part …  you’ll always get that one customer that orders a glass of the cheapest wine and doesn’t leave a tip.  It’s part of life).
  • Guest chefs. The chef community is strong in the Twin Cities, and a simple way to take advantage of that is a chef swap for three weeknights in a row.  Pump it up, advertise the heck out of it, let your customers know via your email list (and if you don’t have one of those we need to have a sit down talk).  Nothing too fancy as far as food, and definitely nothing too outrageous as far as prices.  This is all about buzz.  Another alternative — contact any local, well known, out of work chefs and see if they want a week in your kitchen.  Pump it up.
  • A consistent message that is positive but lets the customers know the restaurant business is tough right now. This is marketing 101.  Don’t let the customers choose how they tell their friends about eating in your establishment.  Give them the words.  Shake hands.  Discuss the business end of it with them (the public gobbles this up).  Thank them for supporting local endeavors.  Make damn sure they hear that local restaurants exist because of people like them.
  • Spread the good karma. I’m a big believer in this.  When thanking a customer ask them where else they have dined recently.  Then suggest some places that you believe in and want to see succeed.  Good karma pays back faster than you may think, and word will get around that you’re a class act.  And trust me, when favors need to be asked for, this will be like having a million dollars in the bank.