Aa a savvy restaurant owner and operator, you know that continual improvement is necessary to keep your restaurant relevant in this ever-changing market. You must 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 customer’s perspective. 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.
Shop your restaurant’s 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.
How to Shop your Restaurant Group’s Competition Effectively
Look at competitors’ websites. How do they position themselves? What kind of feedback do they get from customers? 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 Your Competitors’ Customers
Are the customers 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 on attracting these customers? If not, identify what makes your restaurant group interesting to a different demographic and play it up.
Watch How Your Competitors’ Employees Behave
Are your competitors’ employees 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 affect the overall dining experience of your guests. How do your employees compare? Additional training may be necessary if your employees don’t have the same positive work habits as your competitors’ employees.
Note Competitors’ Menu Offerings and Pricing Structure
How is it different from yours? Price is typically not a deal breaker if there is perceived value in your menu offerings. Customers appreciate value, and are willing to pay for it; but if you are offering a similar product and your prices are not in line, your customers will notice. If you can’t match their pricing, then focus on value.
Check Out the Technology Your Competitors are 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 a competitive advantage.
Lastly, keep in mind that your competitors 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.
Update your menu offerings
Food is like fashion . It changes over time. And while you don’t have to dive into every foodie fad, you do need to be flexible to keep up with the times. What once worked may 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 okay to tell regular guests the reason behind the change. For example, most reasonable people will understand an explanation such as “with the supply chain logjam, we can no longer keep Chilean sea bass on the menu at a reasonable cost to you, so we have replaced it with a freshwater white fish that we procure locally.” It is difficult to argue with the truth.
Reconsider Low Selling and/or Low-profit Items
Look at your menu engineering reports to see what is not selling or not bringing in a profit. Either remove these items or rework the recipes. If can’t part with an item and choose the latter, be sure to let customers 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 Customers
Do table visits. Let them know you are looking to refresh your menu, and you would value customer 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 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 as that will garner more responses than if the cards are just left on the table.
Know the Difference Between 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 customers. 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.
How to refresh 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) customers. Here are a few ways to improve your brand:
Refresh Your Restaurant’s Décor
Has your customer 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.
Update Your Lighting and Music
Be sure that your music and light match the atmosphere that you are trying to capture. 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. Find the mix that works best for your concept.
Update Your Restaurant’s Technology
While you may not think that technology and brand have any ties, they do. Consumers are so used to new technologies that they are now expected. Customers want the entire dining experience to be perfect. This includes everything from reservation to quick payment. Contactless payments, for example, came out of the pandemic, but are here to stay. Don’t allow dated technology to affect the dining experience.
Raise Expectations For Your Employees
Are your employees just phoning it in? Great service is what keeps customers coming back. It could be time for some re-training 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.
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? Consider how the price of not keeping a fresh and relevant brand can end up costing you more in the end through the loss of revenue and profitability. It only takes a few minor updates to your menu, decor, technology and customer service to keep your restaurant top of customers’ minds.
If you’d like to run your restaurant more efficiently and profitably, consider an all-in-one restaurant management system. Restaurant365 incorporates restaurant accounting software, restaurant operations software, inventory management software, payroll + HR software, and scheduling software into a cloud-based platform that’s fully integrated with your POS system, as well as to your food and beverage vendors, and bank.