Put yourself in your customers’ shoes.
Following the fast-paced festive period, many restaurants tend to go through a slump at the start of a new year as customers tighten their belts and make resolutions to eat out less.
In 2023, this is even more of a concern due to outside economic factors, with one article by Bloomberg explaining how U.S. households were “cutting back on restaurant spending as inflation pressures their budgets.”
Whether you’re looking for a cure to your restaurant’s winter blues or a more long-term plan to help combat natural dips in business, here’s some of our favorite strategies for driving more foot traffic to your restaurant.
Work on your Windows
Put yourself in your customers’ shoes as they walk down a street that’s packed full of restaurants. Some are going to be casual hole-in-the-wall joints, some will be upscale and pristine, some half a bar, and some quiet and family friendly.
The first impression people get of your restaurant’s character goes way past the specialties you put front-and-center on your menu. If you’ve been enjoying a steady flow of business for most of the year, and have been taken surprise by a sudden slump, it may be time to look at your restaurant’s curb appeal with fresh eyes and make a few changes.
Relatively simple upgrades such as playing music that can be heard from the sidewalk, using clever sandwich boards, or making routine maintenance more regular, can all have a surprisingly big effect on foot traffic, convincing new customers who have walked past countless times to stop and give you a try.
Re-Invest in Your Restaurant Photography
Everyone eats with their eyes to some degree, and refreshing your food presentation, both online and in print, can be a big help for any restaurant that’s working through a slow period.
If you know you’ve already got Instagram-worthy dishes and an inviting interior, consider reading up on restaurant photography best practices, or even hiring a professional photographer to make sure your food is looking its best across all customer touchpoints.
Though good photography can cost a considerable amount of time and money, once you have high-quality pictures of your menu staples these assets can be used extensively in advertising, social media, table talkers, and anywhere else they might fit, promising a huge return on investment.
Get Closer to your Audience
Making it in the restaurant industry is tough. According to stats from bar inventory software company Binwise, “60 percent of restaurants fail within the first year of operation”, and this goes up to 80 percent when looking at the first five years.
If you’ve made it past this bar for success, then you probably had a pretty clear picture of who your audience was when you first started. Unfortunately though, audiences aren’t static, and you need to be actively working to stay close to your market, understand what they want from you, and what you can do better to provide it.
If you know it’s been a while since you actively tried to learn what your customers think about you, consider re-starting classic methods of gathering feedback such as sharing surveys at the end of a meal.
Like any business, it’s also important to keep an eye on your restaurant’s digital presence to see what people are saying about you on social media and review sites. This will not only highlight the ways you could be improvising your level of service but can also give you a better idea of the kinds of people you should be targeting in terms of age, income, marital status, and more.
By refamiliarizing yourself with your audience and using your findings to inform both your marketing and in-restaurant experience, you’ll soon create a higher standard of service, stimulate word-of-mouth marketing, and keep happy diners coming back for more!
Think Outside the Box
Restaurants can do everything right in a conventional sense, but still find themselves struggling to attract foot traffic and maintain a steady flow of business. The solution? Embrace the unconventional!
Though it can be easy to dismiss outside-the-box marketing tactics as tacky gimmicks, and they won’t suit the character of every restaurant’s brand, doing something that catches the eye where other businesses don’t, can be a great way to jump-start a restaurant that’s seen better months.
There are many ways to shake up your marketing depending on the kind of customers you’re targeting. If you want more business from out-of-towners, consider partnering with a local experience provider such as scavenger hunt company The Secret City, and attracting tourists looking to find “top-rated pubs, bars and cafes”. If you’re worried that your customers are re-assessing their personal budgets and not eating out as much, try promoting a weekly “burn the bill” night where you randomly select a table and let them eat for free.
Finding a new marketing direction that’s both creative and effective can be tough, but when you find your niche, the results can be huge.
Try Some New Specials
Now that your staff aren’t rushed off their feet during every lunch and dinner, it may be time to take some risks and debut new specials.
Whether it’s a completely new dish, a new meal deal that combines disparate items, or simply redesigning your menu to better suit your diners, trying some new specials will create new talking points among your audience, and often tempt in new customers with something they didn’t know you had. What’s more, because your foot traffic is going through a slump, your staff will be able to take their time with getting to know the new dishes, learning to present meal deals, and paying more attention to how these additions are being received by your diners.
Going through a slump in traffic doesn’t have to mean hanging your head in despair. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to experiment, take new risks, and do the things you never usually have time for.
Foot traffic not being where you want it to be can be a distressing experience, but taking it as a prompt for a more proactive and forward-thinking strategy can make it easy to turn your luck around, and find new opportunities for growth you’ve never considered before.
Ashley Harris started her career in hospitality over 10 years ago and has a degree in Global Masters in Management. She is passionate about innovations in the hospitality and food sector and is looking to connect with other professionals in the industry. Follow her on Twitter: @Ashley_Harris91