We've all had those days where at opening it looked just like any other day, but by 8 p.m. it was obvious the electric bill hadn't been covered, much less the cost of wait staff. Every restaurant goes through cash crunches at some point, but successful restaurants know how to keep them as few and far between.
Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be particularly slow in the restaurant business, but even on typically busy days, many restaurant managers are faced with a number of empty tables. This can be damaging, especially to new starters.
The fact is, people only tend to visit restaurants when they're hungry or are marking an event, such as a date, business meeting, or celebration. Ordinarily this is at lunch or dinner, meaning the hours in between see nothing but a barren landscape of white tablecloths with staff twiddling their thumbs eagerly awaiting customers.
So what's the solution? Well, you can't control cancellations that result from hurricanes or snowstorms. But you can influence how many bookings you get every day and how many affluent spenders know about your business. Here are some low-cost tips to help you increase reservations, attract high spending clientele, and optimize your off-hours capacity.
1. Link In With Businesses
Large businesses have internal meetings, inter-company social functions, and team events. Human Resources departments are always on the look out for locations to host staff events, training, or business meetings. Offering local businesses in the area a chance to use your restaurant tables on particularly slow days can both fill tables and bring in repeat business.
You can also offer VIP experiences for business directors that want to make a positive impression on VIP clients.
Connecting with HR leaders can be as simple as messaging them on LinkedIn. Consider finding out who you want to speak with on LinkedIn and then pick up the phone and give them a call. If nothing else, you can invite them to your restaurant for a complimentary glass of wine to discuss the dining needs of their company.
2. New Business Registrar
New company formations happen every single day and many are run by solopreneurs who don't have a place to work. What if you could offer them a private table, free coffee, Wi-Fi, and a quiet environment to work? You might find that many business owners find this sort of opportunity very attractive. By charging them a monthly fee, you may discover a great way to cover your monthly rent while maximizing your day-time capacity.
Fortunately your local business registrar probably has a list of new companies that have been set up, along with the owner's name and contact information.
3. Join Restaurant Co-Working Apps
Mobile apps like Spaciousand TwoSpacegive freelancers and mobile professionals suggestions about where they can work during the day or evening. The availability of these apps varies by city, but listing your restaurant will drive traffic your way. Remember to promote elements that people will find appealing, such as free Wi-Fi, plenty of plug outlets, good lighting and, of course, excellent food and beverages.
4. Connect with Group Leaders
Meetup is an innovative and growing platform that brings like minded people together. There are thousands of Meetup groups across the country that are related to food, fine dining or wine. There are also groups that are looking for locations to host speed dating and other fun singles activities. Your restaurant can become a meeting point for local groups if you send a message to the group organizer. Again, this is an opportunity for repeat business seeing as these groups tend to hook up regularly.
You will need to use your best judgement about offering group leaders a percentage of group spend. In many cases it simply isn't appropriate. The best bet is to offer a great deal that everyone in the group will benefit from.
5. Go Exclusive
Everybody likes the feel important, especially when it comes to eating out. Loyalty cards are one way of bringing back customers, but you can go one step further and set up a program exclusively for executives and their VIP guests. Consider a program that gives paying members access to private function rooms and top-end service amongst many other sought-after benefits.
6. Package Deals
Some restaurants team up with local theatres, museums, or event venues to create package deals. If you are located near a tourist attraction, you might be able to incorporate their business into particularly appealing special offers. For example, you might be able to sell an early reservation on a Tuesday along with a ticket to the local theatre for an 8 p.m. show. This fills your tables are quiet times, frees up the table for an influx at 8 p.m., and also helps you to build connections with other businesses in the area.
A package deal program works well with almost any kind of consumer business. For example, you could offer a free glass of wine to all members of the local gym. The gym benefits by being able to offer something of value to their clients at no cost to themselves, and you benefit by connecting with the gym's client-base.
No Hurricane, No Excuses
Unless there is a hurricane hitting your city, there is no reason to worry about empty tables. Filling chairs isn't easy, but it can be done. Restaurant managers are crazy busy at the best of times, but investing a few hours a week in reaching out to create strategic partnerships can make all the difference in your business.