While many restaurants thrive during the summer months, there are an equal—if not greater—number of concepts that see their profit margins run tighter than they would like over the course of the summertime.
Some restaurants choose to go dark, weighing operational budgets against incoming profits, but at the helm of an independent concept that happens to be attached to a hotel, that’s not feasible for us. As a result, the entire front and back of the house team, in addition to our banquets department, developed a number of ideas and programs to encourage new diners while accommodating those staying at the hotel. Following are the top three, which may not universally work within the hospitality industry, but have proven to be both inspirational and effective in keeping our restaurant top of mind.
Don’t keep social media platforms, restaurant websites, and e-marketing schedules inactive. Summer is the time when, yes, people slow down with vacations, and companies execute summer hours; however, social networks operate 24-7 and so this is not an area in the restaurant that should follow suit. Providing valuable, interesting content, staying engaged with customers and creating local calls to action for specific events tailored to the surrounding area all support creative proactivity in areas other than just the menu and décor. Make no mistake that the social community for the restaurant is just as important as the actual community, and should be addressed as such.
Don’t ever take the surrounding area for granted. By capitalizing on neighboring businesses and utilizing the already established network of local vendors the restaurant maintains through creative, synergistic events, it opens up an entirely new audience for potential business or stronger existing ones. Recently, we developed a guest bartending program. The CEO of a nearby company became our bartender for the evening where he served specialty cocktails we created specifically for the event. All of the tips from the evening went to the company’s charity of choice. The fun-filled and successful event resulted in bringing more than 100 new customers, as employees of the company, into the restaurant for the evening, $2,000 in tips to benefit the national charity, and a way for us to further strengthen our ties to the community in which we serve.
We serve inspired, American fare using fresh, local ingredients. While it might seem the time to throw anything and everything at the wall to try to grow those summer margins, it’s just not a very good idea if that idea sacrifices the overall brand. Hands down, consistency is the most important, across-the-board attribute a restaurant can possess. Consistency with menu items, dependability of freshness and quality, as well as reliable professional service will keep customers coming back. By staying focused and offering alternative presentations of what originally gave the restaurant its positive reputation in the first place, it creates enough fun and diversity to showcase talents and tap into new audiences while at the same time respecting core philosophies. For example, we serve an enormous amount of steaks. Instead of turning our restaurant into a steakhouse we expanded our menu with opportunities to upsell different sauces and crusts for those steaks and we also decided to introduce different cuts like a tomahawk or prime rib.
Operating a restaurant is not for the faint of heart (especially in challenging months) but with a little imagination and a great team willing to execute many of the ideas, summertime can once again become the season where ‘the livin’ is easy.’
Dean Sampson is General Manager for the Doubletree Suite Suites by Hilton and Redz Restaurant in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, with over three decades of experience within multiple sectors of the hospitality industry.