School’s out for summer, which means seasoned foodies have other distractions on their hands, in lieu of dining out. With kids off from school and the warm summer months inviting the grill to be sparked and ready at all times, restaurant owners are subject to feeling the burn. So, what can you do to increase foot traffic, be it during the quiet lunchtime hours or the not-so-packed dinner rush? Consider these 10 tactics to keep your restaurant business booming throughout the lengthiest of dog days this summer.
One of the simplest ways to entice diners to come in for a visit is to ensure you are offering summer-specific menu items. Thanks to the summer produce lineup, you can offer a variety of refreshing dishes for those looking to keep it light. When it comes to vegetables, think fresh herbs, corn, tomatoes and of course, summer squash. When you are considering fruit, align your dessert roster with berries, stone fruits, melon, watermelon cherries and figs, which will allow you to introduce new and exciting flavors to your current house favorites. Additionally, don’t rule out all of the above when it comes to a summer cocktail menu, where seasonal ingredients can breathe new life into more traditional sips.
If takeout isn’t already part of your restaurant blueprint, consider adding this option when dine-ins are slow. The summer months are active times, which means that even if reservations look to be full, a long day out on the water or on a taxing hike can easily cause a bevy of dinner cancellations. However, your regulars have still got to eat, so lure them in with take-away, so they can enjoy their favorite dishes from the comfort of home, instead.
The allowance for takeout can inspire additional promotions. Get into a “limited-time” state-of-mind, where you can advertise summer specials that will cater to those looking to dine out, but not necessarily at your establishment. For example, a “Park Picnic” special during June can include a restaurant-branded blanket and an actual picnic basket filled with everything needed, from prepped charcuterie and cheese to ready-to-order sandwiches. For those headed to the beach, consider offering “Beach Day Takeaway,” complete with a soft cooler filled with pints of fresh seafood salads and seasonal fruit cups. Even still, a “BBQ-2-Go” catering option can provide everything from smoked meats by the pound to hearty sides, so patrons can grab-and-go, without the worry of manning the feast.
When it comes to getting clever with your summer promotions, take the time to embrace ideas that would otherwise interfere with your busy season. Consider a late-night menu that caters to couples and groups that can come in for an after-hours snack following evening activities. Or, a weekly ice cream social has the potential to attract the family crowd for a D.I.Y. sundae-making station as a fun activity that doubles as the perfect summer treat.
Not every family has the luxury of sending the kids away for summer or hiring a nightly babysitter. If your restaurant is not the kid-friendliest, perhaps look into opening a separate part of the dining room just for families. Additionally, if the dinner seating is geared more toward the adult crowd, maybe a kid-friendly lunch seating can bring the regulars—and their children—in more frequently.
Summer is the perfect time to offer petside patio hours for those who have their four-legged friends along for the ride. If you are wondering how, exactly, to appeal to the pet-toting crowd, it starts with umbrellas offering shade, water bowls for hydration, and, if your pastry chef is up to the task, fresh-baked or frozen treats. If you aren’t warming up to the idea, consider limiting this option to one day a week, on weekends or lunch-only. You can also host a monthly dog party on the patio once a month through summer.
If you have outdoor seating, summer is the prime time to utilize it! Offering outdoor tables during lunch, for example, can allow you to close your indoor dining room, and, instead, contain your crowd to one area of your eatery that is less labor-intensive (and can allow you to be smarter with your finances when staffing shifts). However, if it is A/C your diners seek, it is important to offer certain accommodations outside, like cooling misters, fans and shade, so they are still comfortable, despite the heat and/or humidity.
Many restaurants limit their happy hour blocks during the busy season, and for good reason. However, happy hour is one of the top-rated promotions that is guaranteed to boost your business when service is anything but overflowing. So, think extended blocks for summertime happy hour, which can range from bottomless brunch specials on weekends (and brunch, in general, if you haven’t factored it in, already) to nightcap specials throughout summer evenings. In addition to drink deals, make sure you pair a menu of bites. Your happy hour fare can also give you a canvas to test new dishes in smaller portions for a new menu launch, come fall.
Your regulars are regulars for good reason. Summer is the perfect time to say ‘thank you’ to your loyal clientele. It could be something as simple as running a series of social media announcements for free menu items/giveaways, as you will be able to engage with diners beyond one meal. These appreciation strategies are a win-win, since they assist with furthering your marketing efforts, via both word-of-mouth and social growth.
When times are slow this summer, you, too, can get outside! Peruse your local events calendar, and sign up to vend at a festival or two. If you notice a slew of non-food events, join forces to provide the exclusive catering that has your target clientele in mind. Engaging in beneficial partnerships introduces you to a wider range of potential consumers that may not know about you already. You can also use events as platforms for promotion, where you can offer coupons, discounts, free merchandise and social media engagement exchanges.
In addition to joining organized events, the pop-up concept can equally propel you to great heights this summer. Consider infiltrating an area you’d like to test out for a new location by popping up for one week. Pop-ups are a great way to conduct market research. You can test out a new area, launch new menu items and engage with your diners face-to-face—at a fraction of what it costs to run your flagship outpost.
Durée Ross is president and founder of Durée & Company, Inc., an award-winning full-service public relations, marketing and special events firm founded in 1999. Durée & Company serves the corporate, agency and non-profit arenas in the restaurant industry and many other industries. The firm has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Florida & Aspen, Colorado.