When it comes to summer in the food industry, every restaurant owner will tell you the same thing: whether business is sizzling or running a little dry in warmer months, it can always be better. There’s always a need to stand out among the crowd of your competitors and to help customers make that ever-important choice to dine with you. There’s always a need for more efficiency and to save dollars smartly, especially with restaurant profit margins that typically run thin.
If your restaurant’s bottom line needs a quick boost this summer (and whose doesn’t?), there are 12 ways to get your brand noticed, drive more customers through your doors, and give your staff the tools to ensure the guests' experiences inspire them to return again and again.
1. Clean up your exterior.
The outside of your restaurant is the first thing new and potential customers will see of your business in person—you want to make a good first impression. Clean your windows, as well as any awnings or outdoor umbrellas. Keep any foliage trimmed and flower beds watered and weeded. Sweep your sidewalks free of refuse, dirt, and cigarette butts, and keep an eye out for garbage littering your parking lot.
2. Open your party room.
Summer is known for celebrating dads and grads, not to mention hosting weddings, family reunions, and out-of-town guests. If your restaurant has the space available, a party room gives you the opportunity to book guaranteed numbers with a limited menu, driving a higher profit margin and smaller staff commitment per guest.
3. Offer picnic catering.
Your restaurant may be competing with home barbeques during the summer months, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose out on that piece of business. Catering for family get-togethers can be as simple as expanding your take-out menu, offering family-style portions of your main dishes, and having the customer pick up their orders at your restaurant.
4. Invest in more efficient equipment.
Sometimes your restaurant's oven, range, or cooler is so old—or just sucking up so much energy—that it simply needs to be replaced. It’s an investment that will pay off: replacing equipment with energy-efficient models can save you from 10 to 70 percent in utility bills, not to mention staff time devoted to work-arounds and slower cooking times.
5. Ramp up delivery.
Sometimes it’s not enough to bring customers to you. You need to go to the customers and that means delivery. If you’re seeing fast casual establishments pick up the pace locally, you may need to adopt some of their best practices to compete for customers who are working from home—and dining at home—more than ever. Just be sure to keep your food and service integrity at the same high level as in your dining room.
6. Read your reviews.
Criticism can sting your pride, but you’re still running a business. Emily Mendenhall, owner of Lily’s Bistro and a Rewards Network client, says it best: “Sometimes you might read a negative review and you want to think that they weren’t there, and sometimes you just need to look at it head on and say, ‘We did not do our best that day and we can do better than that.’”
7. Take a look at your menu.
Make sure your menu is appropriate for the weather. Lighter dishes are popular during the summer to offset the seasonal heat. After all, no one wants to have a big bowl of creamy soup when it’s sweltering outside. Focusing on in-season produce (maybe even locally grown) and dishes that work for the hot summer months could make for a great (and profitable) limited time offer.
8. Get organized in the office.
It’s easy to let finances, orders, and other paperwork pile up when you’re busy. You can incorporate business apps and other programs to improve your personal working experience as a restaurant owner. Most are available for little to no cost and will help you keep track of everything from employee schedules to vendor invoices and important tax documents.
9. Cut back on waste.
Making sure you’re not throwing away money is as important as making it. Use the "first in, first out” method to ensure produce doesn’t go bad before you can use it. Stock up on ingredients you can use for more than one dish and can use more of: think stem to root. Keep an eye on prep waste (there will always be a little, but you don't want to see perfectly good product regularly get thrown away with the scraps), and remind your kitchen and bar staff to keep portions and pours consistent, per a set recipe.
10. Join a loyalty dining program.
Loyalty programs encourage repeat visits by offering additional incentives: points, miles, cash back—almost anything under the sun that means something to your regular restaurant guest. Just be sure to invest in a program that also drives new customers, without relying on you to do all the hard work to acquire them.
11. Participate in community events.
As a small business owner, you should always keep an eye on local events that dovetail with your interests. Food festivals, street fairs, and other neighborhood events are all amazing places to get the word out about your food (and even test out some new ideas). Have take-out menus on hand, and make sure your address and phone number are prominent on your display.
12. Finance to cover down time.
Ultimately, if summer isn’t panning out for your restaurant, or it seems like a good time to make some changes that you can’t quite cover, cash financing is a good way to bridge the gap and market to new customers at the same time. Every merchant cash advance from Rewards Network comes with our exclusive marketing services and works comfortably with the ebb and flow of your business.
Want more insight into how your restaurant compares to other restaurants in your area? Download Rewards Network’s free worksheet.