How to Boost Restaurant Traffic Without Discounts

The American hospitality industry is making a comeback, according to statistics compiled by accounting and consulting firm J.H. Cohn in New York. Total food and beverage sales have increased in 18 of the past 22 months, hitting a record high in October. Still, many small restaurateurs and other retailers are still struggling, says Ray Coen, an independent Los Angeles business consultant who has advised purveyors and restaurant owners for 30 years.

In general, Coen says, positioning and pricing work much better than the discounting through deal websites that became so popular in recent years. He spoke recently with Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein; edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

You’re not a fan of the coupon-and-discount trend. Why did it catch on?

Ray Coen: A lot of restaurant owners and small retailers were hurt hard by the recession. Lacking the skills to come up with imaginative ideas or attractive products to increase revenue, they relied on the coupons and discounts to build traffic.

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