In today’s challenging restaurant environment, creating value for first-time guests and turning them into repeat customers is more important than ever. One of the traditional ways restaurant operators have achieved that goal is by offering discounts, whether in the form of coupons, BOGO (buy one, get one free) promotions or loyalty clubs.
But with today’s rising food costs and other financial challenges, that approach is likely to do more harm than good to a restaurant’s bottom line, according to industry veteran Lee Schulman, founder of Panacea Management Group (PMG) Consulting. As a longtime restaurant owner and operator (currently of Old Vinings Inn), Schulman knows firsthand how tight restaurant margins can be and that an operator’s time is much better spent creating an unforgettable guest experience.
“In today’s environment, where margins are so challenged, the last thing a restaurant operator wants to do is discount,” Schulman says. “Certainly, the most expensive seat in a restaurant is an empty one, but we have to be very mindful today that if we’re filling seats at a discount, we might bring in some business – but at what expense to the margin?”
Since coupons can negatively impact the bottom line and cannot be relied on to create value in this environment, restaurant operators should evaluate the discounts they are currently offering and seek ways to provide a unique dining experience that goes beyond serving amazing food. The experience should be a culmination of atmosphere, warmth, hospitality of the staff and cleanliness of the space. Guests understand that they are going to be paying more when dining out; therefore, their expectations are going to be higher, too.
To get to know their guests and learn what they want out of the dining experience, operators should seek customer feedback by talking to guests on a regular basis. And the quality of the feedback is directly proportional to the questions asked. Questions should go beyond inquiring about the food. If a guest is having steak, an operator can ask about the cuts of meat they like or how they like their steak prepared. If they are drinking wine or bourbon, consider asking if they have tried a vintage by a certain winemaker or tried a certain brand of bourbon. This lets the guest know the operator is knowledgeable about what they serve and that they value their guests’ opinions. Taking a personal interest in what guests like and want can help create a sense of customer loyalty without relying on traditional marketing methods and will keep guests coming back for more.
Learn more PMG Consulting and the services Schulman provides at www.pmgconsulting.us.