How to Make Your Restaurant the Talk of the Town

Opening a dining establishment is exciting, and is often the culmination of years of working hard, dreaming, and planning. Most new business owners realize the multiple pitfalls that can derail a venue. Keeping a restaurant in the minds and mouths of the paying public is one of the most important parts of keeping a new restaurant afloat through the lean times as well as the fruitful ones.

Focus on Consistent Quality

One thing that will keep people talking about a restaurant is good food, good drinks, and good service. This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, it is something that may fall to the wayside to a degree when the multiple pressures and time-consuming, problem-solving issues fall on the shoulders of what is often a one or two-person management team.

It is a tricky balance, managing a staff that turns out a product that is up to well-defined standards while also giving that same staff the trust and autonomy it takes to foster a positive atmosphere while encouraging creativity and excellence in the workplace. Keeping the eye on the prize is sometimes difficult during stressful patches, but is something that should never be allowed to become obscured from the big picture.

Putting the Best Foot Forward

Most new restaurateurs have a particular cuisine or dining experience that they want to represent to the public. After opening a new place, it isn’t uncommon to experience an influx of dozens of “armchair restaurateurs” who feel the need to share ideas of what could be better, how the menu should be changed to suit their particular palate and other unsolicited “advice”. Every person who enjoys dining out frequently seems to think that they could also run a restaurant, and aren’t afraid to share their ideas (especially after a couple of cocktails).

One mistake that can be avoided is re-shaping the menu to reflect the dozens of various opinions of customers. While there is something positive to be said about constructive criticism, there is absolutely no reason to change menus to suit one or two people who might frequent an establishment three times a month. Politely nodding and promising to consider menu changes is as far as any owner needs to entertain ideas that come from outside of the sphere of the restaurants’ management team.

By providing the dishes or type of cuisine that have been tried and true winners for a business, without trying to make everyone happy with a too-elaborate, or a too-long menu will prevent having excess inventory around to spoil. It will also allow the focus of the back of the house staff to be on the dishes that will keep people talking about a restaurant in a positive way.

No matter what food you decide to put on the menu, it is essential to have it accessible in a digital form as well. Or via a QR code. This allows customers to quickly access and learn about the dishes on offer and the ingredients and components used to prepare each meal. Additionally, having a digital menu means that restaurants can easily update it when special promotions or seasonal menus become available, which can help attract more customers. Setting up QR codes is a two-step procedure and is accessible even to those not savvy with technology.

Tackle Negative Reviews Head-On

The public relies heavily upon apps to choose a place to eat, and it has become a double-edged sword that everyone in the first world has to contend with when doing business. While good reviews can be a tremendous blessing to your restaurant while you struggle to gain a foothold in an over-saturated business climate, just one really scathing review can be detrimental. This is the “talk of the town” that nobody wants to have. Even if the review seems embellished or fraudulent, it is important to be proactive in dealing with negative press and to deal with it as quickly as possible.

  • Know who is in charge of putting fires out with online forums and reviews. If the business owner isn’t able to be in charge of regularly checking various review sites (Yelp, Open Table, Trip Advisor, Tasteful, GrubHub, Zomato, Facebook Business Pages, etc.) then someone on staff should be dedicated to and responsible for handling public relations issues.
  • The best way to prevent a negative review is to remedy any situation that pops up prior to the dissatisfied customer walking out the door and writing up a bad review. One way to deal with minor complaints is to have a coupon readily available that takes a small percentage off of the next visit. Having this option is better than nothing if there is some debate on whether a complaint is warranted or not. It prevents having to comp a meal that has been mostly or completely eaten prior to being dismissed by the customer as unsatisfactory, as well as other tricky instances that may not require replacing or reimbursing a “bad meal”.
  • Approach writers of bad online reviews, if possible, and try to make it right with them. People tend to be more aggressive once they are home and writing up a bad review from afar, but if the ship has already sailed, the best one can do is to offer some form of explanation, compensation, or (only in extreme cases) to defend against a public shaming that has been absolutely proven to be erroneous or fraudulent. If that tricky and potentially detrimental measure needs to be taken, it is almost absolutely necessary to have some kind of evidence to present to the public that is reading the review to convincingly show that a business is willing to remedy any legitimate issue with food or service but will not be taken advantage of in cases of fraud.

Budget Wisely, Especially in the Beginning

  • Don’t Get Enchanted By Toys or Upgrades You Can’t Afford: When opening a restaurant, or any other foodservice venue, there will be salesmen of all sorts knocking at your door, peddling everything from coupon apps to cutting edge POS systems. By making a strict budget from day one, and sticking to it, it is possible to avoid becoming a statistic in a highly competitive field.
  • Hope For and Anticipate Growth, But Don’t Bet The Bank On It: Living in the moment (ideally with an emergency fund) is an essential state of being for most new restaurateurs. Hoping to have growth and thinking positively for the future is a good thing, but don’t find yourself putting the cart before the horse. In other words, don’t try to justify potentially unnecessary expenses, in the form of upgrading a dining room or kitchen, buying equipment that isn’t essential, or perpetually overstaffing before it has been established that it is needed. It might be very tempting to take out multiple restaurant loans in the beginning, but all expenses (no matter how small) should be carefully considered in that critical first year of being in business.
  • Keep a Business Diary: By keeping an accurate daily record of sales (one that includes local events, weather trends, and anything else that might affect business), a restaurateur can establish if the business is increasing. Other vital trends can be measured by practicing this habit. Determining which parts of the year are busiest or slowest aids in accurate staffing and keeping a more concise inventory without investing in a pricy POS system. A spiral notebook, a pen, and five minutes a day can supply the one of most valuable tools in the restaurant after the first year of operation.

Marketing, Marketing, Marketing, and (just for good measure) More Marketing

  • Marketing Is a Needed Expense: This can’t be emphasized enough. Budgeting can get very hairy with a new restaurant, but it is essential to allot a portion of monthly expenses on marketing — especially while becoming established.
  • Entertain “Outside of the Box” Ideas Occasionally: There are lots of great viral marketing techniques out there that can be employed for very little or no money. Marketing, while it is a necessary expense, can eat up a budget in no time. If a marketing budget comes up short, there are creative ways to get a business’s name out there that don’t require a lot of expense.
  • Offer Staff Incentives: Offering staff free products or small incentives to help market a business through reposting social networking posts, or by taking photos to post of products offered are a great way to increase marketing efforts, as well as possibly raise staff morale, without breaking the bank. Cash bonuses, gift certificates, bottles of wine, a nice gift, like a Kanpeki Knife Set, or other small incentives can help get the word out there locally and bring in the friends and family of staff to try out the wares.

With talent, effort, and knowledge, any restaurant can become the talk of the town, even in a competitive market. Keeping the eye on the prize and the dream alive is where it all starts.