Tough Winter for Restaurant Owners – Sales Looking up for this Spring

Steve O'ConnorCustomer Service, Marketing, Restaurant, Restaurant BusinessLeave a Comment

Happy hour text on a blackboard.

After a harsh winter, same-store restaurant sales are seeing a rebound, although many still report traffic as a problem. Finding new ways to attract customers and drive restaurant traffic will help improve top-line growth and repeat business.

The harsh winter of 2013-2014 brought us more than new terms like “polar vortex”; it also brought declining sales to restaurant owners. In fact, according to Restaurant Finance Monitor, same-store sales at restaurants fell almost a full percentage point in January and February of 2014. But March of this year brought new hope, showing same-store sales rising 0.7% in that month.

Even with rising sales in the first month of spring, restaurant owners cite traffic as a continued problem. Casual dining restaurants showed the greatest struggle in attracting customers, according to the same article: traffic fell 3.6% in February 2014, largely due to the still-unfavorable economy and plenty of competition for customers’ dining-out dollars.

Look for New Ways to Attract Customers and Drive Restaurant Traffic

Many restaurant owners turn to discounts, coupons, and the like as quick wins to attract customers and drive restaurant traffic. But these strategies, although effective in the short term, may not create the repeat business that’s necessary to your restaurant’s success. Discounting may also have a negative impact on your bottom line.

Incentive programs bring a proven track record for improving customer loyalty, and thus traffic and same-store sales. Punch or loyalty cards, special occasion gifts or discounts, and automatic rewards are all fairly simple to execute—with the right system in place—while also putting your restaurant at the top of your customers’ minds.

Another strategy may be to boost sales during off-peak hours. The National Restaurant Association has published a list of tactics many restaurant owners can implement:

  • Consider offering small plates as alternatives to entrees during the mid-morning and mid-afternoon timeframes.
  • Create a happy hour and offer specially priced cocktails, appetizers, and off-menu items available only during this late afternoon/early evening window.
  • Attract the late-night crowd with another selection of small plates or value-priced food that’s easy to share among a group

American Express also offers a few options restaurant owners can consider, including live music; contests, such as providing one random customer’s entire meal for free; family entertainment, like magicians or people who create balloon animals; and training your wait staff to upsell.

These suggestions scratch the surface of options—and not all will be right for your business and customer base, but the implication is clear. If your restaurant is competing in a market with many restaurants, your traffic is shrinking, and your sales are either in decline or plateau mode, it’s time to not only implement some new sales-growth strategies but also to promote them. Traditional advertising combined with social media can create a powerful blueprint for improving top-line growth and repeat business.

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