Optimising your restaurant business for the digital age

Restaurants online

There’s much to love about owning and running a restaurant, but as anyone in this low-margin industry knows, it’s far from the easiest business to be. While there are many enjoyable and satisfying moments in the career of a restaurant owner, you will likely endure plenty of hardships along the way.

If you’ve hit something of a slump or plateau with your restaurant, then it’s recommended to look at some tried and tested tips to improve things, including maximising your businesses potential via online channels. While there’s no magic bullet that’ll make everything perfect in the blink of an eye, if you make the improvements that we outline below, then you’ll increase your chances of success.

FIND THE FLAWS

If you want to improve things, then first, you’ll need to figure out what mistakes you’re making. While there are many different ways to give things a nudge in the right direction, you’ll find that simply getting rid of your flaws has the biggest impact.

The thing about restaurant operations is that they very often develop organically — this can sound like a good thing, but usually, it means there are some bad habits involved. A more focused approach is needed. If you’re not sure what you’re looking for when it comes to reviewing your restaurant operations, consider hiring an outside expert to do the job for you. They’ll be able to identify things that you may overlook since you’re so “close” to your business.

WEBSITE DESIGN

It goes without saying that your business needs to have a digital presence that uses the same logo, et alia. However, where most restaurants go wrong is by not tailoring the users virutal experience to feel of the restaurant dining experience.

For example, if you have an authentic Mexican-themed restaurant then why not create the vibe of Mexico. You could also offer a translation of the website into Spanish, thus reinforcing the authentic Mexican vibe. You do not have to pay to have the website translated. Remember, technology is your friend.

STREAMLINE THE MENU

The thinking goes that the more items on the menu, the more business you’ll get. But this isn’t the case. People don’t want to walk into a restaurant and find hundreds of items to choose from. For starters, that would make it just too difficult to select something.

Second, the customer would know that whatever they order is unlikely to be the speciality of the restaurant. Streamlining your menu will make running your restaurant much easier (fewer dishes = less stress) and improve the customer’s perception of your establishment. So take another look: do you have the right amount, or too many (too few usually isn’t an issue)?

You can use your current menu-engagement to determine what stays and what goes. For example, by looking at what sells, what costs the most, and so on.

This optimisation should also be used online and be related to the entire user experience. Think of your users as cohorts.

GREAT PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEO

From the seating area, to the location and the food served, people want to know what they will experience when dining at your restaurant. Getting professional high definition photographs that are well lit and framed is a great advantage.

Additionally, creating professional-looking video’s are a great way of garnering attention for both those visiting your website; and for gaining a new audience on YouTube and social media. Short-form video’s seem to be more effective in this vertical.

Visually explaining to folk how to make a great cocktail, or a signature dish will capture attention.

TABLE BOOKING

It is imperative that the website functionality enables potential customers to book a seat at the restaurant online. Many people do not want to have to book a table over the phone.

Whatever your existing offline table booking methodology, be it by pencil, or by spreadsheet, it can be amended to include online orders simply and easily. Simply set an SMS, or Email alert up every time a new booking comes in and then reconcile.

IMPROVE THE HIRING PROCESS

When people first get their first restaurant underway, they imagine that hiring staff will be the easy part. After all, there’s a lot of people looking for work, right?

However, over time they come to understand something: this is actually one of the hardest parts of running a restaurant.

When it comes to staffing, you’re looking for people who are reliable, can work under pressure, and who have a pleasant demeanour. And it turns out that not everyone has these qualities. Given the influence that your staff will have on the overall success or failure of your venture, it’s important to get this right.

Once you’ve found the ideal team of workers, be sure to keep them there. Having a low staff turnover rate can bring many benefits to a restaurant. But of course, it won’t just happen. Paying them well and creating a pleasant work environment will go a long way.

TRAINING

Of course, it’s one thing to improve your hiring operations so that talented people end up applying for your open positions. However, you can’t expect them to have anywhere near as big an impact as you may expect if you’re not providing them with training.

Think of a good hire as a seed. It’s up to you to nurture that seed so that it reaches its full potential. This is where your training will come in. It doesn’t matter how much experience a new staff member has. Your operations will be different. If you’ve got a good team of employees, yet you’re not entirely happy with their performance, then you can’t blame them — it’ll be the lack of training that’ll be the problem.

FROM THE TOP DOWN

We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the staff in the previous couple of points we’ve made. But it’s important to remember that the tone of the restaurant comes from the managerial positions.

If the manager is doing their job correctly, then everything will run a lot more smoothly: the staff will perform well, the seats of the restaurants will be filled with happy customers, and the important things — such as ordering the right amount of ingredients — will be taken care of.

Sometimes it’s important to improve specific aspects of a restaurant; at others, it’s important to look at ourselves, and ask how we can improve. If you’re in charge of the day to day operations of the business, then read some tips on how to better manage a restaurant. If the manager is doing his or her job well, then the restaurant will be in a strong position to thrive.

GET A GRIP ON THE FINANCES

If there’s one thing that all restaurant owners know about their industry, it’s that it can be difficult to stay on top of the money-situation.

There are just so many expenses, and profits on meals can be tight. Still, just because it’s not straightforward, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible. Far from it. It’s just that you’ll need to take a concentrated, proactive approach to the finances, by which we mean setting some time aside each week to make sure everything’s in order.

Many serious money problems can be rectified if they’re caught early, and that’s just what working on your finances each week will allow. It’s also worth remembering that while there are many expenses relating to restaurants, not all are essential. Is it possible to cut some costs?

ADDITIONAL REVENUE STREAMS

A restaurant is much more than just a place where they serve food. Or at least, it can be. One of the best ways for a restaurant to improve its finances is to look at additional revenue streams. Your main business may be offering a special dining experience, but there are other things you can do too.

For example, what about hosting events, such as birthday parties or weddings?

Another way to boost profits is to get more people through the door. Sounds obvious, right?

We mean at lunch. There are people who prefer to go out for lunch, some people who can only afford to eat at a restaurant during lunchtime, which is cheaper. Make your establishment available during these hours, and you’ll be able to cater to this crowd.

DIGITAL MARKETING

Remember, that your website has the potential to have more foot flow than your physical restaurants themselves. It all depends upon how well you market this property. I would suggest the following strategy: (1) research keywords that are most relevant to your business; (2) undertake some search engine optimisation work on the website to ensure that the create accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, YouTube and any relevant platforms where your customer cohort will be; and (3) undertake PPC campaigns on Google, Bing and Facebook targeting your most likely customers.

Another avenue to investigate is offers. Groupon and the myriad of other deal platforms can generate a good amount of business. It is wise to develop a strategy for this channel.

BUILD CUSTOMER LOYALTY

There’s no better way to improve operations than to build customer loyalty. This will have many benefits. For starters, it’ll bring in more business — the regulars are the backbone of any successful operation. It’ll also help you guide your business in the right way. Regulars will give you more honest feedback about potential changes than anyone else.

You can do this by offering online and offline coupons, or offers only available to those that have booked before.

FINDING A BALANCE

Finally, if you’re the one in charge of the restaurant, then…give yourself a break. There’s much work to be done, but if you’re continually working twelve-hour days on the restaurant floor for too long, then you’ll find that you’re missing development ideas in digital. A level-head is needed to run a restaurant, but that’s not what you’ll have if you continually feel under the stress.

The mantra should be, always be optimising… always be growing.

CONCLUSION

The selection of tips above isn’t an exhaustive list, but you will find that it helps to create a restaurant that has watertight operations in the digital age, and which is well-positioned to find success in the future.

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