In the U.S. alone, there are over one million restaurants, totaling $799 billion in sales each year. And with consumers spending more money than ever dining out, a new restaurant opening is an important addition to any neighborhood.
But with new openings happening every week, how can restaurant owners make their business opening stand out from the crowd, and lead them to future success in their market?
From hiring and marketing, to selecting a restaurant reservation system, point of sale (POS) platform and inventory management system that allows you to collect and easily surface guest data, there are a lot of details to straighten out before you even seat your first guest. Finding the right mix of these critical components, combined with a solid business plan and a passion for the industry, will ensure not only a smooth opening but will keep your reservations booked for months to come.
Finding Your Marketing Sweet Spot
Before your restaurant opens, it’s essential to start creating a buzz to connect with future guests. Whether through social media, public relations or a big event or stunt, marketing will help drive interest and build your restaurant fans even before the doors open.
An internal restaurant marketing research report at SevenRooms recently revealed that one in four restaurant groups are doing marketing all on their own, without external help. But with marketing a key ingredient in the success or failure of a business, it’s important to think strategically about how you can move the needle for your restaurant — reaching both new guests and repeat visitors.
One of the easiest ways to execute on your own marketing strategy and drive business is through social media. Nine out of ten restaurants are using Instagram, and Facebook, which has 1.47 billion daily active users, and should be taken seriously as a customer acquisition channel. Platforms like these make it easy to raise brand awareness and interact directly with guests, highlighting what makes your restaurant worth a visit.
Here are ways you can easily drive engagement for your business through social:
If you have the most extensive wine list in the city, share pictures of your impressive cellar, glasses and tasting classes.
If you have the most “Instagram-able” dining room for a brunch backdrop, get those pictures on social media.
Want to drum up excitement? Host a contest on social media offering dinner for two, or access to your friends and family events, to the most creative submission
Use Instagram and Facebook’s Reserve and Book Now features to gain reservations before, and after, your property opens. Guests are looking you up online, so ensure you use a restaurant reservation platform that offers these integrations, making it easy for guests to book direct, and for you to collect data, like their email, from the booking.
Whatever it is that makes you stand out, post it, hashtag it and spread your brand on social media even before the first meal is served.
Hiring: Bringing Your Vision to Life
So you’re getting buzz for your restaurant — what’s next? Without a team to help execute on your vision, and share your restaurant experience with potential guests, you won’t have a successful launch. But more than 14.7 million restaurant industry employees in the U.S. alone, you have your work cut out for you to find employees who you can trust to bring your vision to life. Enter Harri and Culinary Agents.
Harri, a company that offers tools to help companies attract, discover and connect with the best talent for their needs, and Culinary Agents, a networking and job matching site for people in hospitality, are great places to start to find talent across both your front and back of house. They offer a whole slew of tools — from the ability to post jobs and manage interviews, to background checks, onboarding and workforce management. By having a strong hiring plan in place for your managers, and by using a system built for the unique challenges hospitality operators face, you will reduce the time you spend thinking about hiring, and instead can focus on your opening.
Guest Experience: It’s All About the Data
Whether it’s the perfect timeslot, a five-star meal or above-and-beyond service, guests will show up if they believe the dining experience will live up to their expectations. A guest’s first interaction happens when they book a reservation, so it’s crucial to pick a reservation system that reflects the experience you want your guests to have. In fact, each platform — from online marketplaces and direct reservation platforms to social channels and top-of-the-funnel booking engines — fulfills different needs for a restaurant. As an owner, it’s your job to do your research and choose the right one for you.
Other than processing the actual reservations, the platform should be optimized for the collection of guest data. This data, whether it’s collected during the reservation process, or in your restaurant, will help you stand out and build deeper guest relationships with future regulars.
When a guest makes a reservation, you can capture detailed information on your guests, from email and phone number to allergies, preferences and more — but only if you pick a reservation system that allows you to capture these details. Once they arrive, this information enables you to greet them by name and learn more about their preferences — from the types of foods they like or are allergic to, to their favorite bottle of wine. All of this information is fundamental in crafting the perfect custom experience that will keep guests coming back and recommending you to friends. In fact, a recent survey revealed that over half of guests would like to be remembered from a previous visit; shining a spotlight on the importance of personalization and guest data — and why it’s critical to prioritize selecting a platform that empowers you with guest data.
After this data is collected through the reservation booking and in-service dining experience, and the guests leave, your job is not done. 60 percent of restaurants close in the first year, so staying fresh and relevant beyond the launch is just as important. This is where guest data comes back into play. You can use guest data collected to execute highly targeted and personalized marketing campaigns across all your channels, and track the ROI to determine what’s working for your property. For example, if you see a big spike in Barolo, you can plan a Barolo tasting event with a preferred winery, and invite back all the guests that have ordered that wine in the last six months. Your guests will appreciate the invite, and will feel like you’ve tailored the event to them, while you’ll boost revenue and guest loyalty.
Money, Money, Money
You’ve gotten the word out, and reservations are rolling in. What’s next? Quite simply, without a way to track money spent at your restaurant, you will not be able to effectively run your property. A point of sale (POS) system, which helps you to track sales, cash flow, inventory and more, will help you to run your business better, and allow your staff to focus on what really counts: the guest. Here are 7 questions you should ask when deciding which point of sale makes sense for your property:
What features do I really need to run my business?
Is this POS system build for restaurant operations?
Does this system connect to my other technology partners and is it cloud-based for easy access?
What is the upfront investment in time and money for hardware, staff training, set-up, etc.?
Will this POS system help me be more efficient during service?
Does the company have 24/7 support, and will they be responsive if something goes wrong during service?
Is this POS system fully PCI and GDPR compliant, and will it keep both mine and my guest’s transaction data safe?
With a cloud-based point of sale system that connects to other aspects of your business — from your reservation management system to inventory management platform — you will have access to a wealth of actionable data that will help you build deeper relationships with guests. By understanding your guest’s spend patterns and visit history, you will be able to market more effectively to keep them coming back time after time.
Increasing Your Bottom Line
Finally, no successful restaurant can exist without food, or a system that helps you take control of costs across your kitchen — from inventory management to food cost analytics. That’s where companies like Xtrachef and Plate IQ come in to play.
By utilizing a company that manages invoices, vendor payments and more, your team can focus on what really matters: delivering exceptional guest experiences. After all, shouldn’t your team be spending more time with your guests, and less time entering invoices into a spreadsheet? Similar to a reservation management system, when you integrate these systems with your point of sale, these platforms become powerful tools to manage costs, share data across locations and easily make adjustments on the fly that will positively impact your bottom line.
Although opening a restaurant in the fall can be extremely challenging, as long as you are prepared with a strong hiring plan, a creative marketing strategy, and the right tech tools in place that enable you to utilize guest data to personalize the dining experience, you will stand out from the crowd and keep your guests returning for more.