by Dan Beaulieu
There is nothing like a small local restaurant. A place with charm and history. A place that people remember going to with their parents when they were little. Or taking that first date for an ice cream soda while sitting at their soda fountain. We all have fond memories of a place like that. But unfortunately, that’s all we have “fond memories,” because these kinds of places are being run out of business by the big chain restaurants. The places that can afford to stay open seven days a week from mid-morning to very late at night. The places that buy their food in bulk, so they get the best prices. Those places that can afford multi-million dollar advertising campaigns showing their succulent lobsters and juicy steaks and bright red spaghetti and meatballs, all you can eat specials at prices that would drive the little guy out of the business.
But in our hearts, we love the little guy. She’s our neighbor, you went to high school and played football with him. And now it saddens you to see the business growing dark because they just cannot compete any longer.
Sad but true, but hey, there is hope, this does not have to be. There are ways to fight back if you own a small local restaurant. The big guys do have some disadvantages and it is up to the small family owned business to take advantage of those weakness.
Instead of meekly going into the good night of extinction there are things you can do right now to not only make your restaurant survive, but thrive as well.
Here then are ten ways to make your restaurant thrive in this era of the giant, impersonal food boxes of chain restaurants.
- Be personal. The big guys can’t, you can. When customers come in treat them like old friends, even if some of them are new customers. Make them feel welcome. Everyone likes the feeling of belonging, make your customers feel like they belong
- Spruce up the place. Chances are if your restaurant has been around for 30 years, your restaurant might look the part. It’s amazing what some paint, recovered booths and varnished tables and good lighting can do to improve the look of a restaurant.
- Use your locality to your advantage. You have been here forever. This is your town. You went to school with many of your customers and potential customers. Use that familiarity to your advantage. Display photos showing what the town was years past and how it has changed. Support the local organizations from the school teams to the local churches and synagogues. Budget for this. A small donation to a local church’s silent auction will be remember and appreciated by their members.
- Come up with some special dishes, entrees that are area favorites. I can guarantee that no box chain restaurant is going to serve boiled dinner, or beans and franks, or red hot dogs, or fresh seafood like a local restaurant.
- Advertise: You don’t have to spend a lot of money on advertising, but you do have to do it. A small changing ad in the newspaper. Or better yet a local radio station. Or even better yet start your own newsletter complete with coupons. And speaking of coupons, how about a loyalty program to keep those customers coming in on their way to that special reward!
I’ve run out of space for this time. But no worries, I’ll pick this up next time when we’ll talk about the one secret that will guarantee the success of your local neighborhood place for years to come. Stay tuned and we’ll continue to show you how to grow your local restaurant business.
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