Restaurant owners know that there are two key components to growing a successful business — establishing a solid base of regular customers and attracting new ones. But, is your restaurant poised for success?
In an industry with small profit margins and a perishable product, every edge matters. Boosting sales in your restaurant can make the difference between a viable eatery and one that closes its doors within a year.
Did you know — 17 percent of restaurants close within the first year, according to Forbes — and these rates are actually much higher for smaller establishments with less than 20 employees. The difference between a flourishing restaurant and an eatery with a few customers comes down to sales. It’s not just enough to get customers in the door — a good general manager understands that there are a lot of things that go into increasing restaurant sales.
How Can You Increase Sales in Your Restaurant?
For any restaurant, there are several universal ways to increase revenue:
- Sell more food and beverages.
- Attract more customers.
- Keep your business open for extended meal periods.
- Encourage private parties or special events.
- Increase the “cover average” of each guest.
Many of these tips boil down to a couple of key elements: training, marketing, and consistency. The best restaurants have systems in place, solid training, marketing with actionable incentives for customers to visit, and plenty of opportunities to sell to each guest that walks through the door.
Improve Server Sales Training
Your waitstaff’s ability to sell food and beverages is the key to making money in your restaurant. Good managers understand that their servers aren’t just order-takers. The difference between a good server and a great server is their ability to upsell to diners. This includes these tasks:
- Focus on selling specialty and alcoholic drinks instead of water.
- Encourage appetizer sales.
- Make the mains matter — full meal sales and a la carte side items like side salads or soups.
- Don’t forget to sell dessert!
Here’s an actionable tip you can implement this week: As a management team, put together a list of specialty drinks – including fun and fruity non-alcoholic options – and teach your servers about the preparation and ingredients. Describe these drinks using food-centered adjectives that make a diner want to try one.
Do this: “Would you care to try a glass of our fresh-squeezed lemonade today? We also feature blackberry lemonade mixed with fresh fruit or refreshing watermelon lemonade.”
Don’t do this: ”What would you like to drink? We have soda and lemonade.”
One greeting offers specific options for diners and uses adjectives intended to make these drink choices sound enticing. The second one is flat and makes your restaurant’s beverage choices sound bland and uninviting.
The key to server training lies in coaching them into a natural delivery, allowing them to sample the new products, and getting them enthusiastic about what they’re selling. When your server is excited about the food and drink, it carries over to your diners.
Re-Frame Your Servers’ Attitude Toward Selling
The U.S. system of tipping involves diners leaving a percentage of the total check as the server’s tip. The higher the check, usually the higher the tip.
Let’s use the example above. A typical soft drink in a restaurant costs $2, while many places might sell a specialty lemonade for twice that. If a server sells the specialty drink to every diner at a table of four, instead of soda, that’s an $8 difference in the check. If the diners choose the lemonade over water, that’s a $16 difference — and an extra $3 for the server’s tip!
Increase Sales by Increasing Cover Averages
Restaurant guests are typically referred to as covers — and increasing the amount spent per cover increases your overall sales. Servers can boost your restaurant’s cover average by upselling to customers. Consider offering a prize to the server with the highest cover average per shift.
Upselling Doesn’t Stop With Beverages
Adding a shareable appetizer to a table, side salads or soup before the main meal, or a dessert are all ways that your servers can add to a customer’s check — and sales revenue to your bottom line.
Investing the time to train your dining room staff on your menu offerings, allowing them to taste the dishes, and encouraging them to select their favorite to upsell to customers can go a long way toward increasing your sales.
But extra sales per customer doesn’t help if you don’t have a steady stream of customers!
Make Your Menu Work For You
Your menu layout can help your servers upsell the most profitable product. Using fonts that draw the eye’s attention, as well as highlighting your restaurant’s specialty dishes and beverages can help your “salespeople” sell more of those low food-cost, high-profit items.
Your menu can make selling add-ons easy. Place your side salad or soups next to your tasty main courses, and highlight what a good value they are. For example, “Add a freshly tossed garden salad or house-made soup for just $1.99!” This is a good value for your diners and a good deal for you – most restaurants report a food cost of only $0.65 for a side salad or soup of the day!
Food cost is something to keep in mind when highlighting featured food and beverage items. Delicious dishes that don’t cost a lot can be marked up to drive a higher profit, as can fancy specialty drinks, like those we used in our above example. Training servers to push low cost, higher-priced menu items can help with this.
Increase Your Traffic Through Marketing
We stated earlier that the keys to success lie in both establishing a regular customer base and enticing new customers to walk through the door. If your restaurant is fortunate enough to have a regular customer base, consider rewarding their loyalty with special programs.
Some establishments have spending thresholds, where the diner receives a discount or a free item for reaching a specific dollar amount. Other places offer bonus gift cards with a certain purchase amount, or “happy hour” specials for regulars.
Rewarding regular guests is a great way to build your loyal customer base and increase positive word of mouth. But in order to do this, you’ll need to get new customers in the door first — and turn them into raving fans!
Getting involved in your local community events is another way to introduce new customers to your menu. Outdoor festivals often have booths available for food — a great way to get you in front of a large crowd.
Many communities have a “Restaurant Week” designed to introduce new diners! Feature a few items that make your restaurant unique, and hand out coupons for a free specialty drink (remember that lemonade!) or dessert. Once you’ve got your new customers coming in, you can turn them into regulars.
Many restaurants don’t advertise — they rely on word of mouth to reach new diners. While taking out an ad in the paper or on the radio may work for some, many restauranteurs have tight budgets for marketing and need something more quantifiable. We’ve gone over specific ways to market your restaurant — including social media and custom apps.
In this day and age, ‘foodstagramming’ is, in fact, a thing. Most people turn to social media to post their meals and dining experiences in addition to leveraging it to find new restaurant locations. When done right, creating your own hashtag and promoting it is a great way to increase awareness and gain positive exposure for your restaurant business.
Another option for putting your restaurant at the forefront of diners’ minds is crafting press releases. If you’ve recently received an honor of any sort, such as being voted a “Best Local Restaurant for [Your Cuisine],” a press release is indeed in order! It’s not only a great way to call attention to your honor or award but it can also get your establishment’s name out there — and win those new customers!
Making the Most of Lunch
While larger check averages tend to come from the dinner rush for most full-service restaurants, a steady lunch business can help boost your overall revenue — and bring your business clientele back to eat with their families for dinner!
Offering a short menu with lunch specials designed to get diners in and out quickly is a great way to introduce new customers to your restaurant while helping you turnover tables quickly. Make sure that the menu items that you choose can be quickly executed, and consider offering customers their meal for free if it takes longer than 20 minutes.
Some fun ways to encourage customer engagement are a little stopwatch or hourglass on the table — letting them experience the swift service and tasty food your establishment provides. A cutting-edge point of sale system can help prioritize these orders in the kitchen as well as allow management to determine which items are good options for a “quick turnaround” lunch.
Some restaurants offer discounted specials on “off-peak” days such as Monday or Tuesday. While Fridays are typically the busiest for lunches, you can encourage diners to come when you aren’t as busy by offering a free specialty drink or Monday-only menu specials.
Don’t forget to tailor discounts and experiences based on your ideal customers’ and business location. For example, if you are located in an area with low foot traffic during lunch hours, you can drive more revenue during by offering other local businesses free use of your private dining area when they book a lunch meeting at your restaurant or pre-order their meals.
The Bottom Line
To improve sales in your restaurant, you need to operate each shift consistently. Your speedy lunch specials should come out of the kitchen quickly — no matter who is cooking — and your delicious specialty drinks should taste the same across the board. Focusing on tight server training can make the difference between a staff full of motivated salespeople and a staff of simple “order-takers.”
Attentive, prompt service and an active, engaged floor manager will make a difference in the level of service your guests receive. This turns new diners into loyal customers, who in turn will bring friends and co-workers to dine.