One of the challenges of running a restaurant is getting first-time diners through the door. Once they’re in, it’s easy to seduce them with impeccable service, distinctive menu offerings, and delicious flavors. But attracting new customers can seem like an uphill battle – especially because so many restaurant-goers have been burned by poor-quality dining experiences and high price tags to boot.
Enticing new diners doesn’t necessarily mean you need to reinvent the wheel, though. Showcase your restaurant’s boons through targeted, unobtrusive marketing—then watch the first-time patrons roll in.
Make it clear from the get-go what sets you apart. You’ll probably never be the only restaurant in town, so you’ll need to decide what elevates you above the competition. Are you committed to sourcing your foods locally? Does your menu take cues from cuisines around the world? Is your chef a diamond in the rough? Is your restaurant’s ambiance distinctive and unique? If nothing sets you apart, your first order of business is to identify your niche.
Get the word out
Make it your business to dive into social media headfirst. Set up one or two social media accounts – consider Facebook or Instagram, which allow you to post lots of written content as well as photos. Plus, these platforms have millions of American users. Lots of restaurants use their Facebook page as their devoted website, which goes to show how powerful today’s social networks have become.
Social media platforms can be daunting- especially if you’ve already got a lot on your plate. But the image you convey online is critical to the success of your business, so take a little time out of each day to share a link, post a photo of your restaurant’s distinctive cuisine, or call out your specials with images or catchy taglines. Show your audience you care about their experience by offering monthly promos or a happy hour special—and use your social media to ensure that everyone gets the memo.
Don’t overlook the power of word of mouth
Your friends, family members, regulars, and even co-workers have a part to play in luring new clientele through your restaurant’s doors. Encourage standby patrons to share their experiences with others, and suggest that they post on Yelp or TripAdvisor. Never underestimate the power of conversation – and don’t misjudge the power of your regulars, either.
Keep your finger on the review pulse
Customer reviews can make or break a restaurant, and in today’s electronic age, nothing matters more than keeping track of positive – and negative – reviews. Many potential patrons look to Yelp before they ever visit a restaurant’s website.
As you’re scanning your reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and anywhere else your clientele is reviewing your business, be prepared for some negativity. No one will be happy all the time, and a few negative reviews shouldn’t be cause for alarm. Instead, take the time to carefully – and promptly – address the complaint, responding to the reviewer directly. TripAdvisor lets you respond publicly to reviews. Apologize for the negative experience and consider offering an incentive, like a free drink or appetizer. Make it clear that the reviewer’s experience matters to you – and you’d like to make it up.
And whatever you do, avoid berating the customer – even if they wrote a scathing review. Take the high road and bite your tongue. Remember: the customer is always right. Instead, kill even the harshest reviewers with kindness, and you might just see a second visit.
To really get the word out, consider using daily deals through websites like Groupon or Living Social. Because these sites get so much attention, it’s worth using them sparingly as a way to entice first-time diners to sample your fare. But don’t make a habit of using sites like these – plenty of restaurateurs complain that online deals, like Groupons, can actually devalue the brand down the line.
Remember that the food industry can be a tough business, but with quality dishes, exceptional service, and a little dash of patience, you’re likely to see first-time diners becoming regulars in no time. Keep your social media presence steady and consistent. Consider refreshing your website with bright new imagery or updated menus. And remember – do your best to stay connected with your patrons, and you’re bound to gain a following you can count on.