You have a major investment on the line and one chance to do it right. Only 20 percent of new businesses survive beyond their first year and only half of those businesses remain after five years, according the U.S. Small Business Administration.
A lot can happen between the inception, launch and close of a business, but certain key steps can distinguish a thriving restaurant location from a struggling one, so we’ve assembled a fool-proof plan for success before, during and after your launch.
Prior to Launch Day
Bring your new team in early for training on your menu, the point of sale, and food safety practices, including:
- Have clear standards for hand-written food labels, which will make day-to-day operations easier, while using automated food label makers like the Date Code Genie can streamline the process for fewer errors and faster service.
- Offer online food handler certification courses, which will prepare your employees to work more quickly and for less money than courses in person.
- Consider including allergen awareness training, an often legally mandated asset in making sure your customers are well taken care of from the very beginning.
Get Branded Marketing Materials
Establishing a strong brand identity from the very beginning will help customers:
- Understand who you are and what you can offer
- Make them feel welcome and excited to come back
Effective branding includes:
- Branded menu displays, window clings, table tents, napkins, signage, uniforms and more that contribute to the functionality, look and success of your location.
- Consistent colors and style traits across all materials; customers can’t develop a strong connection to your business when these details aren’t uniform throughout your location(s), so order items from a single vendor to guarantee maximum return on your branding.
Do the Math
Have thoroughly vetted numbers before you begin making long-term decisions, including:
- The gross-to-net ratio for each customer
- How much each customer is realistically expected to spend
- How much business is needed daily to meet your basic needs
Engage the Neighborhood
Your business will thrive or fail at the whim of your neighbors, so make an effort to welcome them by:
- Mailing special promotions. Coupons, BOGO, loyalty programs and more can all go far to get people in the door and then coming back.
- Introducing yourself at local events. Consider being likeable and friendly as another one of your branded marketing materials; a popular business owner is all part of good PR.
- Contributing to community good outside your business. Ideas that are good for the community and can generate revenue include:
- Partnering with local charities for fundraisers in which customers can mention the name of the cause in their order and a percentage of proceeds benefit the non-profit
- Catering school events at a discounted rate
- Participating in local charity races with your team while in your branded gear
- Volunteering at food banks or other local causes that feel on-brand
Having a vibrant social media presence is just as important as having napkins in this day and age; you can technically function without them, but business is much better with them.
The Most Important Social Networks:
- Include your phone number, address and a link to your menu.
- Update your status (no more than once a day) with new specials, stunning photos of your food and special promotions.
- Keep peak social media times in mind while updating. The time of day you post can dramatically change how many people see your content, so do your research.
2) Yelp – If a customer can’t find you on Yelp, they might not go out of their way to find you at all. Yelp users rely on customer ratings to decide if they will try a new restaurant, so:
- Build your number of reviews quickly to move up Yelp’s list of top restaurants in your area. Offer customers a discount or free item for proof that they reviewed their experience.
- Include well-lit, clear photos of your establishment and a detailed menu with prices on your profile for maximum transparency; you’ll get better customers, better reviews and more buzz if people can make an informed dining decision.
3) Instagram – The internet has transformed food into an experience defined by the visuals just as much as the taste, so maintaining a well-curated Instagram can be a game-changing tool for businesses.
A successful Instagram is characterized by:
- Mesmerizing photos
- Witty captions
- A consistent aesthetic
- The tone of not trying too hard and yet…
- Strategic decisions. Do your research and study the art of what the most popular food Instagram accounts do.
Like on Facebook, you should avoid posting more than once a day, unless you’re sharing content on your Story— a feature that allows users to view content for 24 hours.
In the digital age, advertising can fit any budget and work harder to reach your core audience. Contemporary key avenues include:
- Facebook’s targeted advertising, which can make an impact on your visibility for a nominal fee on hyper-local scale
- “Share” advertising, in which customers are asked to “share” your restaurant’s post on social media for a chance to win a prize. This method makes a direct impact on their network and rapidly increases the size of your audience.
- In-person experiences, like an Instagram “experience” booth– a photo backdrop that is on-brand for you and compelling for social media fans at your city’s next community event. Your future customers will get the perfect Instagram photo, while you’ll get free advertising to all of their friends.
While social media offers these new advantages, print advertising in local publications, sticker campaign and other more traditional methods still make an impact on customers.
On Launch Day
You’ve spent months preparing so for a strong start, be sure to:
Greet Every Customer
Each customer has the potential to grow your business by tenfold, so mind your manners and make an effort to have customers leave with a smile and eager to come back.
Make It a Party
Customers will flock through the doors with special additions to opening day like:
- Outdoor signage
- Performers like musicians, dressed-up mascot, etc.
- Giveaways for being the first customer of the day, throwing in a free dessert for every order over a certain amount, etc.
Collect Customer Information
Start building long-term relationships with your customers from day one to keep them coming back. This can be done by:
- Asking your customers to join your email list, which will feature special discounts and promotions
- Offering a raffle, in which customers place business cards in a jar for consideration, and customer addresses and emails can be used for promotional purposes later
- Using point-of-sale systems that allow customers to obtain receipts via text or email, which allows for another dimension of communication
A successful first day, first week or first month does not guarantee long-term business. Continue to invest in your restaurant’s future by:
Keeping the Buzz Going
As the neighborhood becomes acquainted with you and your business…
- Make public relations a priority. Identify the most influential local publications, news outlets, blogs and social media accounts in your area. Then, pitch your restaurant as content when your business is running seamlessly at its peak performance.
- Evolve. Continually review both positive and negative feedback from customers who make comments in person and online. As your restaurants strengths become clear, so will its weaknesses and implementing problem-solving strategies will help bring customers who were unsatisfied back through the door.