8 Tips to Keep your Restaurant Competitive

Tips for Restaurant Owners

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Managing a restaurant is challenging, hard work, but it can be incredibly satisfying when you get it right. It’ll start to feel like a well-oiled machine, with all the parts working in harmony.

Even so, what do you do when a competitor moves in across the street? You can control many things about your own restaurant, but it’s not like you can control who becomes your neighbor.

The reality is, the restaurant industry is highly competitive, so this happens all the time. However, it’s important for you to find new ways to innovate and beat competitors without losing your profits.

With more than 15 million restaurants in the world, the amount of competition can feel overwhelming.

Don’t worry though! In this article, we’ll share with you some tried-and-tested tips on how you can stay ahead of the game. 

1. Get to know your competitors

Teamwork in Restaurants

Researching your competitors is one of the oldest tricks in the book and a great place to start. If you want to know what the competition is doing right, you’ll need to get out there and do some research.

You can start by ordering food from a competing restaurant, or directly going there to eat and observe their operations. This will allow you to check their food quality and service standards compared to yours. 

To learn more about their marketing tactics, you can follow them on social media and subscribe to their email list. There’s nothing wrong with taking your cues from people who have already found success, just as long as you’re not copying them outright (you don’t want to find yourself getting hit with a lawsuit). 

By analyzing the competition, though, you can improve your own products and services by identifying new trends your competitors may have found before you. 

You can also conduct something called a SWOT analysis. This is where you analyze your own restaurants strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in order to better position your business and protect it from the competition.

2. Send out follow-up emails for abandoned carts 

Do you offer pickup and delivery services online? If so, you’re probably familiar with the dreaded abandoned cart.

Abandoned carts are a letdown for every business, especially in the restaurant industry. You have someone browsing through the menu and the next second, they choose not to order.

Sadly, the most recent study shows that the average abandoned cart rate is roughly 74%. 

So, what can you do? Well, you can remind users to come back and check out your menu if they don’t finish their order within a certain amount of time.

How abandoned cart emails help you stay competitive

Moreover, there are three important reasons to create follow-up emails: 

  1. Abandoned cart emails can recover sales and improve your campaign performance.
  2. They can improve the customer experience and retention rate.
  3. You can always gather feedback by finding out why your visitors are abandoning their carts and asking them what went wrong. You can use this feedback to improve the checkout process and provide helpful content to prevent further losses in the future. 

In order to succeed, it’s important to use you left something in your cart emails. You can create these types of emails by doing the following: 

  • Send out your first email as soon as you can after someone rethought an order. The best timing is an hour after the cart abandonment. 
  • Try sending a second email 24 hours after the order was abandoned. 
  • The third email should be at least two days after cart abandonment. You can include a next-visit favorite dish discount, some other value proposition, and much more. 

Overall, it’s important to send at least three emails, and if there’s no response after the third one, you still know you tried. 

3. Provide customers with a friendly online help desk

Two smiling customer service workers answering calls.

Help desk software is an excellent way to learn more about your customers and offer them full support – and it’s not just for e-commerce and retail stores, either!

If you offer online ordering, then you should be offering some form of online support, too.

An online help desk allows you to gather customer complaints, issues, and conversations in one place for better tracking. 

It’s also called a help desk ticketing system, since it records customer interactions as tickets. When a customer leaves a support ticket, the ticket is saved in the database instead of getting lost in an inbox. Tickets can be prioritized according to urgency and assigned to different people according to their expertise.

Whether you use a software or maintain an inbox, it’s extremely important that you have a convenient way for customers to get in touch with you and to resolve issues. If they can’t, they’ll just take their complaints to Yelp or Google and leave a damning review, which you definitely do not want.

4. Leverage the data you’re already collecting

Every day, your restaurant is collecting data. Hundreds and thousands of pieces of data on what people are ordering, what items are ordered together, when they’re placing orders, how often they’re placing orders, and so on.

Wouldn’t it be a shame to let all of that data go to waste?

Analyzing your data is a great way to gain insights about your restaurant – insights that can help you make better decisions faster. By implementing advanced data analytics tools, you can analyze current trends, menu performance, customer preferences, and more. 

This data-driven approach allows owners and operators to make better, more informed decisions that will improve the success of the restaurant.

For example, TimeForge’s labor management software is equipped with both predictive and prescriptive analytics. The software can predict what your sales will be like next week and then prescribe to you the right number and types of staff to have on hand to meet customers’ needs. This allows you to be more efficient in your labor allocation, which saves money and improves service levels at the same time.

But this is just one way that data analytics can benefit your business. Depending on the kind of information you’re collecting through your point of sale, inventory software, online ordering system, etc., there’s a TON you can do with your data.

5. Control costs and keep things consistent with policies and procedures 

Two hospitality industry workers taking care of their responsibilities.

Many restaurants struggle to effectively manage their costs. In fact, 60% of restaurants fail during their first year of operation.

One of the main reasons for this is poor cost management. Supply chain disruptions, rising food prices, inflation, and other issues can make managing costs a real hurdle in the restaurant industry. 

To make everything easier, it’s important you use accounting policies and procedures templates.

Accounting policies serve as rules and guidelines that are used by a company for preparing and presenting financial statements. After all, what you can’t track, you can’t know. Especially in the restaurant industry, you want to track all expenses and revenues to see if you are on the right track or not. 

It’s important to manage escalating costs. To increase operational efficiency, set up price guides, conduct regular inventory counts, and keep your kitchen well-organized with the first in, first out (FIFO) method

Keep your labor in line with your sales, and make sure you’re prepared for occasional hiccups in the supply chain. Basically, do your best to continually control the things that are within your power to control. If you do that, you’ll be in good shape.

6. Set the right prices

Many restaurateurs consider the menu to be their most powerful tool, so it’s always a good idea to pay close attention to it.

A restaurant’s profit increases by 10-15% when it has the right price menu.

When deciding which menu to choose, remember to go back and analyze what your competitors are charging and at what quality level. 

However, looking at your competitor’s prices shouldn’t be the only thing you do. After all, trying to match their prices won’t help you if you’re paying more for the same ingredients, for example.

So start by costing your menu, then put your best-selling items at the top, highlighted with visual cues. Don’t list your prices in a column, as this encourages customers to focus on the prices instead of the food.

Finally, if your menu has space for it, add photos next to one or two items per page that you most want to sell. This will help draw attention to those items and drive sales.

7. Train your staff well

A smiling server in an apron helping a customer at a cafe.

In the hospitality business, customer service is just as important as the food – if not more so.

That’s something every member on the team needs to know: the BOH could be cooking up the best food in the world, but if the FOH is rude, makes a lot of mistakes, or is short-handed, you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot.

On the other hand, the food could be a little sub-par, but if the service is excellent, customers can still walk away with a positive impression.

This is why it’s so important to have a courteous, well-trained staff. Even if a server doesn’t know every item on the menu yet, if they’re attentive and prompt in getting the information the customer wants, the customer will appreciate the effort.

To train your staff, host regular sessions and provide servers with ample opportunity to ask questions. Roleplaying is a great way to teach new servers the ropes, for example.

Have your more experienced servers take turns playing the part of the customer and walk through different ordering scenarios. At the end of each one, there should be a debrief where the more experienced server coaches the new hire and addresses any mistakes that were made.

Finally, don’t forget to poka-yoke your operations to help minimize mistakes!

8. Remember to ask for feedback 

Let’s face it. No one enjoys criticism. It stings. Sometimes it seems unfair; at other times, it may even be incorrect.

Whatever the case, it’s important to have a thick skin in the restaurant business. You want to know what improvements you can make, and the most direct way to find out what customers think is to ask them for their feedback.

Maybe it’s your staff, food quality, or something else that could use a change. There’s always room for improvement and asking for feedback is one of the simplest, most straight-forward ways of doing so.

As with having a help desk, feedback helps route complaints to you so that you can address them before they become a problem on Yelp. 

Finally, when you ask for feedback, you create opportunities to connect with the customer. You could offer them a coupon or voucher in exchange for their feedback so that they feel valued; meanwhile, you increase the likelihood that they’ll swing by and order again.

Article guest authored by Tony Ademi.

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