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Most restaurants evolve over time and changing a restaurant menu will often be part of the process. Here are seven things you’ll want to do if it’s time to make big changes to your restaurant’s menu.

7 Things to do Before Changing a Restaurant Menu

We recently read an entrepreneurial success story about the restaurant industry on app.com where a restaurant owner said that if there was one thing they would do differently, it would have been to have designed their kitchen differently, because their menu has grown and changed so much in the decade since the restaurant opened.

This is probably true for a lot of restaurant owners. The menu items that inspired your restaurant concept to begin with have probably evolved since you opened, and you’ve probably tested and added many other new food and beverage options over time. Some of these were probably easy to do given your current setup; others, not so much. And there may have even been some things you wanted to try but couldn’t due to facility limitations.

It got us to thinking about what it would take for a restaurant owner who wanted to make major changes to the menu or even – essentially – launch a whole new restaurant concept including a complete change of menu within the confines of their current location and space. From changes to the competitive marketplace, regional consumer demographics, or rules and regulations governing the food service industry, there are many reasons why you might be thinking about changing a restaurant menu. Here are seven things you can do to help ensure the success and growth of your business as you make these changes.

7 Things to Consider When Changing a Restaurant Menu

Facility

Whether you are opening your first restaurant, making tweaks to your menu or changing a restaurant menu completely, there’s no question that your facility’s layout, equipment, kitchen, storage, etc. has the ability to limit your options or even put the kibosh on your plan.

Financing

Whether proposed changes mean you need to make updates and buy equipment in order to add new menu items or your entire facility will need to be remodeled in order to accommodate a complete overhaul of your overall restaurant concept, it’s highly likely that you may need some time of restaurant equipment financing to complete the project.

Our restaurant cash advance financing might be an ideal option for you. It can be used for a wide variety of purposes, even including covering payroll and expenses if your restaurant renovation means that your doors will be closed for a short period of time. Since a restaurant cash advance financing can provide funding in a matter of days (not weeks), you can even consider this restaurant financing tool mid-renovation if need be. It’s a great financing alternative for businesses that expect to add new revenue, as might occur when changing a restaurant menu to add new menu items or renovating in order to attract more people in the local area.

Existing Customer Base

Obviously you don’t want to change your restaurant’s menu only to find that you have lost loyal customers as a result. If retaining people from your existing customer base is important, then it’s also important for you to consult them along the way as you consider making major changes to your menu or facility. Use surveys, hold focus groups and invite some of your most loyal customers to be part of the brainstorming and planning process.

Regional Demographics

If the demographics of consumers in your local area is evolving then it’s going to be important for you to change your restaurant over time as well. Staying on top of census information, trends, and information such as an influx of new residents or major employers entering or leaving your region can all point to areas of opportunity for your restaurant.

Major Players

If you are making major changes to your restaurant menu or completely changing your restaurant’s concept, it would be wise to touch base with influencers who can help to make sure that these changes bring in new customers. Major area employers, city leaders, civic influencers (such as Rotarians, Chamber of Commerce, Clergy, Educators, etc.) and internal VIPs such as board members, investors, vendors, and suppliers could all potentially go on to this list.

Available Talent

One really important thing to consider when changing a restaurant menu is sustainability; in other words, is there enough available food service talent in your local area to staff and run your restaurant under it’s new concept. If your concept is innovative, requires special skills or knowledge, or is unfamiliar to current and/or prospective staff, plan for a longer learning curve and a formal training program.

While the downside might be a more expensive orientation and training program, it’s important to remember that the customer experience is key. The more you invest in ensuring a unique, intriguing, buzz-worthy restaurant experience, the more likely you are to generate public interest, word of mouth referrals and repeat patronage.

Build Up Buzz Marketing

Sometimes how you launch is every bit as important as what you launch. Whether you are just announcing a few new restaurant menu items or you have done a complete restaurant renovation, the direct and email marketing, social media, restaurant website updates and public relations you put to work to let people know about what you are about to do (and/or what you’ve just done) have the power to put customers in seats. This is important not only in terms of validating your decisions (especially if board members or investors have doubts) but is also important for creating buzz, generating referrals, paying off any debt incurred in the process – and of course for the sustainability and success of your business in the future.

You might also likePrep for Growth – 9 Ideas for Growing a Restaurant

Short of biting back, how can you respond in order to make sure that your reputation isn’t hurt by a bad restaurant review?

A Menu of Options for Responding to a Bad Restaurant Review

Did someone post a bad restaurant review about your business? Find out how to repair the damage, salvage customer relationships and recover after someone posts a negative review about your restaurant online.

It’s no fun to discover that a consumer has posted a negative review about your restaurant on social networks or a public review site. Few in the restaurant industry missed the social media storm that hit “Kitchen Nightmares” restaurant reality show featuring the owners of Scottsdale, AZ’s Amy’s Baking Company. Not only did the show’s host, Gordon Ramsay, actually give up on his attempt to help the company, things seemed only to go from bad to worse, including an onslaught of scathing social media posts on the company page and across the internet.

While it’s unlikely that your restaurant would ever find itself in a media meltdown, it points to the importance of having a plan for how you will deal with a bad restaurant review, customer complaints and social media slights that could damage the reputation of your restaurant and impact profitability. Your plan should also ensure PR training for employees, who could find themselves in the position of a spokesman needing to defend the reputation of your restaurant.

Who, What, When, Where and Why – Tips for Responding to a Bad Restaurant Review

Who Should Respond to a Bad Restaurant Review

While the first choice for “who” should be the one to respond to a negative review, social media post or customer complaint might be the restaurant owner or a designated marketing or public relations officer, it’s also important that a back-up be identified in the case that an individual is traveling, ill or unable to respond in a timely manner for some other reason.

What Will Merit a Response

Remember that it’s impossible to please everyone all of the time. Few (if any) restaurants receive 5-star ratings from every patron. A few negative comments here and there are not likely to damage the reputation of your restaurant or deter patronage provided there are several positive reviews and good ratings to offset them.

Every negative comment will not merit a response. Your media policy should include a general outline of the type of bad reviews or negative social media updates that will (or may not) require a response. In general, you only need to respond to bad reviews or negative ratings you feel have real potential to hurt your business in some way.

When to Respond to a Bad Restaurant Review

Depending on the topic of a bad review, you may want to delay your response until you have a chance to take other actions; such as:

  • investigating the complaint
  • contacting the individual personally
  • deciding what type of amends you want to offer
  • exploring the options available to you depending on the policies of the platform where the review was left (Yelp, CitySearch, Facebook, Google+, etc.)

When you do respond, make every effort to keep the conversation positive. Focus on the merits of your restaurant, staff, menu and other positives. Offer amends that can lead to a positive outcome for all parties. Avoid making comments that could be construed as personal insults or insinuations.

Keeping to the high road when you respond could be enough to protect the reputation of your restaurant from potential damage. Likewise, it can even bring in new business and motivate loyal customers to come back more often, not only offsetting any potential lost profits but actually increasing them.

Where to Respond

Ideally, you would be able to leave a response directly at the source. For instance, if the poor review came in the form of a social status update, the best place to respond might be as a direct reply or private message. If it’s not possible to leave a direct reply, you may need to post an open response on your own social media pages, blog, website or even include a response in your email newsletter.

Why a Bad Restaurant Review Can Be a Good Thing

Bad reviews can produce positive outcomes and these could come in many different forms, such as:

  • Discovering inadequacies in the customer experience
  • Identifying the need for staff training in general, or in specific areas
  • Fixing sub-par menu items or recipes
  • Providing opportunities to make amends with an unhappy customer
  • Giving you a chance to garner the attention of local press and build brand awareness
  • Laying the groundwork for better online marketing and reputation management

With the industry revenues projected to increase, restaurateurs will have many opportunities for growing a restaurant if properly prepped for growth. 

Growing a restaurant a real possibility, as half say restaurant sales will rise over the next 6 months.

52 percent of restaurateurs reported an increase in sales in January, down from 60 percent who said the same in December. Despite the drop in numbers, half of the respondents said they believe sales will rise over the next six months. However, not all restaurants are in the best position to grow. Here are nine key ways you can position and equip your restaurant to grow this year.

9 Tips for Growing a Restaurant Faster than Your Competitors

  •  Reassess Standards

From standards of service to the style and ambiance you want for your restaurant, now is a great time to reassess in order to identify areas where your restaurant can improve.

  •  Put the Right People in Place and Equip them for Success

Reassessing standards may reveal areas where staff lack in skills or fall short when it comes to the mindset and attitude you want to characterize in your organizational culture. To position your restaurant for growth, you will need everyone pulling together; this may involve reorganizing your staffing structure, providing training or re-training in needed skills, team building or strategic hires and layoffs.

  •  Identify New Target Markets

If your customer base is not large enough or your target market is a fairly small portion of local demographics, you need to identify new target markets and determine how you will reach out to them. Likewise, if in your reassessment you made significant changes to what your restaurant will be like in the future, you will need to plan how you will help to transition your current customers into the new format and/or how you will reach out to the buyer types most likely to respond favorably to the organizational changes you’ve made.

  •  Line Up Financing

Making repairs, renovating, redecorating – whether planning to make major or only minor changes, you still may need to line up financing in order to be prepared to capitalize on growth during your busiest months, seasons or holidays.

A restaurant cash advance could provide your restaurant with a quick infusion of working capital, based on its own sales trends, which can be used to make repairs, replace equipment, for remodeling or redecorating or even expansion. Since a restaurant cash advance is not a loan, approval doesn’t come down to a credit score or collateral, and it doesn’t affect personal or business credit.

  •  Build or Revise Your Website

Today, growing a restaurant requires an online presence. Without a restaurant website optimized for local search, chances are your restaurant is already losing out when it comes to attracting new customers. Studies show that restaurants are the most-searched-for industry on mobile. What’s more, when people do search for a restaurant, 64 percent convert immediately or within 1 hour.

  •  Add Mobile Apps and Compatibility

A significant portion of all web traffic now occurs on mobile devices; and for restaurants, even more. Often a local consumer is using their Smartphone or tablet while in the car, out shopping, after attending an event or on the road for some other reason to find nearby dining options.

If you don’t have a website with responsive design, chances are your website doesn’t provide a good user experience (if it gets found in online search at all). However, there are mobile apps which can instantly create a mobile version of your existing website. You should be able to customize the app to match your brand for just a few dollars each month and mobile restaurant apps abound to help you attract and convert new customers online. Even better? Ditch that lackluster obsolete website for a bright shiny new WordPress website, instead. Choose a template that features responsive design and gives you the ability to customize the site to align with your restaurant’s brand. There are thousands of free and inexpensive WordPress themes and plugins available, giving you the ability to put forward a professional digital brand image in a website that generates foot traffic, as well as web traffic.

  •  Review Your Layout

Growing a restaurant may require that you add more square feet or rework your restaurant’s design. Expanding to a new location or adding more square feet to your restaurant is one way to increase your restaurant capacity; however, it’s not the only way. You may be able to increase capacity by redesigning your restaurant’s physical layout. You may already have ideas on how this can be done, or it may be well-worth hiring an efficiency expert to assist. If cash reserves are standing in your way, restaurant equipment financing can provide the working capital needed for repairs or replacing aging equipment.

  •  Remodel and Redecorate

Over the years, colors, artwork, furnishings, tableware and other décor that was once en vogue may now be out of style. Likewise, the years take their toll in wear and tear. Now could be a great time to redecorate your restaurant in order to reflect the ambiance you want it to have, the attitude you want to project or the target markets you want to attract.

  •  Master Social Skills

Mastering social skills today means something different than it did before. Today, mastering social skills requires that you identify, acquire and adapt your restaurant’s social presence online, on the social networks where your target markets are most likely to find you. While most social networks are free to use, you may also consider some strategically paid placements or boosted posts in order to keep your brand in front of local consumers, grow your networks and attract customers.

While Supplies Last!  6 Reasons to Offer LTO Restaurant Promotions Create Customer Cravings and Get Them In the Door of your Restaurant, Bar or Coffee Shop

LTO Restaurant Promotions Spark Demand by Limiting Supply

Restaurant chains are on a spending spree when it comes to advertising. In fact, as the economy began to recover from The Great Recession, spending on restaurant advertising rose as much as 5x faster than total U.S. ad spending. In part, this was an effort by chain restaurants to steal market share from competitors using limited-time-only offers. You probably can’t outspend your competitors, but LTO promotions (limited time offers) could help you spark demand among local patrons.

Why do big restaurant chains and coffee shops offer customer favorites like rib-filled sandwiches and pumpkin spice lattes only for a few months every year?  Because it works!

And if LTO restaurant promotions work for big restaurants and coffee chains, it can work for your restaurant too. We came up with six ways to create customer cravings that can only be satisfied in your restaurant.

How LTO Restaurant Promotions and Time-Limited Offers Work to Increase Revenue

1.  Signature* menu items create new fans and build customer loyalty. 

Creating signature menu items – in and of itself – provide you with unique opportunities to promote your restaurant to new market segments.  When someone becomes a fan of something they can only get at your restaurant, coffee house or bar, they have to come back to get it.

*Just what is a signature menu item?  Just like a person’s handwritten signature, signature restaurant menu items should be unique to your restaurant and outside of the norm of what is available from competitors in your area.  It should be something that your establishment can become known for (and none of your competitors can offer, or match).

2.  LTO (limited time only) signature menu items create demand. 

When your unique menu items are offered only for a limited time, it gives you the ability to boost demand among your loyal customer base as well as individuals who are fans of that signature menu item with a sense of urgency, because that menu item will be going away in the near future. In fact, seasonal menu items may well bring in customers more often than they normally return, and even create a subconscious habit of returning more often to your restaurant, bar or coffee shop in the process.

3.  LTO restaurant promotions with signature menu items ignite consumer interest.

  • Customers will be looking for – and reading – your digital and offline communications with greater interest as they hope to see that their favorite signature menu item is coming back (or which one is coming next)
  • “Foodies” in your area are always on the lookout for something new to try, time-limited menu options help to satisfy their cravings and give your own customers a reason to try something new
  • Word of mouth and buzz marketing occurs as customers spread the word to family, friends, co-workers and social networks that they simply “must try” your LTO before it goes away again
  • LTOs have many of the characteristics of a “publicity stunt,” all on their own, providing you with many opportunities for PR, events and other press-worthy activities

4.  LTO signature menu items can help you steal market share. 

The word of mouth, publicity and intrigue that accompany your time-limited menu options can bring in new customers – not just regulars – and give you an opportunity to expand the ranks of your repeat customer base by providing them with an exceptional experience.

5.  LTO signature menu items can help you make up ground during slow seasons.

We help many restaurants maintain cash flow during slow months or seasonal lulls with restaurant cash advance financing.  Offering signature menu items during your slower months or slow season can boost demand and build restaurant traffic, helping to offset periods when you historically experience a slowdown in traffic and lower profits and revenues.

6.  LTO restaurant promotions help you guide customer demand and become more profitable.

Guiding customer demand with time-limited options may improve your ability to forecast demand overall, allowing you to better control costs and even save money at the same time you are increasing revenues – making your restaurant more profitable.

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We offer restaurant business loans, advances and equipment financing solutions. Find out more how to use our restaurant cash flow and working capital financing tools to grow your business by requesting a free, no-obligation quote.

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Want customers to try the newest items on your restaurant menu? Here are five ways to promote new menu items without cutting profits.

Is it time to add new menu items or introduce a whole new line up?

No matter how delicious, getting people to try new restaurant menu items can be challenging. Many restaurant patrons would like to try something new but fear straying from the familiar. Here are five restaurant marketing ideas that will help you create demand for new restaurant menu items without discounting.

Restaurant marketing poses many inherent challenges, from turning occasional diners into loyal customers to attracting more members of their target audience to creating demand for items newly added to a restaurant’s menu.

There are many reasons why a restaurant may need to add or drop items from its menu, even items regularly ordered by diners. For instance, your restaurant menu may need to have items added (or dropped) when:

  • Demand simply doesn’t match minimum levels of demand needed for profitability
  • Ingredients become more costly or scarce
  • Some type of nutritional regulation or another type of ordinance renders it necessary
  • Your restaurant is evolving into a more targeted model or re-branding itself

But let’s face it: some people don’t like change, and that may include members of your staff as well as some of your restaurant customers. One of the reasons that some restaurant patrons will routinely order only one or two things from your menu is that they found one or two things they like, and they don’t want to risk trying other menu items they may not like as well.

If it’s time to change your restaurant menu and add new items, here are five ways to create demand for your new restaurant options without discounting.

Promoting New Menu Items – 5 Ways to Create Demand without Destroying Profits

•   Hold a free tasting for your wait staff, and pay them for attending.

Who has more ability to do some suggestive selling to undecided restaurant patrons than their server? Since your staff will be routinely asked “what’s good,” or what they would choose, why wouldn’t you ensure they have firsthand knowledge about new (if not all) your restaurant’s menu items?

By the way, this is also a good way test new menu items, get feedback, and make any changes or improvements needed prior to launch in your restaurant!

•   Provide a free mini version or sample to restaurant patrons.

This could be a great value-add to happy hours or a way to thank restaurant patrons in an unexpected way. Create miniature or tasting-size versions of new menu items and provide an offer or incentive for restaurant customers that order full-size versions at a future visit, provided that it occurs within a set period of time.

By the way, these types of offers can also be an inducement that brings customers in more frequently – base your offer expiration dates on the average time between customer visits.

•   Incentivize suggestive selling.

Provide incentives for staff who up-sell customers on trying the new menu items during your launch period.

•   Publicize the launch and popularity of new menu items using reviews.

All of the people who try your new restaurant menu items during their introductory period (including your employees) should be asked to complete a short satisfaction survey about the new item that includes how many stars they would award the item (up to 5) and an open-ended question that lets them describe the new item. Use your ratings and reviews to publicize during the launch period on your website and in your email, social media, SMS text message and other marketing.

•   Hold an exclusive open house or tasting event for influencers or your best customers.

People like to feel important and special. Close the doors of your restaurant or close a room off from the general public and invite community influencers (such as the people in your business networking groups, civic or city organizations, etc.) or a collection of your most loyal customers to a V.I.P. tasting event featuring your new restaurant menu items.

Get their feedback including restaurant menu reviews and comments and use them to market the new items on your restaurant’s menu on your website, email newsletter, social media updates and text message marketing. Create tent cards for your tables or inserts for your menu which include early feedback, 5-star reviews and comments from those who loved the new menu item.

You might also like: 3 Ways to Get Restaurant Word of Mouth Marketing

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Revamping your restaurant point of sale with a custom restaurant credit card processing solution could be another way to improve the customer experience and your restaurant’s efficiency. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free assessment of your current restaurant card processor – we’ll be happy to make recommendations and let you know whether you could be saving money with lower credit card processing rates or better equipment.

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Size matters, at least when it comes to a restaurant email and SMS text marketing contact list. Find out how to build your lists and how to use them for customer acquisition.

It’s time to make restaurant email and SMS text marketing the superstars in your restaurant marketing plan.

If you are looking for the most effective ways to attract customers and bring diners back more often in the months ahead, perfecting your restaurant email and SMS marketing tactics could be an ideal place to start. To reach more of your target market, make sure you are taking advantage of every opportunity to grow your text and email contact lists

5 ways to grow restaurant email and SMS contact lists:

Based on the tactics that marketing professionals identified as most effective in growing contacts lists for a business, here are five ways to grow your restaurant’s email contact list:

1. Capture it on an in-bound call or text.

Make capturing a mobile phone number or email address part of the standard script for staff who answer the phones to take reservations or field questions about your restaurant’s hours, menu or facility.

2. Make it a requirement.

Capture an email address or mobile phone number when someone makes a reservation, books an event, fills out any type of form on your website or joins your loyalty or rewards programs.

3. Use it for follow up.

Suggestion and survey forms can — and should — be used to obtain email addresses and mobile phone numbers so that you have a way to follow up when needed.

4. In exchange for instant gratification.

Create online registration forms and ask customers to register while dining or at the point of sale and provide you with email address and/or mobile phone number in exchange for a special offer, discount or free add-on.

5. Include opt-in forms on your website and mobile site landing pages.

Ask site visitors to opt-in with an email address or mobile phone number when accessing certain parts of your website, in order to use your mobile app or to download recipes, party tips or other special content from your web or mobile site.

5 ways to use restaurant email and SMS marketing in real time:

Real time marketing is marketing either done on the fly in response to breaking opportunities or scheduled in such a way that it coincides with actions that consumers are taking in real time, such as looking for a local restaurant at a given time of day.

Restaurants that master real time marketing tactics have a huge advantage over competitors, because nearly 90% of those searching local restaurants on a mobile device take action within 24 hours.  Source: marketingland.com.  

Five real time marketing tactics that can help you grow your restaurant include:

  1. Email and text message marketing sent just prior to peak dining hours (for breakfast, coffee, lunch, dinner, cocktails – wherever the specialty of your restaurant lies)
  2. WiFi on-premises to automatically check in mobile devices set to do so
  3. Special offers sent to email or smartphones triggered by a visit to your web or mobile site
  4. Providing mobile and web online ordering capabilities, online reservation apps, or making data available on your web or mobile site that tells whether you have tables available or how long the wait is
  5. Send special offers or freebies sent to customers based on anniversaries, birthdays, job anniversaries and other special occasions

With hundreds – if not thousands – of restaurants to choose from in any given urban area it might be tempting to believe that innovative restaurant ideas are hard to come by. Here are ten innovative restaurant indeas that offer proof that the best – and most innovative – restaurant ideas may be yet to come.

10 Innovative Restaurant Ideas Provide Inspiration for the Hospitality Industry

Pizza in a bowl. Spaghetti that can be eaten on the go. Sub sandwiches turned into salads – nearly any popular food or drink can be reimagined into a new form and served up in a new, buzz-worthy way.

Inspiration: NYC’s Spaghetti Incident, which serves up spaghetti in containers that are ready to go on the road.

2. Different strokes for different folks.

Innovative restaurant ideas aren’t just about menu items. Extend exclusive hours or offers to loyalty club members, seniors, singles or those defined by other differentiators. Draw up separate menus customized to specialty diner preferences; i.e., whole menus just for vegetarians, people with gluten allergies, dieters, etc., so they don’t have to look longingly at things they cannot have.

Inspiration: Nando’s Peri-Peri s in Chicago, whose owner treats the people who live and work nearby as their top priority, giving them a chance to experience each of their restaurants in the days before each location’s grand opening.

3. Digital Kiosks and Table POS Displays

Walk into a small town American diner and you’re likely to see an old-fashioned dessert case where pastries and pies sit on display, waiting to be bought or ordered. Technology makes it possible for any restaurant to create a virtual display case on kiosks or tabletop POS where patrons could see everything and anything on the menu including photos, chef’s notes and real diner reviews.

Inspiration: Rhode Island-based Chelo’s Hometown Bar and Grille has a virtual pie case that gives diners a mouth-watering peek at the desserts that are fresh right now.

4. Indulgence Themed Restaurants

Providing truly unique experiences may be the ultimate in innovative restaurant ideas. Arby’s off-the-menu “Meat Mountain” made the news when viral buzz let carnivorous diners know they could order a sandwich that included every meat sold in the chain’s sandwiches all on one incredible sandwich. Restaurants that devote themselves to simple ideas and single concepts could win over meat lovers, veggie lovers, fruit lovers, dessert lovers, and others who only have one thing on their minds.

Inspiration: Another innovative Chicago restaurant, RPM Steak repurposes butchering trimmings to make meaty rubs to brush onto steaks in lieu of butter.

5. Mood Menus

Keeping with the idea of themed-restaurants in this list of innovative ideas, establishments could devote themselves to menus that offer pick-me-ups for people feeling the blues, passion-inspiring foods for love birds, foods that pacify for people who are angry or calming choices for people who feel anxious or overly enthused.

Inspiration: Bespoke Oysters in Washington DC, which classifies itself as “passion food hospitality.”

6. Wait-less Restaurants

Diners might want service to slow down – not speed up – in restaurants that offer food for the brain as well as the body. There are countless ways that you could add activities and games to the menu. Supply paper and crayons by way of butcher-paper-covered tables like they do at Romano’s Macaroni Grill. Print out word searches or crossword puzzles. Provide patrons with short stories or poems to read while they wait. Hold digital trivia contests where diners can compete with the computer, staff, others at their table or against other tables in the restaurant.

Inspiration: The walls of the Plum Bar in Oakland, CA  are lined with pages taken from real poetry books, chosen by the owner and staff. The Ampersand at Kinmont in Chicago, a 600-foot private event space whose walls are – literally – a ready canvas for guests as they are completely covered in chalkboard.

7. Two of a Kind Menus

Go the extra mile in making recommendations so that if a patron is ordering a cheese burger, they will know it’s perfect pairings for drinks, sides, appetizers and desserts. Think of it as an upscale way to mimic the ‘combo’ upsell done every day, all day long in the fast food industry.

Inspiration: Scrumptious drink and dessert pairings offered up at Gamlin Whiskey House in St. Louis, MO.

8. Designated Dining

Choose a new charity to benefit each month of the year, or choose a handful and let diners decide where  a portion of their evenings’ spend will go. Highlight local causes which are likely to be near and dear to your target market’s hearts. This will be great fodder for PR, social media and email marketing, giving diners one more reason to choose your restaurant. Keep a tally on website and digital display so patrons feel good every time they walk through the door.

Inspiration: Seattle’s Saltys Waterfront Seafood and Grill donates thousands of dollars every year to more than 300 local charities with their gift cards for auctions and fund raisers. The idea of dining out for charity is such a natural fit that the National Restaurant Association (NRA) has even listed a set of tips for restaurants that want to choose the right local charities for their give-back programs.

9. Key Takeaways

Left-overs don’t have to be the only momento a diner takes away from your restaurant and innovative restaurant ideas aren’t just about what happens at your place of business. This about what you could give diners in the form of a small gift, gift card or some other takeaway that keeps your restaurant top of mind long after the visit is over.

Inspiration: Jax Café in Minneapolis, which prints personalized matchbooks on-site for guests.

10. Crowdsourced LTO

Give your patrons the ability to vote up drinks, appetizers, entrees and desserts they want to see on the menu next month. Require email or mobile phone number for voting so that you can notify them when their voted-on items get added to the menu and extend a special offer for them to return to thank them for voting.

Inspiration: Dallas’s Kitchen LTO, a permanent pop-up restaurant which features a new menu, chef and décor every 6 months.

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Consumers find new restaurants to visit via online search and word of mouth, but this isn’t what brings first-timers back. These five restaurant first impressions can leave new patrons with positive perceptions that can bring them back for more.

The Power of Positive Restaurant First Impressions: Make It and They Will Come

As a restaurateur you might assume that your food is the beginning and end of what brings customers back; but that simply isn’t so.

The expectations a first time customer has when they visit your restaurant may vary widely and cover everything from quality of service to how soft the toilet paper is in your restrooms. Depending on where they heard about your restaurant, how it was described and what is most important to them personally, the food your restaurant serves is only one of many aspects that might produce the positive restaurant first impressions needed to bring first-time guests back.

Five Restaurant First Impressions that Create Positive Customer Perceptions

1. Marketing Presence

Can a customer easily find your business online through search results, social media outlets, directories or by typing in your business name as a website? Today consumers look for local restaurants online. Your restaurant first impression is non-existent if your website can’t be easily discovered in online search.

Customers are searching online for quick and easy answers and a reported 57% of consumers view a restaurants website before dining there (statisticbrain.com). When they do so, hours of operations, current reviews, and menu selections are among the most common questions. Before walking into a restaurant the customer uses the restaurant’s online marketing presence to validate their decision to visit. In addition, word of mouth through friends, colleagues and online may also decide whether a customer will visit or look elsewhere.

2. Cleanliness

For most restaurant-goers, there is an unwritten expectation that any establishment they visit in order to eat will be organized and sanitized from the front of house to the back where food is prepared in the kitchen. Customers expect to see clean surfaces from top to bottom: table tops, wall molding, fans, floors, and windows – everything should be dust and stain free and properly sanitized. Lack of cleanliness in the front of the house will lead to similar perceptions about how clean and sanitary food preparation and serving areas are.

A second unwritten rule customers expect is the restaurant to be handling food preparation with extreme care. One need only consider the 2015 E. coli outbreak that caused Chipotle’s business – and stock – to tumble or the most famous (infamous?) outbreak which occurred in Jack in the Box restaurants in 1992. Jack in the Box stock took a full five years to recover to pre-outbreak levels and its brand name became synonymous with the problem.

The CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that 1 in 6 Americans (48 million people) get sick each year from foodborne illnesses. More than 100k are hospitalized and 3,000 die as a result. In Washington State alone, where our headquarters are located, up to 60 foodborne illness outbreaks occur affecting as many as 700 people each year (Washington State Department of Health). A customer is dining with the reassurance the food served to them is prepped, cooked, and plated following the State Department Health procedures.

If a first-time customer perceives any area of a restaurant to be less than clean or sanitary, from the hostess station to the table to the restroom, they may make assumptions about the kitchen and serving areas that preclude a second visit, make them hesitate before recommending your restaurant to their friends or colleagues, or may even make them walk out before they give your business a chance.

3. Menu

As restaurant first impressions go, your menu might well have been seen online before a new customer ever arrives. Having a menu that entails a variety of food price points, healthy eating, and options for those with food allergies provides the breadth of choices capable of creating a consistent stream of customers. For restaurants that specialize in certain types of foods that might not be familiar to first-time customers, accurately describing menu items in a way can also be key in helping them make a selection on their first visit that makes them want to come back a second time.

4. Pricing

Most first-time restaurant goers will be looking for menu choices paired with a reasonable price structure (which might be low or high, depending on their perceptions and expectations). In 2013, 45% of respondents stated good prices were very important to them when choosing a restaurant (Statista.com). Many customers also want to be able to estimate how much they will be spending before visiting a restaurant for the first time.

When paying the bill, it’s common for guests to go through a metal check list and evaluate whether they feel they received food in proportion to the price charged and whether the presentation of the food was up to par, whether they enjoyed the ambiance of the restaurant, etc. The more questions they answer with a “yes,” the more likely it is a first-time customer will come back, leave a positive review online, tag your business or check in on social networks, or even recommend your business to their own friends, co-workers and loved ones.

5. Service

Customers are looking for friendly and helpful customer service the moment they walk in the door, regardless of the type or price point of a restaurant. There should be adequate restaurant staff to be present wherever a customer is likely to need assistance – front of house hosts, wait staff, servers, bussers, bar tenders, shift or restaurant managers – each has a role to play in ensuring the customer feels cared for.

From the hostess to the busser, staff need to be an extension of the restaurants mission. A customer is coming to your restaurant to enjoy the food and overall experience.  The team of wait staff needs to be attentive yet not an inconvenience to the guest, and they need to possess the discretion to understand that their level of involvement might vary for different guests and different size and types of parties.

If a first-time customer is likely to respond that their server came by the right number of times and was pleasant, friendly and helpful, they are much more likely to leave with a positive first impression of your restaurant.  A customer is counting on paying for great food and quality service. Even if your restaurant’s food is good, if the service is poor, a first-time customer might not return.

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We may be able to help you reduce your restaurant merchant services fees and we also offer free service and setup for restaurant point of sale solutions:

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How to get your Groupon.Com on, and use daily deals for customer acquisition.

Many business owners have successfully extended offers on daily deals platforms to gain new customers and grow. Take a strategic approach to avoid potential pitfalls and get the most return from your marketing investment.

The prospect of participating in a daily deal program such as groupon.com, land other daily deal sites in order to quickly gain access to hundreds – or even thousands – of new customers has enticed thousands of US business owners into the daily deal game.

But does this marketing tactic pay off? Here are some of the statistics about daily deal programs as noted on scoredealz.com’s Daily Deal Infographic, citing data from factbrowser.com and hubspot.com:

  • Nearly 10% of all US consumers regularly purchase daily deals (and there is room to grow, because 41% of US consumers haven’t even heard of daily deals yet)
  • 80% of daily deal email subscribers have purchased at least one deal in the past six months
  • 48% of daily deal subscribers use them regularly and repeatedly over time
  • More than 1 in 10 daily deal subscribers use them even more frequently as time goes on
daily deals for customer acquisition

And the number that may interest business owners most:

  • 55% of businesses running daily deals actually make money from their promotion, in addition to gaining brand awareness and the opportunity to acquire new customers for the long term 

Of businesses that participated in daily deal programs, 58% said they did so primarily for customer acquisition. But does it work?

  • 68% of customers who bought daily deals returned without another discount being offered
  • 41% of customers who bought a daily deal said they were “certain” they would use the service again
  • 88% of customers who took advantage of a daily deal offer spent more than the deal’s value when they visited the participating business
stats on daily deals for customer acquisition

Business owners that want to use daily deals to grow need to have a daily deal marketing strategy, not just a great offer.

4 Ways to Use Daily Deals to Boost Customer Acquisition

It’s true that daily deal programs can bring an influx of new customers into a business; however, there are pitfalls that some business owners don’t foresee at the outset. Before offering a daily deal of your own, make sure that your business is prepared, so that you can avoid potentially negative outcomes, such as these.

1. Loyal customers, left out of the offer, experience dissatisfaction or even anger at having to pay regular price.

If your offer is limited to new customers only, you run the risk of offending regular customers who have to pay full price for the same products or services. Consider mitigating the impact by giving loyal customers options to:

  • Take advantage of a separate but equivalent type of offer; such as a move up or add on offer
  • Redeem special offers of their own or temporary “VIP” discounts
  • Receive additional loyalty or purchase points or rewards during the offer period

2. Loyal customers can experience dissatisfaction, or even anger, if they perceive that daily deal redeemers are taking their time slots, making it difficult to book an appointment or negatively impacting their customer experience in some way.

To avoid the bottleneck that booking dozens – or even hundreds – of daily deal offer redeemers could create:

  • Plan to book only a given number of daily deals per day / week; for instance, if you sell 100 daily deals, set aside 25 appointment times per week over 4 weeks, rather than trying to accommodate them all within days of offer purchase.
  • Pre-book regular customers or pre-sell products to them so that they feel like they are your first priority.
  • Expand staffing and hours of operation in order to accommodate the additional traffic – a merchant cash advance can be used to cover additional operating expenses such as hiring temporary staff, paying additional staff hours or overtime, keeping the lights on for more hours during the day and the other operating expenses that accompany increased demand.

3. If your daily deal sells like wild fire, you may find that your business does not have the retail inventory or products needed to fulfill them, or depleted inventories might lead to dissatisfaction for regular customers who cannot purchase from you as a result.

In order to avoid this potential pitfall, you should plan to stock up on retail and product inventory against the number of daily deals you anticipate selling. You may also be able to work with your own suppliers to create contingency and quick order options that allow you to quickly restore waning inventory or purchase the products you need to fulfill customer’s services.

  • A merchant cash advance can provide you with the working capital you need to pay vendors and suppliers for retail and product inventories you will need to honor the daily deals.

Depending on your product or service daily deal offer, you may need to plan weeks or even months ahead in order to have enough retail or product on hand to fulfill new customer orders (and continue to serve existing customers).

4. Cash flow and profit margins will be negatively impacted for a short period of time while your daily deal runs — potentially for up to 120 days.

When daily deals are being redeemed, operating costs are likely to increase while profits decrease (because you are selling products or services in the daily deal offer at about 25% of their regular selling price, when you take into account a 50% discount and 25% – or more – going to the daily deal program administrator).

  • A merchant cash advance can be used to cover the temporary cash flow shortage created while you operate for several weeks at reduced profit margins.

Remember, there will be a gap of 3 months – or even more – between the time that your daily deal is sold and the time when the daily deal program administrator forwards you the portion of proceeds due to you from sale of the daily deals on their site. It’s important for you to have sufficient cash flow while you are waiting for your share of the proceeds. If you can successfully up-sell and cross-sell additional items to new customers attracted by the daily deal, this can help to bridge the gap as well as reduce the hit to your margins in offering products or services at such a low rate.