Customers Come First
We have spent a considerable amount of time over the last several years working on our brand. I don’t think that independents devote as much time to this as it warrants. People need to know who you are and what you stand for. When a customer arrives at your restaurant, the infamous first appearance is what you hang your hat on. Sometimes a customer’s first visit is simply by accident; someone just needs to use your bathroom. They walk in and ask to use the restroom. Are you one of those restaurateurs who explains that restrooms are for customers only, or are you someone who gets it and says, “right this way”. If you turn someone away, do you think they’ll ever come back and dine in your restaurant? I would say definitely not, as a matter of fact; I’ll bet they’ll tell all their friends just how unfriendly your restaurant is. Remember, we are in the hospitality business. Our goal is to serve the public and provide them with a great experience. Sometimes it’s the little details that separate the great restaurants from all the rest.
This is where building your brand comes in. When that person comes in to use your restroom, not only should you show them where it is, on their way out, you should be handing them a copy of your menu to take with them. We have four-color coated stock menus to hand out to our customers; in addition we have beautiful postcards with an aerial view of our restaurant that we give away for free. The cost is only about a nickel apiece and we give away about ten thousand a year. People mail them to their friends all over the country to show them where they ate, or where they are on vacation. Where can you spend five hundred dollars and have ten thousand people individually impacted by your restaurant. These are some of the ideas we have for building our brand. Most restaurateurs tend to focus on the cost of the printed menus or postcards, what they’re missing is the intrinsic value that these items gain your restaurant. Imagine customers receiving a free five-cent postcard and then turn around and spend upwards of thirty cents to mail it to a friend or relative. I love when customers ask if they can take more than one, “Are you kidding me”, with word of mouth marketing like that, who needs newspapers.
When was the last time you really took a look at your operation? Do yourself a favor and go out and take pictures of the front of your building with your digital camera and then put them up on your computer and take a good look at them. This is your drive by look that customers see everyday. Does your building look tired? Do you need a paint job? Are your awnings tired? People are forming opinions of your restaurant before they even enter your building. That famous first impression is sometimes formed before a customer even dines in your restaurant. How’s your signage? Can customers read your sign when they drive by? This is particularly important detail. I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by a restaurant and the sign was hidden behind bushes or vines. Don’t forget your lighting, if you have spotlights burned out or inadequate lighting in your parking lot; customers are going to be leery of stopping. Make sure and project a safe and friendly image, you want to look inviting to your customers.
In today’s economy, it’s hard enough to hang onto the business we have. If you want to grow your business in a down economy, details matter. It all begins with your existing customer, if they are happy and spreading the word, you business will continue to grow. If your existing customer base is unhappy, all the marketing in the world isn’t going to help. Listen to your customers and pay attention to what they’re telling you. If you always run the same vegetable and your customers hate it, listen to them and change it. It’s amazing what your customers will tell you if you let them.
The key to a great customer relationship is to have a two-way relationship, one that is a win- win. When you achieve this relationship with your customers, they become your ambassadors. If you can develop this kind of relationship, the sky is the limit with you business.