3 Amazing Hacks for a Struggling Restaurant

Why do some restaurants struggle while some thrive?

This question is loaded with variables, of course, but the reality is that some restaurants just know how to do business better than others.

Fortunately, there are several tricks of the trade and somewhat unique innovations that every struggling business should consider before rolling up its doors and closing.

The following three hacks can have a huge impact on any restaurant - struggling or not:

Create a "New Customer" Experience

First time customers are an opportunity to create a first impression - one that will stick with them long after they leave the establishment.

For this reason, it is imperative that a struggling restaurant consider the impression it makes on a brand new customer.

Explaining the Process

For example, I love to frequent FlatTop Grill in Chicago and Fort Wayne.  This Mongolian style restaurant allows guests to choose their raw food in a buffet type line which is then cooked on a grill and served by wait staff.

But the process is confusing if you have never done it before.  And even worse - if you don’t know what you are doing, you are likely to create a meal that doesn’t taste that good.

Therefore, FlatTop has a process where the servers ask every guest if it is there first time there.  If it is, the server will walk them through the process helping to ensure a fantastic experience.

Giving a First-Timer Bonus

Another example of a new customer experience is at a local Barbecue restaurant that is known for their variety of sauces.  Typically, they provide one sauce for free with a meal and charge for additional sauces.

If you are a first time guest, however, they make an exception and provide the guest with a “sauce tray” that features all of their best sauces.  This ensures that new guests are able to find the sauce they like - making their first impression a fantastic one.

New customer experiences are nothing new, but they are something that often seems to be overlooked or forgotten.

If you specialize in something and have a fantastic product, why not make sure that your new guests get a chance to experience your best while they are forming a first impression?

Create a Membership or Club

The second sales hack any struggling restaurant should consider is to create a membership club.

A membership club allows customers to become a part of something larger - they begin to advocate for and support the restaurant.  In addition, a membership or club can offer exclusive benefits that are unavailable to those customers who are not members.

The Mug Club

For example, a local brewery in my hometown offer something called the “mug club.”  The club is designed so that club members get their own beer mug that hangs on a wall near the bar. 

When a mug club member comes in, they get to use their mug, which is slightly larger than the pint cups that all other customers drink out of.  In addition, they have special discount nights for club members on nights that are typically slow.

A Special Menu

Another example of a restaurant membership is when a restaurant provides a special menu that is only available to the members of the restaurant.  While dining is available to anyone from the community, on the members can enjoy the oversized, mouth-watering items on the member-only menu.

A Premium Perk

A third example of a perk available to members could be a unique free side or drink.  Things like garlic bread or cucumber water could be made available only to members of the restaurant club.

A restaurant membership or club does a few important things:

  • It allows for residual income when a monthly or annual fee is assessed.
  • It allows the restaurant to collect an e-mail address that can be used to market past customers - who are much easier to get into the store than new customers.
  • It provides members with an incentive to return as they feel they need to utilize their investment
  • It helps members to build loyalty to the establishment and advocate for the restaurant.

For a struggling restaurant, a free, trial membership could be offered to select groups of customers.  The goal would be to establish a clear funnel as to how these free members will be converted into paying members of the restaurant.

Design Service Standard Systems

The final hack any struggling restaurant should implement is to design systems that ensure consistency in the guests experience. 

The system should address the whole guest experience and establish standards for employee actions.  

Design a Unique Greeting

For example, Moe’s Southwest Grill has implemented a system where all employees yell “Welcome to Moe’s!” when a guest walks into the store.  This greeting provides guests with an instant acknowledgement and sets the mood for a great visit.

The Initial Greeting

When a guest is seated, the system should ensure that menus are immediately provided and that the server (or substitute if the server is unavailable) acknowledges the guests within a minute or two of being seated.  Any longer than this and the guests can start to feel neglected.

Ring and Bring

Once an order is made by a guest, each server should conduct a “ring and bring.”  A ring and bring is the process of first “ringing” up the order (sending it to the kitchen) and then bringing any extra items to the table that will be needed for the meal.  These items could include plates, napkins, condiments, utensils, and even salads and other early sides.

Two Minute Check-Up

Once the meal comes to the table, a well designed system will require servers to conduct a “two minute check-up”.  I two minute check-up is the process where the server returns within the first two minutes after a guest receives their food to ensure that everything is okay. 

Guests usually don’t discover problems until the server has already dropped of their food an left, and therefore, a “two minute check-up” ensures that guests are not waiting excessive amounts of time on something they need in order to begin eating their meal.

Timely Bill Placement

Finally, a good system will ensure that each server timely delivers and picks up the customers check within a reasonable amount of time.  Nothing kills a perfect meal like waiting excessive amounts of time on a check.

Of course, this isn’t an all inclusive list of items that must go into a system, but these steps help to illustrate what an effective system will do for a guest:

  • It provides continuity for the guest experience
  • It ensures the guest is pro-actively taken care of before problems arise
  • It allows each server the opportunity to make the greatest amount of tips.

Five Bonus Hacks

While the following hacks may not be as amazing as the first three, these hacks can be just as important for any struggling business:

Can the Chef 

Maybe not, but if your restaurant is struggling, it most likely has something to do with food.  If you don’t believe me, hire a food consultant and see what they say about your food.  The bottom line is that every customer comes to your establishment for one reason - to eat the food.

Update Your Website 

In todays marketplace, a website is essential for every restaurant.  Things like directions, hours of operation, and a menu of options should be readily available to anyone visiting your site.  And your site needs to be found whenever someone searches for your type of establishment.  Whether you pay for ads or utilize SEO (search engine optimization) techniques, if you can’t be found on the web, you don’t exist.

Up-sell Your Food 

Up-selling is the art of turning a $20 meal into a $25 or $30 meal without upsetting the customer.  This is done by offering upgrades (double burger, extra cheese), selling packages (value meals, senior meals), and offering complementary items (red wine with steak, appetizer before the meal or dessert after).

Survey Your Customers 

While this isn’t rocket science, asking your customers what they love and hate about your restaurant can provide major opportunities for meeting customer demands and increasing customer satisfaction.  A survey could easily be done by:

  • Having a manager specifically ask each exiting customer to complete it
  • Offering an incentive (free appetizer) to anyone who completes an online survey
  • Running a contest where each survey counts toward an entry into a drawing

Celebrate Birthdays 

The great thing about birthdays is that a whole group of people go out to celebrate one persons birthday.  If a restaurant were to give the birthday guest a free meal on their birthday, that guest would bring several other people with them to celebrate their special day, and free meal.  If done properly, the additional guest would easily pay for the free meal and it would be driving traffic into the store so the restaurant can again prove itself to these guests who may return in the near future.


A Question For You

What other amazing hacks have you seen successfully implemented that could save a struggling restaurant?

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