The formula for a successful restaurant is somewhat of a chicken-and-egg equation. Do you cook and serve what you want and hope to attract a following, or do you look for trends and popular dishes and tweak your menu to meet those demands?
Unless you’re a creative genius or just really, really lucky, you must start out with at least a pulse on the market—know a little about what today’s diners want. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of studies revealing such information.
"The Why Behind the Dine," a recent report by research firm Technomic and Acosta, a sales and marketing company, helps restaurants identify just what prompts people to visit a restaurant for their meal. The following are five key takeaways from the report that should help steer you toward more customers and therefore more revenue.
1. Keep up with the Joneses.
Today’s consumers have more options than ever before. Even if they’ve already decided to eat out rather than cook at home, they have more choices now than ever. There are 520,000 restaurants in the U.S. alone, according to Technomic.
So monitor what your competitors are offering and look for a way to differentiate yourself. Know what’s in your market and, more importantly, what’s not in your market. By identifying the right niche for themselves, restaurants can become go-to destinations nearly invulnerable to competition.
However, today’s restaurateurs need to expand their thinking beyond just the street corner market. Grocery stores and online delivery options continue to expand their offerings, making them a threat to business. While you’re exploring your culinary niche, also consider the value proposition you offer to patrons who dine in your restaurant as opposed to ordering takeout.
2. Go healthy or go home.
Yes, full-service restaurants offer an escape from the kitchen and can provide a reason to splurge. Not all diners are counting calories. But more and more are. And the sweet spot for most restaurants isn't customers celebrating a special occasion, but those just looking for a simple meal at a reasonable cost.
Keep these everyday diners in mind when tailoring your offerings. Have a few menu items that are simple and healthy—something that guests might want to pick up on the way home so that they don't need to cook.
Health and wellness are “megatrends causing a disruptive shift across consumer lifestyle markets,” according to the report. The challenge for you is to create healthy menu items that don’t sacrifice value or taste.
3. Consider the price-value equation
Even as we exit one of the worst recessions in history, value remains a critical factor in where diners choose to eat. Younger diners and those with children are the most price-conscious, according to the report, and therefore the groups most likely to engage in promotions and savings strategies. So target your deals accordingly.
Keep in mind that while coupons and promotions are near the top of important influences on dining decisions, they follow other more important factors like location and the influence of family and friends.
4. Leverage digital tools
When is the best time to use digital technology to connect with your consumers? Before they even decide where to go. The report says consumers are interacting with a restaurant’s digital channels more before they come in to eat than afterward, in most cases when they’re looking for deals or promotions. In a survey, 52 percent of respondents said they are “often” or “sometimes” impacted by restaurants that send emailed coupons.
While they might use digital tools to complete a customer satisfaction survey (45 percent), most do not go as far as posting dining comments to a restaurant’s social media page.