Engage with the community

Last month we were lucky enough to have dinner on two separate Wednesdays at restaurants in medium-size towns in the South East. The restaurants were both roughly the same size at around 150 covers and were positioned on the edge of busy high streets.

Both restaurants provided excellent service, good food and wine, with a menu at the medium-price range and when we paid the bill we felt we had received full value for money. There was just one small but very important difference and that was one restaurant was nearly empty (only four other people were being served when we arrived and only two more people arrived during our visit) and the other was absolutely full to the rafters throughout the night.

Was this a fluke or was the difference something more fundamental? We decided to be inquisitive and talked to the owners and uncovered something really quite interesting.

Both restaurant owners said that the economic downturn had really affected their mid-week trade but Friday and Saturday night was as busy as ever. They also noticed that if anything people were spending more on that weekend night out and sales of more expensive wines and even champagne had increased.

The quiet restaurant had decided to keep costs tight but had spent some money on some local radio advertising and had changed the menu by introducing a couple of ‘budget’ options. The owner said that their had been no significant increase as a result of this marketing investment and he therefore decided to ride out the economic storm by keeping standards high and costs low. A decent enough strategy.

The busy restaurant had done something quite different. The owner believed that he needed to get out there and engage with the community and so set about introducing a number of initiatives.

l He began sourcing as much as possible from local farms, butchers, the local organic fruit and veg shop, salmon farm, vineyard and local micro brewery, and gave a discount to the staff of all of his suppliers if they ate at the restaurant.

l He started a Saturday morning local food fair in the restaurant car park, encouraging his suppliers to set up stalls and sell their products on a retail basis, while he provided excellent tea and coffee and sold a selected range of items that were on his main menu in snack-size portions to encourage people to sample the great food served in the restaurant at their cost.

l He introduced a ‘Two Courses for pound;20 plus a free bottle of wine’ offer for Monday and Tuesday evenings.

l He started a Comedy Night on Sunday evenings free to those eating but a pound;2 entry fee for anyone else.

l He introduced a mum and toddler offer for the 2pm to 4pm week day slot encouraging local mums to bring their toddlers to the restaurant and have a relaxing cup of coffee and a sample of the sweet trolley for pound;5.

l He entered his chef into a national chef competition and when the chef won the regional heat did a barbecue in the car park to celebrate, inviting a local band along to provide a party atmosphere and served free bite-size samples of the chef’s winning dish.

None of it was rocket science, none of it cost very much, but the effect is staggering. This restaurant is seen as the only place to eat in town by the community. The community is rightly proud of the reputation the restaurant has and all of the local businesses proudly display signs confirming that they supply goods or services to this restaurant – free advertising for the restaurant.

Marketing is not just a costly investment, or a jingle or gimmick, or a way of dragging people off the streets. It’s a mindset that seeks to change habits.

This busy restaurant owner decided that if the people weren’t going to come to him he was going to get to them. He fully believes that once people try his food and feel the atmosphere in his restaurant they will want to come back again and again.

And he is right.

Steve Pepperell and Andrew Bailey have both held senior positions in multinational suppliers and smaller companies in the foodservice and retail sectors. They are partners in How To Solutions and act as consultants and trainers to a range of businesses. You can find out more by looking at www.howtosolutions.co.uk or by emailing them at steve@howtosolutions.co.uk or andrew@howtosolutions.co.uk or on 07802 641813

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