Yes, your restaurant can thrive during quiet periods…

One of the greatest challenges you’ll face as the owner of a food-based business, will be discovering how to keep trade up during the quiet times. These are the periods where no matter what you do, it seems like customers just aren’t interested in what you’re selling.

It’s normal for reduced footfall to occur at certain points throughout the year, particularly after the New Year and Christmas surge. Things can also get quiet at specific times during the day, the 4-7pm after-lunch period can be a notoriously lean one.

The good news is, there are many things you can do to fill those tables and combat the slowdown…

Use the internet to target customers

Getting customers to try out your brand can be tricky, not least because the restaurant sector is one of the most competitive out there.

More and more people are hunting down their next meal online, and this is only set to increase for the foreseeable future. The web plays a vital role in getting your restaurant, tapas, or takeaway business found.

Winning over customers online is difficult, with many options available, they are both spoilt for choice and well-informed, and will often check beforehand to see whether a business they are planning to use has received any bad reviews.

You can use the online customer segment to your benefit by laser targeting certain types of people, using focused tools such as Facebook Analytics, to hone in on a particular audience, that you can then promote your offers to.

Make sure you do this whenever you have a time specific special to offer that would appeal to your market, such as a happy hour for students, or a kids eat free deal, if you are targeting parents.

Timing is everything

If you are trying to rev up a time period that is typically sparse for you, bear in mind that most people have established regular eating habits, where they eat at certain times. If you rely on a particular demographic, who just won’t order during a specific time, with creativity you can circumvent this, by focusing on other customers who are looking to eat during this period.

The after-lunch period normally slows due to the office footfall having gone back to work. To combat this, try setting up an early bird, pre-dinner promo offer with appeal to diners outside of the 9-5 worker group. Focus instead on older, retired people, stay at home parents with kids, students, or freelance workers.

To appeal to freelancers, for example, you could offer free wi-fi, and a menu that features cafe style snacks and drinks, or light lunches. By marketing your brand as freelancer friendly during daytime hours, you’ll take advantage of a whole new sector, and fill seats that would otherwise have stayed empty.

Make the most out of your existing customer base

You should also take a look at your existing customer base and try and tempt them in, by sending out exclusive, tailored discounts that they can use when they order at the times you want more custom.

Segment your subscriber base using an automated mass mailer like Mail Chimp, dividing it up into various customer types, like parents, office workers, and students. You can gather the demographic information needed to do this from using feedback surveys, or via your website sign up form. Then you can use your segmented lists to send out offers with more personal appeal.

If you have a number of students on your list for example, you could send them all out BOGOF deals on drinks on the nights where you would like more trade.

Another great way to boost business during slow periods is to set aside special days for different sorts of customers, such as Student Saturday, or Family Friday, and offer a promotion like a buy one, get one free. You can advertise these via your social media, but for the widest reach, and a more effective result, it’s better to post them on high quality sites designed specifically for marketing food-based brands, like Zampoita, the food lover’s community.

Choose incentives that suit

There are a broad variety of incentives you can offer, ranging from money savers like free starters or bottomless coffee refills, to loyalty bonuses like eat out 9 times, get your 10th meal free.

Specific incentives, with offers targeted to customer type are more effective than attempting to market to everyone. Always make sure the incentives you choose have appeal to the demographic you want to entice.

If you don’t want to offer a discount, you can bring in more custom through a unique and exclusive menu of dishes, a niche food type like vegan, or by running themed food events, like Fiesta nights.

If you want to focus your promotional efforts on encouraging more business with your menu, either offer something different that customers can’t get elsewhere, or provide food that is prepared to a higher standard.

If you’re targeting a health-conscious crowd, you could promote your new range of plant-based dishes. Or, if the customers you want to attract are connoisseurs, advertising that you use artisan bread, a rare ingredient, or locally source organic meat, can tempt people into giving you a try.

One more way to get visitors, without running discounted offers is by saving people time. This can be achieved through offering bundle meals, where they can select one of several options, all with drink, starter, dinner, and dessert pre-selected. This type of time-saving incentive would work best when aimed at busy people, like office workers coming in for breakfast or lunch.

Location

Your brand’s location can factor into your promotions too, and you can use this during the quiet times to attract different customer groups, depending where you are based.

If you’re next to a nursery or crèche, you might think about appealing to parents and children after the early afternoon pick up, by offering kids eat free deals. This way you can fill spaces that would normally not be used during the 4-7pm slow period.

Equally, if your restaurant is right next to a gym, you could offer health conscious dishes, or nutritional shakes to daytime gymgoers.

Situated in a busy town centre, and want to increase visits during the day? Try giving customers a place to surf the web on their laptop, while grabbing a coffee and bite to eat, and pull in customers who are looking for a quick stop off where they can multi-task.

Is your site somewhere rural?

If so, your advertising should frame your location as a key stop off point where visitors or tourists can refuel. Or, if your surroundings are especially appealing, highlight this in your campaign, and promote your site as a charmingly unique country retreat, where people can dine in scenic beauty.

Get seen by the right people

Another way to max out those seats is to ensure you get seen by people already looking to order, and the best way if doing this is to get listed on dining sites.

When looking for a site to list on, evaluate the amount of space you get to feature your business, and check there is a good amount of visual content on the listing pages too.

Most people scroll past tiny, text only listings these days, but on the big listing sites getting more space and the ability to display your images can prove costly, especially if you’re a small to medium brand.

These monopoly sites are really only interested in profit, so cram as many people as possible in under their banner. Typically, a listing like this doesn’t do much to up trade during a lull, so won’t make for a good return on your investment.

A better strategy is to look for sites that focus on quality, over quantity, and allow you to showcase your gallery, promote your events, and spotlight your menu.

Sites like Zampoita allow you to maximise your promotional periods through a host of handy features, like their promotions function, which lets you upload a PDF featuring your offers. Browsers can click on this and read your advert and event info as a pop up, whenever they view your advert and click the events icon.

The site aims to bring food lovers together and offers small to medium brands the chance to get in front of an active market of diners, ready to spend. Review free, so it won’t damage your reputation, Zampoita has affordable flat fee packages, with no hidden costs, or nasty surprises.

As getting found online is the number one way to fill spaces, high quality listing pages like this, that give you plenty of space to feature your gallery, menu, and offers, make a great place to begin if you’re looking to ramp up orders during a lull.

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