Gazing into your competitor’s windows lately? Do you see the same empty dining room through their windows they see when they look through yours? Of course you do. Every dining room is emptier today than it was just a year ago. And, if you have been paying attention while pondering ways out of the quandary of diminishing returns, you most likely realize you are not doing anything wrong. However, it may be you’re not doing everything right.
On top of that your competition is no longer down the street in a neighboring restaurant. Today private home chefs blanket a neighborhood and develop a healthy clientele. Home meal preparation storefronts are opening next to area strip mall restaurants and developing a client roster that could change the way we cater to our customers. And, then of course there lies a culinary guerilla we never imagined would eat into our customer’s dining-out dollars since there share of the food budget was hefty and placed in a wire cart. Grocery stores have proven to be a worthy competitor for dining dollars: the massive cases are filled with culinary artwork that not only appeals to the palate but is astonishingly fashionable to the eye.
In a recent report published by those polling-report people who continually poll people to keep us posted, Americans are spending less today than they have in the past three years. Who would have thought that, without a poll? And, while compiling the data, the polling company estimates that habitually Americans will continue to spend less. Information – Tsunami of earth-shattering proportion. Obviously they never looked in a restaurant owner’s window recently.
I have a bad habit. Some people might consider it an addiction. I like to drive by restaurants, look in their windows and while doing a mental customer count, compute the night’s revenue and mentally bet on their success or demise. For years I had a route on the way to my restaurants that would conveniently allow me to slowly pass by my competitor’s windows. It was a way to get a feeling on how the night was going to be. If my competitors were slow, than I could accurately assume my night was dim. If they were busy, I would pick up my pace assuming my dining room was full. It made little sense, wasted a lot of my time, and played with my emotions before they needed to be played with.
Today, in order to project how busy your dining room is going to be all you’ll need to do is go to your neighborhood grocery store between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Instead of window peering switch to deli counter counting. On a regular basis you most likely will encounter many of your once regular customers. Plus, when you stand at the delicatessen counter of most grocery stores they have already done the customer count for you. Their numbering system is often broadcast though out the store.
Grocery stores have transformed their home meal replacement programs to directly compete with neighborhood restaurants. Inspired by the open-air markets of Europe, the rich, industrial heritage of Pittsburgh and a true passion for food, Giant Eagle?, Inc. unveiled its third Market District location — a 150,000 square-foot culinary, dining and shopping destination — on Thursday, November 5, in the new Settlers Ridge lifestyle shopping center in Robinson Township. Now we have all seen new grocery stress open with impressive accoutrements and ambiance. And, there is that customer service – being waited on – factor that a customer just doesn’t get while eating in a grocery store, or taking the food home.
However, many stores are raising the bar on home meal replacement. By competing in the three main areas where restaurants excel – ingredients, price and presentation, grocery store deli counters- complete with chefs in chef’s whites, are capturing and making a dent in restaurant demographics. In the case of the Giant Eagle store aside from a cooking school, a restaurant, and a culinary center, they are promoting a hydroponic garden where they grow, pick and package lettuce on premise. That’ fresh.
Competing with this style of competition is difficult, but not impossible. Menus offering daily specials available for take out are a good way to begin. Price conscious consumers are looking for that special prices entr?e – give it to them.
Spend time in your local grocery sore. Compete with them on the same level. Consider offering family styled platters on certain nights that feed a family of four or more. Make the price and presentation attractive. Offer it through table tents and make the dish a weekly standard. Take orders in advance. Make the entr?e a to-go item.
And remember, people are eating somewhere. If your dining room is empty and your competition’s dining rooms are empty take a trip to the grocer store. There’s a good chance your customers are there, number in hand, thinking how wonderful it would be if they could get similar food cooked to order rather than scooped from a refrigerated case.