Picture this: A beautiful Thursday evening, the sidewalks are full with people, the entire team is ready and suddenly panning the dining room you see only one table in the back of the house occupied by the nice couple sipping Perrier. Is there a hidden problem that you don´t see? Or, will you live the rest of you life asking "How do I get them in the door?"
The answer to both questions may well be, yes.
I hear that question daily. It lingers in the back of my mind, hauntingly echoing from within. I have learned to live with and on occasion, I actually find myself attempting to talk back to it. My voice, by the way, asks other questions, as I am sure yours does. However, the getting them in the door question is the most apparent and complex. I believe it is a science with a few standard elements combined with a dollop of luck.
In Seattle, Beecher´s Cheese presents its Macaroni and Cheese on a sample tray at the end of the day. They reduce the price to a mere two-bucks a pint and the concoction sells as though it were the remnants of the Last Supper. I took the bait and loved every drenched penne noodle that was slathered in the cheesy sauce splashed with spice and paprika. But it was more than the mac and cheese at Beecher´s. It was the huckster outside announcing in a baritone that the food usually served daily for four bucks was now on special. That it was now available to warm your soul and fight off the Seattle chill was as good a reason as any to stop and meander through the cheese shop.
Sidewalk sampling is a tactic that should be left to those wharf side. There are other techniques to get them to stop at the door, make that decision, and eventually end up sitting in your dining room.
Make sure your windows sparkle. They should be cleaned daily and don´t forget to do the door. Nothing is more of a turnoff than to see greasy hand prints on the glass of a restaurant´s front door.
What do the Pierre, the Plaza, Maxwell´s Plum and "21" all have in common? They all had people polishing the brass in front of their entrances just before the rush. Did it need it? Of course not. But it made a great impression. I am not suggesting that you have a professional polisher on the payroll, but take a look at the door handles and the area immediately around them. Is it worn and dirty? Paint it. Clean it up. Your entrance should shine. Project your success through busy dining rooms, not dirty doors.
Projecting success through packed dining rooms is a key to future success. People shy away from empty restaurants. Always seat your first customers in the window – unless they have a table full of children. Fill the front of the house first, then the back. The middle will fill in on its own. The front and back of the house fill in first techniques gives the illusion from the window that you are packed. And, if you do it right you will be. I would invite other restaurant owners to enjoy dinner on me nightly. I would put them in the window for everyone to see. Those walking in the neighborhood always assumed my food was wonderful if other restaurant owners were eating there, and their assumptions were right.
Don´t tape the nightly specials in the window. Over time you will accumulate window full of triangular pieces of tape, or worse yet, the remnants of a bad cleaning job. Spend the extra money. Buy a menu box or frame a menu and place for convenient viewing. Secure it on the outside of the building, slightly away from the door as it shouldn´t block traffic flow for those who want to enter. The least little visual obstacle will make a customer move on to the next welcoming door. Good menu position is imperative if it is going to work and allow gawkers and culinary detectives to review it without bothering customers at the table in the window. It makes the customer and the person scouting the evening´s fare both equally uncomfortable.
Activity in the dining room is always an incentive to come into a restaurant. Make sure your dining room is ready for the evening rush. Tables should be set, chairs should be straightened, table clothes should all hang at the same level. Nothing is more disruptive to a great visual than to have table clothes hovering at different levels. Once you have accomplished this, have the staff go to their stations and begin polishing the glasses. IT may seem strange but to look into an empty restaurant and see five waiters polishing glasses and silverware, tableside, gives the appearance that the place is full. And soon it will be.
Keep the front door open, weather and bugs permitting. Just before opening, walk through the dining room with a large skillet of sauteed herbs- garlic, oregano, tarragon, lemons, olive oil or balsamic vinegar carmelized onions all work perfectly to bring the aroma of the kitchen to the front of the house. Make sure you stand near the front door with the hot pan for an extra moment. Add some theatrics to the set.
And finally let´s not forget the email. The importance of this marketing medium is imperative to your growth and works wonders.. Use it. Before you know it, your door handles will need a good polish.