One half mile from my home is a nice shopping center with four or five destination restaurants as well as big box and SMB retailers.
One particular location, not near the major intersection, has seen two restaurants come and go within a short period of time. One, a regional chain specializing in breakfasts a la Dennys and IHOP, lasted about a year. It was followed by the second location of a Mediterranean Buffet which didn’t last nearly as long.
If you’re interested in opening a restaurant and you want repeat business, let me give you my perspective as a customer.
You’re going to have to craft a customer experience that’s going to meet or exceed my expectations. That experience should have at least the following components.
- Excellent food, priced appropriately (The Mediterranean Buffet was, IMHO, overpriced and we didn’t recognize many of the menu items.)
- Clean, well designed interior kept at a comfortable temperature (Comfortable for the customers, not for the wait staff)
- Outstanding customer service. The first competency you should look for when hiring wait staff is friendliness. If they don’t smile during the interview, don’t hire them. (Neither of these two restaurants met this standard. At best their staff was efficient, not friendly. They might as well have been robots.)
- A signature dish. It doesn’t matter if it’s omelets, biscuits, lasagna, or ribs, your signature dish should cause people to brag about it. “Oh man, let’s go to X. They have the best ________!” (The first place didn’t have anything on the menu that stood out from its competition. If the second one did, we didn’t recognize it.)
- Prompt service. Restaurants want to “turn tables,” because the more customers they get in and out, the more money they make. Part of this then is ensuring that customers don’t have to wait forever once they’re seated to order, get their food, and pay out. Slow service kills retention. (The first place was sometimes slow.)
- Use your sense of humor. I’m not suggesting you have to create a sappy happy birthday song to sing to your customers, but if it’s appropriate to your experience then go for it. But you should also encourage your wait staff to be friendly with customers and to joke around with them when it’s appropriate. If you’ve got a marquee, think about using humorous sayings on it. Incorporate puns or word play into your menus and your signage (Google “Burma Shave advertising.”)
Tailor promotions to your demographics. My neighborhood has many retirees living in it. Consider senior discounts. Or, if you attract families, make sure your restaurant, your menu, your bathrooms, etc., are kid-friendly.
Since you’re not on a major thoroughfare, expect to spend more resources on marketing. This is not an example of “If you build it they will come!” That shopping center contains at least three other chain restaurants who appear to be successful. They’ve got excellent marketing support and brand recognition.
Failing at any of these components above can mean disaster for you. Zoom out to the 50,000 foot level and focus on the entire customer experience. Get marketing professional versed in both old and new media to help you get the word out.
By the way, while we have plenty of Mexican, Italian, American, and burger restaurants near us, there’s not a really good barbecue joint near here. If you’re looking to open a restaurant in