Gary Wiegele has sleepless nights. He tosses and turns contemplating his next move. Awake while most are asleep, the owner of the Peerless Mill Inn analyzes his financial situation and continuously rehashes the numbers that don’t seem to be working, anymore.
Wiegele, however, is not alone. A handful of independent restaurant owners in the Dayton, Ohio market have been hit hard by the opening of The Greene, a multi-million dollar entertainment-shopping complex boasting names like Chang’s, Cheesecake, and Bar Louie. Through scheduled meetings, the group is addressing the perplexities of profiting while the chains are packing in customers and albeit suffocating business for the independents.
Wiegele and his fellow restaurateurs are not alone. As the culinary corporate giants sweeten the American palate, single unit and small group operators struggle to keep the bottom line black. Many operators feel we are in the midst of a culinary war. The battle for customer loyalty is being fought in cities and suburbs across
It’s time to reevaluate your culinary assets. Most independents get into the business overflowing with enthusiasm, passion, and ideas that would make any mouth water. Along the way, the stress, strain, and mounting financial obligations tend to erode that passion and enthusiasm. It’s time to rejuvenate the personality that once stood at the door, greeting customers, and performing dining room public relations. Bring the personality back into the restaurant.
Customer recognition wins repeatedly over cookie cutter menus. Refresh your bartenders, hosts, and servers in customer knowledge. Make everyone a regular on his or her second visit. Sincere customer service trumps corporate robotics every time, train your servers and dining room staff in the art of niceties with meaning. Make the experience meaningful.
The complimentary drink, appetizer, or dessert will help win the war. The chains are bottom line oriented almost to a factory styled fault. Wall Street beckons quarterly and the financial departments don’t like to see diminished profits due to give-aways. Yet, the customer remembers them. They built loyalty. The help get customers back. There is no need to give everyone something, but word of mouth works. Buy a table an occasional bottle of house wine – think of it as advertising, and you will get a return on the investment.
Don Burks owns Randy’s Steakhouse. He’s in the middle of chain restaurant
Burks, however, has managed to operate Randy’s, successfully through fluctuating market trends. One of those trends was the development of a sprawling shopping complex with the regular chain rooftops just miles away.
“The chains did have an adverse affect on business for a short time while customers tried them. But once they realized the quality we were serving was far above that served in other restaurants we began seeing our regular customers more often.” Burks said.
“I advertise in the Dallas Morning News and use a monthly direct mail piece to stimulate business and excite my customers. I also spend a lot of time getting to know my customer base.”
Either Burks or his partner, son Randy, spends time in the dining room greeting customers and bringing the personality of the restaurant to the table.
One of the battlegrounds the corporate restaurant cannot compete on is customer recognition. The buzzer in the pocket, or the vibrating contraption on the bar, somehow symbolizes exactly where diners’ are. And, there is nothing personable about bzzz, bzzz, bzzz, your table is ready. Learn your customeres’ names. Remember what they drink. Recognition goes a long way. Often, it will be what brings them back.
Tomorrow: Effective email marketing.