High Touch and High Tech Helping Independent Restaurants Succeed

images“Sorry, we are closed.” Everyone has seen this all-too-familiar sign hung in the darkened windows of your favorite local eatery. Although this time, it’s not just until tomorrow morning’s kitchen prep, now — it’s for good!

Personally when it comes to dining out, I prefer independently owned eateries.  Why?  For starters, I think the food is just better than the standard fare at most chain restaurants.  But it’s more than that: The atmosphere is typically warmer and more personable than you find in the cold, cookie-cutter chains.

Unfortunately, these wonderful independent restaurants, built on the backs of hard-working entrepreneurs are struggling in today’s economy.  Approximately 59 percent of new restaurants fail within their first three years.  Surprisingly the rates climb even higher for more established eateries with nearly 70 percent closing their doors after ten years.

Yet despite the odds, there are many independent restauranteurs who are not just surviving, they’re thriving.  What’s their secret? It’s a combination of high touch and high tech.  Here are some examples to help you succeed.

*  Tech-Savvy Marketing – Millions of people in the U.S. today are tied to their mobile devices.  So smart restauranteurs are using mobile marketing to reach their customers in a timely and cost-effective manner.  My husband gets text messages from one of his favorite restaurants alerting him of the daily special, a discount or a special event.  The initial investment to start a mobile marketing campaign is minimal, but it does take time to collect patron’s cell numbers.  Remember, you need to obtain permission from customers before including them in a text messaging campaign.  But it’s an excellent way to stay connected to your customers.

*  Compelling Internet Presence – Recently I was traveling in Hawaii, and I picked up the usual tourist magazines to find great places to eat.  Because I don’t like tourist traps, I turned to the web for more information.  I was surprised to find many of the restaurants had no website at all, or if they did, their sites failed to provide helpful information about their menus, hours and special offerings.  One of the restaurants even had inaccurate information which I learned when I arrived for breakfast and found they were now only open for lunch and dinner.  Whether you like it or not, your restaurant is popping up on the web via local review sites and restaurant directories.  If you aren’t controlling the your web presence, you could very well be losing business.

*  Get Social and Create a Buzz – One of the first things I do when I decide to try a new restaurant is check out their Facebook page.  I like to get a sense of the restaurant’s personality so to speak.  Social media is a smart way to build buzz about your restaurant.  Not only can you stay engaged with your current customers, but your regulars can help you spread the word by sharing your messages. A restaurant in my neighborhood posts a special word each day.  If you mention the word when you go in, you receive a special discount or a free goodie.

*  Sweat the Small Stuff–  I think one of the key factors in a restaurant’s success is the face that welcomes you every time you walk in the door.  Let’s face it — we all like to feel special.  A restauranteur who “works the room” and trains his staff to provide VIP treatment enhances his opportunity for success.  There are restaurants I frequent where the food is good, not great, but I love going there because I feel special.  The wait staff remembers my preferences.  The owner comes over to say hello and often sends a little something extra to the table. It’s the little things that really add up and make a huge difference.

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