4 Ideas to Help Your Restaurant Survive Winter
Valentine’s Day is that magical day that restaurant owners in New England rely on to help recover from the winter, but with record-breaking additional snowfall, our community restaurants weren’t feeling the love. With the snow piling onto an already beleaguered region, all restaurants are hurting, from the ownership and staff to the suppliers and the community in general. Bob Luz, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association says, “these are sales that a restaurant never gets back.”
So let’s do something about it. We can 1, stop the bleeding and 2, pave the way for an amazing Spring. You don’t need to have a huge plan, or even a really expensive one. Expensive is the last thing you need right now. What you need is customers, and lots of them.
To get in the minds (and the wallets) of your customers during times of extreme weather, you have to put yourself in their shoes and understand how they’re feeling first. Chances are, you’re probably feeling the same frustration and not terribly festive.
Heck, I can tell you from my own perspective that I’m dealing with major cabin-fever, general disgust with the weather, a little depression (being honest here!), and a string of meetings that are being pushed multiple times because of the weather. I’ve pretty much had it with this weather, and oh wait – here comes more snow. I’m far from alone in this exact feeling.
So how do you get someone to leave their house when the roads may not be passable? You don’t, so don’t try to change anything about that one. However, road conditions will improve, so how do you get them to spend money they might be hanging onto because their income may be affected (directly or indirectly)? How do you get them to spend money they may need to spend on plowing or snow-blowing services?
People still need to eat, people are desperate to not be miserable anymore and they DO care about the businesses around them that they love to frequent in better times. You need to push on all three nerves.
As for how, here are 4 great ways to go about it:
For those really wonderful customers that still make it in to see you during crummy weather, you really need to give them all the love you can to show them how much they mean to you. Don’t just give them the regular experience – kick it up a notch. Lavish your customers with extra attention, extra service, and maybe a little something small/extra from the kitchen if you can afford to. Show your customers how much their business means to you and for the love of God, express it verbally. Make sure your manager walks by and touches each table to say hello and personally thank people for coming in during the slow season, and openly share how much it is wonderful to have such loyal customers during less-than-ideal weather.
Now some people will argue with me on this point, but I believe in calling a spade a spade. Restaurants are hurting right now, and every single guest that comes in doesn’t need a divine revelation for them to see it plainly. Dining rooms are sparse. They get it. Some places don’t feel comfortable admitting that their businesses are hurting and need their customers and they want to push the idea that their brand is a luxury indulgence that their customers should be lucky to indulge in. I get it. However, acknowledging what’s so will not hurt you. In fact, it will likely have the opposite effect.
Long-term, if you treat your guests to a little extra TLC right now, you’ll probably rack up a few more great reviews on sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, and that can pay you in dividends for years to come.
I’m going to assume you have a really robust and awesome social media presence right now, one that’s full of active, engaged and happy fans that love what you post and comment, like, share and re-tweet regularly. If not, let’s talk. So with that online community you’ve so carefully curated, what do you do with it? You talk with your audience and shower everyone with all the love you’ve got. Here are a few specific ideas:
- Run a special “beat the winter blues” online-only promo
- Take pictures WITH your guests and post them online (with their permission) and ask them to tag themselves
- Start engaging with people about what they most want to do when Spring comes
- Ask people how long it’s been since they’ve had one of your special meals (it gets the gears turning) and then ask them when they’d like to end that streak
- Start doing major customer appreciation efforts, maybe even going so far as to mention people by name
These aren’t all the ideas out there. Just a few off the top of my head. The point is, you need to engage with people and make them think happy thoughts about Spring, about leaving the house, about your food, and most of all – let them know they are needed and loved. The sentiment that people love the most is, “we exist for you and because of you.” It’s the truth and when they know that you know, it’s a LOT of warm and fuzzy.
Are you collecting email addresses? Your answer should be yes. If it’s not, make it a yes. When people come in to dine with you, you should follow up and ask them for their feedback. This makes people feel loved and appreciated. You can also create some sort of “bounce back” program where you give them some sort of reason to come back within a very short period of time for a special promo.
You can create a limited-time offer for the rest of February, or perhaps a special punch card program valid through March where if they dine with you X number of times between now and then, they’re entered to win a romantic night on the town, including your restaurant, show tickets and maybe a limo ride. Why not? Get creative.
Give these ideas a healthy push and see what happens. You can’t lose… you can only gain. These are things you can put into action without spending another dollar if you can’t or don’t want to. So you also have no excuse. Try one or all and please let us know what you did and how it affected your business!
PS… The great thing about these ideas is that they’ll work well in times of gain and sunshine too. What are the common factors that make them work? Creativity, love, and appreciation. My husband and I call Valentine’s Day, “Amateur Night.” I mean, why celebrate your love for the other only 1 night of the year when there are 364 other opportunities? GOOD POINT, HUH. If you’re doing it right, every day is Valentine’s Day. When you treat your customers with this kind of love all the time, you’ll feel the love back.