Leslie Park Lynn is a 15 year restaurant industry veteran.
Restaurants that want to keep their brand fresh need to be constantly evolving. The big brands know this and pour countless resources into brand evolution and re-branding efforts. So how can smaller operators, without those resources, keep their brand exciting in the mind’s eye of their customers? Sometimes a simple, precise plan in the form of a restaurant makeover can go a long way in keeping a restaurant brand fresh and bright.
Such was the case with a small, independent restaurant situated in a coastal town that was known for its history and tradition. Because of this, the little cafe had been reluctant to change anything for fear of diminishing its place among the other long-time businesses in the area. There was a steady clientele of local patrons that visited the restaurant with predictable regularity but overall sales numbers were declining and, because the menu had remained static for so long, rising food costs had significantly diminished profitability. The owners, subsequently, had found themselves in a state of paralyzed fear for their business.
When I first visited the restaurant I was quickly struck by the atmosphere of nostalgia. It was abundantly clear that this restaurant was indeed an institution in the community and that careful consideration would need to be given to any changes. But, in looking at the financials, it was also clear that in order for this restaurant to survive for the long haul important changes would need to be made nonetheless.
In business, especially restaurants, there is no status quo. If you are not growing you’re dying. This was a core problem facing this restaurant. Their inability to reach past their current customers, a fiercely loyal, yet aging group, was at the heart of their problem. There is a natural attrition that occurs with the customer base of any business. People move away, die or experience other life changes that that alter their habits. If you are not adding new customers all the time your business will dwindle, plain and simple.
So the challenge was this: How do we attract new customers to the business and revitalize the brand while keep the integrity and tradition of the long standing, beloved brand? Was a restaurant makeover in order?
With input from the owners and even a few customers I put together a three point plan. With a limited budget and short time frame this plan needed to be executed quickly and efficiently while, at the same time, produce powerful results. The three points of the plan were designed to direct a laser focus on what we felt were the most important objectives:
- Attract new customers to the business.
- Increase frequency and check average among existing customers.
- Increase profitability.
And the kicker? We would need to complete this project in just 5 short days.
So how do you go about giving doing a restaurant makeover in such period of time? Most restaurant consulting work has a list of objectives and deliverables, a defined budget and and a timeline. This project was no different. We took each day and assigned tasks to be completed, objectives to be met and the deliverables expected.
Restaurant Makeover Day One
On the first day the restaurant was thoroughly cleaned and lightly redecorated. This included decluttering areas such as server stations, the point of sale area and anything visible to customers. Additionally the dining room was painted to lighten and freshen up the space and give it a more updated look. The front of the house furniture was rearranged to better utilize the space and make it more efficient in terms of service. New, yet simple decor was added along with some greenery to give the dining room a fresh, warm feel. While the owners and employees were accomplishing these tasks in our restaurant makeover I was hard at work on the menu analysis (see a how-to here), creating a scatter graph of the results and brainstorming new additions and updated menu design ideas. This was the only day we actually closed the doors to work on our restaurant makeover.
Restaurant Makeover Days Two and Three
These two days of our restaurant makeover were all about the menu. As a team we reviewed the results of the analysis and made decisions on what to cut, what to improve and possible new menu additions. After making these important decisions we moved to the kitchen to work on our ideas. By keeping it simple we were able to create a handful of new items and improve the profitability of several existing plates. Later we met with our graphic designer and determined a good design direction for the new menu that would give it a more updated feel and better merchandize the best offerings on the menu.
Restaurant Makeover Day Four
Marketing was topic of the day and the task was to hammer out a 12 month marketing plan and calendar that would be focused on both four walls marketing and on reaching past the local community to attract new customers not necessarily familiar with the restaurant. Elements of the plan included the following:
- A daily specials program of items not currently on the menu that would provide a higher check average and a pipeline of potential menu additions for evolving the menu on an ongoing basis
- Holiday promotions and in-restaurant events
- An updated social media strategy
- The addition of very targeted digital marketing aimed at a younger demographic.
- Leveraging the “Historic Main Street” designation that the restaurant had and the organization that the restaurant was apart of .
Restaurant Makeover Day Five
Day five was wrap up day. A new menu design was selected and sent to the printer and a calendar date was picked for the new menu launch. We chose a date about two weeks out so we could be sure to have the new menus back from the printer and to allow for refinement of the recipes and good product sourcing for the lowest cost. All cleaning, painting, decorating and rearrangement was finished up and the marketing plan was finalized. In essence, we made sure all parts and pieces of our project had been brought to conclusion and that the tactics we had set into motion during our restaurant makeover were indeed aimed at accomplishing our objectives.
Two weeks later the menu launched on schedule and the restaurant kicked off its first in restaurant event on the new marketing calendar. The response to our restaurant makeover from the local customers was great and by the end of the first 30 days it was clear that our 5 day makeover was already producing results. Sales were up 9% and bottom line percentages had already increased by 4 percentage points. As the marketing kicked in over the following months these numbers continued to improve.
Sometimes making improvements to your business can seem overwhelming. So much so that even the idea of it can be paralyzing. But by putting together a plan, even a simple one, defining your objectives clearly and mapping out firm deliverables on a solid timeline you can accomplish great things for your business. Remember, often times, especially when it comes to evolving your brand, making small steady improvements like those accomplished in our restaurant makeover can ultimately win the race.