There are certain times of the year where business is relatively slow, and for some restaurants, the winter months are dreadful. These slowdown periods are a common cause of cash flow shortages for many restaurants. Don’t let the seasonal slumps get you down! Use this off-season time to properly market your restaurant and to get ready for your peak season. To keep the income coming in, you need to think creatively, test new menu items and learn more about what your customers want.
Update your business plan and review your objectives
This is a great time to review your business goals, increase your employees’ training, have brainstorming sessions with your team, catch up on your administrative or marketing tasks, reassess your inventory and look at achieving your objectives. Use this time carefully and review with your entire team which areas drive the most profits in your restaurant. Get as much as possible from each member of your team and write down every idea and comment. Don’t be shy to ask for input and make sure that you listen carefully to what everyone on your team has to say. Try to brainstorm on some new, unique and exciting ideas to increase revenues. Discuss new menu items that could be developed, items that could be taken out of your inventory or any new demographic areas that you can promote your business.
Maintain an accurate database
One of the best ways to stay in touch with your existing customers is to maintain an accurate database. If you are sending regular mail or emails, keeping track of birthdays and anniversaries or keeping other information about your customers, an up-to-date database is the ticket to making more money.
Introduce new menu items
Introducing and testing new menu items during your slowest season will either attract new target markets to your restaurant or, by finding innovative ways to appeal to a larger target group, build momentum in time for your peak season. It will allow your customers enough of a “trial period” to test and buy your new menu items and to be coming back for more, just before your busy season.
Use your website and social media network
Use this quiet time to learn more about your customers. Continue using your website and social media network to draw in more customers. Take the time to analyze the Facebook likes of your current fans and to check out the most frequent hashtags used by your followers on Twitter. Email marketing is the most effective way to advertise your online business. Try to post some of your regular and new menu items on a daily basis on your website, and make sure to include your telephone number, location and hours of operation. You may consider setting up an online ordering system where customers can plan their orders and walk in to pick up their items with no waiting.
Ask for reviews
By now, you must know a lot of happy customers. Why not ask them to leave positive reviews in an area on your website or simply ask them to write testimonials. Don’t forget…there are a number of events to plan for in the not-too-distant future, such as Valentine’s Day, Easter and Mother’s Day, and you want to get these good reviews on your website right away.
Take it on the road
This is the perfect time to think more creatively about your restaurant. Customers may not be walking through your doors, but maybe it’s the perfect time to look at your local events calendar and to see what other types of events your perfect customer would likely attend. Perhaps you can set up a table or booth at one of your community events, fairs or festivals. It is a very inexpensive way to not only connect with your existing customers, but also to broaden your reach with new potential customers. Try to think of ways to bring new groups of people into your restaurant. Talk to your customers and find out what their interests are and what they do for entertainment in the winter time.
Review your communication material
Review carefully each communication piece to see whether adding, deleting or expanding communication to new and old customers, vendors and suppliers, and strategic partners could help increase sales during these slow months. Take a good look at your own flyers, email blasts and marketing, direct mail campaigns, website, social media networks and any paid advertising.
Throw an open house
Another great way to bring customers back into your restaurant and increase sales is to have an open house at your restaurant. Invite your best customers to an open house where you can showcase your latest menu items. Set up a small ‘sweet dessert’ buffet and have each customer sample your latest creations and offerings. Send them away with gift bags filled with a gift certificate, flyers and business cards.