Business owners and licensees keen to increase revenue and looking for new approaches and ideas to boost trade over the upcoming summer – read on! Jamie Allan takes a look at a number of small changes and tweaks that licensees can make that are easily implemented and can help boost sales and increase profitability.
Perhaps the first place to begin when looking to make improvements is in the presentation of your business. As obvious as it may sound, one of the most crucial components of any premises is the exterior, with potential new customers walking by each day and making judgments on how the business is presented. Star Pubs’ Retail Development Director Ken McGowan says, “Too many mistakes come from not looking at things from the customer’s point of view, and I would strongly encourage licensees to begin their day by simply walking around their venue and taking note; is the exterior clutter free, are your offers positioned correctly, is your message clear and concise? First impressions are crucial in this business, and the presentation of your bar or restaurant is your shop window.”
Signage is another key component of a business’ exterior. Liz Hammond, Marketing and PR Executive for Signs Express, told us, “Good quality signage for bars and restaurants is absolutely vital; not only does it tell your customer who you are, it also represents the standard of food and drink, and the experience your customers can expect. With so much competition in today’s marketplace, it’s important to stand out from the crowd – the façade and signage of your premises is one of the best ways to ensure you do.”
Ken McGowan also advises licensees to maximise the profit potential of major sporting events. He told us “With both the World Cup and Commonwealth Games coming up this summer there is real potential for businesses to make serious money if they promote these events successfully. I would encourage licensees to give their customers a reason to choose the pub over staying at home; focus on who your target market is and create promotions and an atmosphere that caters to them. Make it seem like an event rather than just a game of football.”
Business owners should also consider ways in which their business can actively cater to their local clientele by providing practical, everyday benefits. Encouraging families onto your premises, for example, allows parents to continue to enjoy an active social life, and adjusting certain areas of food service towards children can encourage repeat custom. Surveys have indicated that parents are more likely to return to a bar or restaurant that offers home-made, good value food for their children, rather than the standard fare of frozen burgers and fish fingers. Small investments such as high-chairs, plastic cups and colouring-in books are low cost purchases but can go a long way towards demonstrating your business’ commitment to providing a comfortable and enjoyable environment for families.
Similarly, allowing dogs onto your premises is another easily implemented policy which can lead to repeat business. Dog owners looking for a rewarding drink or a bite to eat after a long walk in the cold can be accommodated with minimum fuss, with treats for the dog or water bowls being inexpensive to provide. Cottiers Bar in Glasgow has been dog-friendly for over twenty years, and has reaped the benefits of being one of the few premises offering such a service in a busy residential area. Director David Robertson told us, “Cottiers’ outside areas make the venue a natural magnet for dog owners and we make them very welcome – although not in the theatre when a show is on!” Crucially, if you already allow dogs onto your premises, let your customers know. There are a variety of websites advising visitors of dog-friendly pubs in their area, so take advantage of the free publicity.
The rise of social media has seen business owners place heavy emphasis on their online presence, utilising the free marketing provided by sites such as Facebook and Twitter to target their customer base directly. Yet the wisdom of relying on social media alone is questionable, particularly given the varying levels of personal engagement on a medium over-saturated with competing voices. We asked Gordon White of Fatbuzz, a digital marketing agency, about the effectiveness of promoting bars and restaurants through social media. He told us, “Businesses must make themselves remarkable. There is so much content (or noise) out there that you need to find things that make you stand out.We see many common mistakes, the most concerning of these are the frequency with which we see part-time staff (often students) put in charge of social media channels. This is the online representation of your brand, it’s far too important to leave it to ‘digital natives’ who often have little or no knowledge of the brand, the business or the objectives. Probably the biggest concern we have it the misconception that social media replaces conventional marketing; we see this most often in the catering industry. Social media works best when it compliments offline marketing activities. There are very few, if any, businesses that can thrive using only social media.”
MOBILE FRIENDLY WEBSITES
Businesses are increasingly having to adapt to the technology their customers are using, and the advances in mobile phone technology has changed not only the way customers engage with their favourite bars and restaurants, but the manner in which they search for new venues too. For this reason, the importance of having a mobile-friendly website cannot be understated, and the ability to take reservations from mobile phones can be a substantial boon to businesses. Companies such as OpenTable, Restaurant Diary and SeatMe provide venues not only with in-house, computerised booking systems that effectively manage customer reservations, but also with free, mobile-friendly versions of their websites.
Managing Director of OpenTable International Mike Xenakis explained, “We have seen a massive shift to mobile. Increasingly diners are turning to their phone first to determine where to dine and make a booking at a location nearby, but many websites are still not optimised for a great mobile experience. In the last quarter of 2013, reservations booked on mobile accounted for nearly 30% of our seated diners in the UK. It’s essential for a restaurateur to view their website on a smartphone and make sure it displays properly.”
An often underutilised feature of reservation management systems such as OpenTable is the comprehensive customer database that they accumulate and the marketing potential that comes with it. Assuming staff have been trained to take a customer’s email address on booking, special events and promotions can be directly marketed to each previous visitor by the simple click of a button. The database can also help businesses provide a more personalised dining experienced. Mike told us, “The OpenTable system powers great dining experiences by giving restaurateurs information about a guest and their preferences through the visit notes and guest profile feature. These unique customer insights can then be brought to life by the dining room staff for a personalised guest experience. For example, a restaurateur can mark that one of their regular guests is gluten-free in the guest profile system and when they return, the staff will see that insight and can make menu recommendations with that already in mind.”
It’s not only reservation systems that aren’t being used to their full potential. As prevalent as EPOS till systems are, their ability to effectively track stock and inventory is frequently overlooked. Systems such as Maitre’D track bar inventory through each individual sale, and can greatly reduce the amount of time expended in monitoring stock movement and waste. Shannon Arnold, Director of Marketing for Maitre’D, explained that EPOS systems can also be used for controlling food GP. She said, “Our stock controls provide the ability to track every ingredient in a recipe or dish, which allows the user to better track food costs. The ability to set recipe quantities allows for the minimizing of waste, increased quality control and the ability to verify for variances.”
As we have seen, small changes to existing practices can make all the difference when it comes to developing your business. By applying increased focus on aspects of the trade that sometimes get taken for granted it can be possible to make a fundamental difference to customer service, and ultimately the bottom line too.
EASY MISTAKES TO MAKE
Getting into the business for the wrong reasons.
In the bar business some people buy a outlet because they enjoy going out to bars and enjoy drinking and not necessarily because they have the business experience to run a successful licensed trade business.
Failing to take responsibility.
Business owners will blame the recession, the government, a new competitor, and even building work on their street before they will own up to their mistakes. Jon Taffer, the man who presents Bar Rescue says, “ The minute you take responsibility, everything changes.”
Not understanding marketing.
Taffer also believes that licensed trade owners often think too generically about marketing. He suggests they implement three specific marketing initiatives: new customer, frequency, and spending programs. A new customer program is one that creates first-time business and typically includes neighbourhood and local businesses. Frequency programs are special promotions designed to persuade existing customers to return more often. They are advertised in-bar, through email blasts, and on social media. And spending programs aim to increase the amount of money spent each time the customer does business with you by teaching employees to upsell, special deals, and the like. “If you don’t have those three things, you’re not marketing anything,” he says.
It’s a numbers game.
Taffer comments, “There’s nothing more important than staying on top of the numbers.” He continues, “What infuriates me when people don’t is the fact that there are POS systems that will do all of this for you.” Labour typically eats up between 25% and 32% of all revenue, food costs should never exceed 30% of food sales, and alcohol costs should be at or below 21% of drinks sales.
Not having the necessary experience or help.
If you are new to the trade either work for someone else first or have a partner with experience.