By Steven Feldshuh
If a restaurant is not in a resort area, it probably suffers from the summertime blues. Many businesses face this slowdown each time summer rolls around, and if a business hasn't put aside funds to cover the slowdown, it can run into trouble.
Besides giving employees vacations, a restaurant's overhead might not change or might increase due to hot weather. It's important for a business to maintain a healthy cash flow all year long. As most businesses have found out, it doesn't take long for an enterprise to go from payment terms to COD.
So, how can a payment professional help? I have some tips. First, a business owner needs to take action to get those creative juices flowing. One way to do this is to spend time away from the business to find out what others are doing. Ideas can come from businesses similar to or unlike their own.
Restaurateurs could visit other food establishments to spot things that might work for promoting their own businesses. Getting away from routine management concerns for a day or two doesn't mean going to play golf, but instead, visiting different shopping areas or malls to see what other business owners are doing that appears to generate people traffic.
Obviously, one needs to have a budget in place to accomplish getting new sales during the summertime, but that does not necessarily mean spending a fortune. There are some low-cost traffic builders that are worthy of a look.
Adjusting advertising to focus on a longer happy hour or special summertime drinks is a good start. A two-for-one special may not be exciting, but inexpensive mixed signature drinks may fit the bill. Advertising can be in the form of outside signs, radio ads or localized Internet ads.
If permitted, a restaurant should develop an outdoor space that can be decorated for summertime fun. Whether in front or in a back or side yard, an area with an appealing seasonal theme could prove eye catching and grab the attention of those walking by.
Holding some outside events or having music can also attract eaters. A restaurateur could work with other merchants on this. Think of including a neighbor's clothing business and have a fashion show, or a local wine shop and have a wine tasting. An outside guitar or violin player may be an interesting way to bring in the crowd. If the crowd you attract has young children, someone who does face painting, or blows balloons can work. It beats a "Happy Meal"; kids will push their parents to return.
Placing a classic pick-up truck or convertible nearby that advertises the restaurant can also create a fun buzz around your place. Nighttime presents opportunities for romantic lighting or over-the-top lanterns. A searchlight is a cool way to attract people from miles away and gives patrons that Grand Opening feel.
Summertime can also be a time to give small gifts to patrons. For a few dollars apiece, a business can get a printed tote or other giveaway that will be carried around town advertising the restaurant's brand. This is an inexpensive way to advertise.
The summer season is also a good time to offer cooking classes during the daytime if the restaurant doesn't have a large lunch crowd. Cooking classes create patrons who will stick around and become regulars. If the restaurant has a large bar area, a mixologist teaching classes on how to mix or blend the perfect drink can get students to become diners. Even offering classes in wine tasting and exploring different wine regions through tasting can create loyalty among patrons.
Today, more than ever, patrons are looking for rewards for spending their dollars. The idea is to make it easy for them. Businesses offering rewards programs that are tied to customers' phone numbers or email accounts and make rewards easy to redeem get repeat business. Such programs have been proven to work across the spectrum from high profile restaurants to fast food joints.
Reward and gift card programs may be available through your POS/software vendor and surely through the credit card processing company you work with. Today, companies offer gift cards in a variety of forms, in-store and online, that can be used for personal needs or as gifts.
Successful businesses today also must rely on analytics to remain in the game. Several companies have developed low-cost solutions that provide data on the competition, sales trends and other valuable information that cuts back on users making purchasing mistakes. Though I am personally late to the game, I finally have come of age and realized the importance of analytics. I see that judgments and actions I have previously based my own business decisions on just don't add up when you look at the numbers.
Steven Feldshuh, President of Merchants' Choice Payment Solutions East, has 18 years' experience in sales and ISO development. Directly prior to joining MCPSE in 2012, he was President of Payment Partners. In his current position, Steven devotes the bulk of his time to assisting agents in building their portfolios. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 212-392-9202.
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