Restaurant sales can be unpredictable, fluctuating depending upon factors like seasonality, competition, the economy, and many more. In this section, we’ll cover specific ways you can effectively boost restaurant sales, from tried-and-true techniques to more innovative approaches.
Train your restaurant staff on up selling
Upselling is the process of influencing guest purchases by enticing them with more expensive or higher margin items and add-ons. It’s a common strategy for boosting restaurant sales, and an easy way to increase average check size and get more out of every order.
Upselling requires your staff to be perceptive and customer-minded. How many times have you felt pestered by a server who continually blasts you with question after question in an obvious attempt to get another few dollars out of you? It’s important that your employees avoid too much upselling and maintain subtlety.
Talk to your staff about the importance of upselling and coach them on how to do it gracefully. When done effectively, it should feel like great customer service. Your servers will build positive rapport with guests while improving your bottom line. One way for servers to upsell effectively is to ask discovery questions that will teach them about the guest and allow them to respond with a relevant recommendation.
Here are some up selling techniques to train your servers on:
- Suggest upgrades and add-ons. Servers can start increasing check sizes with enticing questions. The more specific and descriptive, the better. Here are three examples:
“The Malbec would pair perfectly with your steak. Should I bring a glass out with your meal, or would you like me to bring you a little taste now?”
“I ordered the roasted tomato soup for lunch today, and it was delicious. It’s a great way to start a meal. Not too filling. Can I interest you in a bowl?”
“Can I offer you coffee and dessert tonight? Our key lime pie is a personal favorite of mine. And if you’re feeling full after dinner, we offer takeout options.”
- Promote higher-margin menu items. When a guest asks a server what menu items they recommend, servers can recommend menu items with higher profit margins, or they can suggest them outright at the start.
- Be enthusiastic. Showing enthusiasm for the menu items they’re talking about will only help your servers create more genuine connections with guests and help them avoid coming across as too “sales-y.”
Maximize table turnover rates
Table turnover rate is a key factor in your restaurant’s sales. The faster you seat and serve your guests — getting them in and out — the more profit you’ll rake in.
Here are just a few techniques you can train your restaurant staff on to decrease table turn time and increase profits:
- Ask about time constraints. Start with a simple question: “What brings you folks in today?” This opener gives your guests the opportunity to share why they’re here and for you to tailor your service accordingly. If they’re off to the movies, for example, you can keep everything as quickly as possible.
- Don’t seat incomplete parties. Incomplete parties can cause table turn times to increase, causing a bottleneck in your restaurant’s meal service. A table sat with an incomplete party won’t turn as quickly as others, making it difficult to seat waiting parties and costing both the server and the restaurant money.
- Don’t be afraid to get “campers” off the table. If guests have paid and are lost in conversation, don’t be afraid to tactfully take action. Slowly clear the table over the course of multiple visits, and continue to engage with them. If that doesn’t work, politely ask if they’d be interested in sitting at the bar, if you have one.
- Consolidate table visits. Don’t take two trips when you could have easily accomplished both in one. For example, bring the table glasses of water at the start rather than introducing yourself empty-handed. This will help shave minutes off of service time.
- Use a handheld POS system. With a handheld POS system, you can take and instantly send orders to the kitchen from anywhere in the restaurant, allowing you to serve more guests and increase revenue.
Host events at your restaurant
Hosting events like live music, readings, or trivia nights is a great way to drive people into your restaurant and drive sales. When hosting an event, it’s likely that guests will stay longer — meaning slower table turns — but it also increases the likelihood of them buying more food and drinks. If you’re worried about table turn issues, schedule an event for a slow night in hopes of bringing in more customers than you would normally expect.
One important reminder: Make sure you have the appropriate licenses and permits. In some cases, you might need a permit for live entertainment.
Pay to advertise your restaurant
Paying to advertise your business on social media or elsewhere can provide excellent ROI when done correctly. Restaurant advertising options vary in cost and effectiveness. According to the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, the three most popular advertising channels are social media ads, community/event/charity sponsorship, and Google/search engine ads.
Where and how you advertise will depend upon a number of factors, from your restaurant concept and brand to your customers and location. Think through what you think will have the most impact and drive customers into your restaurant.
Connect with your local community
By tapping into your local community, you can get the word out about your restaurant, create long-lasting customer relationships, and give your sales an added boost.
There are a few ways you can leverage your local community to help drive sales:
- Plan a promotion around a big event nearby. By planning a promotion around a local sporting event, concert, or festival, you will help drive business and generate awareness of your restaurant to a larger audience. You’ll essentially be making use of the larger event’s marketing.
- Participate in your town or city’s Restaurant Week. If your city or town does a Restaurant Week, it can be a great way to boost exposure, increasing traffic and sales.
- Host community events. Promotions that address a community challenge or point of excitement are always a helpful way to generate business. Allowing local organizations to use your space taps into their network, plus, they’ll do all the promoting for you.
- Sponsor local sports teams and groups. Local sports teams and other groups are always looking for sponsorships, which usually require a small investment on your end and can be a great means of gaining exposure. It’s also a great way to build your restaurant up as a community leader, which will only send more customers your way.
Make the most of lunchtime and off-hours
Lunch is known to be a slower time for restaurants, particularly those that are full-service. But increasing lunch sales is key to greater profitability. In full-service restaurants, most of the costs associated with preparing for the dinner rush happen during the daytime. So, if you think about it, you’re paying for labor, rent and utilities whether you’re generating sales or not, and you front labor costs to get all the prep done to have a successful dinner shift. If you can generate enough sales to at least cover the daytime expenses, the next shift becomes pure profit. You can boil it down to this: The busier your lunch, the sooner you start making money.
One way to make the most of lunchtime is to use a set lunch menu designed to get diners in and out quickly. You can also offer lunch specials that drive customers in with lower cost menu item pairings.
You can apply a similar mindset to slow nights and other off-hours. Run promotions like drink specials or host events on off-peak nights like Mondays and Tuesdays to bring more customers in when your restaurant is usually near-empty and your staff is under-utilized.
Engineer your menu for maximum profitability
What if the key to increasing sales at your restaurant was your menu? Enter menu engineering: an empirical way to evaluate current and future restaurant menu pricing, using your restaurant data to influence design and content decisions.
By knowing each item’s food cost percentage and popularity, you can use menu engineering to guide guest choices towards your most profitable menu items. Menu engineering allows you to continually improve your restaurant’s profitability and the effectiveness of your menu’s design.
You can engineer your menu for maximum profitability by completing this five-step analysis:
- Choose a timeframe. Determine how often you will be able to do menu engineering and update your menu.
- Measure profitability. Look at menu item food cost, food cost percentage, and gross profit to measure profitability.
- Measure popularity. Make measuring popularity easy by plotting your menu items on a menu engineering matrix.
- Design with careful consideration. Consider visual cues, dollar signs, and menu descriptions when designing your menu.
- Determine your new menu’s success. Train your staff on your new menu and complete a food cost analysis once you’ve begun using your new menu.
Stand out on social media
Great food and service aren’t always enough to stand out and grab attention anymore. You have to use social media to promote your restaurant, extend its brand outside the walls, and connect with new and existing customers to help drive sales.
According to the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, 91% of restaurants use Facebook for marketing. Instagram is the second-most popular option this year, used by 78% of surveyed restaurateurs.
With so many restaurants now utilizing social media to engage with guests, how will you make your restaurant stand out? Here are a few best practices to apply to your restaurant social media strategy:
- Use consistent messaging and imagery.
- Share great photos that show off your menu items.
- Put out exclusive offers for your social media followers.
- Share customer testimonials and encourage guest feedback.
- Share customer-generated content.
- Put your restaurant staff in the spotlight.
Use customer loyalty programs
Getting customers into your restaurant is the first step in the sales process, but you also need to keep customers coming back. One of the best ways to increase customer retention (and drive repeat sales) is to create a customer loyalty program with points, tiers, and rewards.
According to the 2019 Restaurant Success Report, 25% of guests surveyed said loyalty programs are extremely important to their guest experience. Not only are they important to guests, but they’re important to your restaurant’s profit:
- It costs a business about 5-25 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one.
- By increasing customer retention just 5%, a business’s profitability will increase by an average of 75%.
- 80% of future profits come from 20% of current customers.
If you don’t already have a customer loyalty program in place, you should consider starting one. To get the most out of your customer loyalty program, remove any roadblocks: Provide simple enrollment options and make it easy for guests to earn points, track progress, and redeem rewards.