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Congratulations on your business. I know how hard the restaurant business can be. I recently sold a fine dining restaurant that I owned and operated for a number of years and worked in the business prior to that. These are definitely interesting times for your market. However, some of the basics apply regardless of market conditions.
First, how do you differentiate yourself? Are there other cafes in the area? If so, why would diners choose to spend their money with you as compared to the competition?
You need to answer these questions first. You don't want to be just another café. Customers want something that they can connect with and being generic doesn't give them that option. Trying to be all things to all people is like trying to please everyone - resulting in no one being particular happy.
Second, have you used your food for marketing? When I owned my restaurant, I used to take samples to different businesses in town. I would go to the Chamber of Commerce and give samples to the staff that worked the front. When new people would come in and ask their opinion of a good place to eat, they would recommend my place because they had a first-hand (or first-mouth in this case) experience with my food.
I used to take food to front desk staff at the local hotels that didn't have restaurants and had guests that were in my demographic. I would take food to local B&Bs, banks, art galleries, etc.. By bringing food, I got their attention and it gave me a great opportunity to build rapport and speak about what was new at our restaurant. Basically, I was creating other people that would speak about my business. Plus, often they would allow me to leave trifold copies of our menus to hand out. I would also supply food for some of the monthly Chamber of commerce mixers and have promotional materials left near the food.
Third, have you looked into holding events at your café? These can be charity events and business breakfasts or luncheons.
Fourth, how often do you change your menu? We changed our menu every three to four months to keep things fresh, season and exciting for our guests. We wouldn't change everything, just get riud of the slow movers and add in some new seasonal items.
Fifth, we collected contact information through holding a raffle for guests that filled out a comment card. This would allow us to get customer feedback plus, stay in touch with them as we had events and menu changes to promote. You need to stay in regular touch with those that dine with you.
Just some ideas to get you started. However, I must stress that before you go farther, it is imperative that if you haven't defined your differentiation, start there first. I saw a number of restaurants that tried to cast a wider net by expanding who they were and all failed. It is better to be defined and own a niche than trying to be all things to all people. Once you have defined who you are, you can focus your marketing efforts to attract specific customers.
Hope this helps.
The Solopreneur's Guide
Families still like to eat out, but if there are several children, this can be an obstacle. Do you have childrens meals and discounts? How about senior citizens discounts. These days it's all about how much bang a customer will get for his buck. Do you have take out?
We do have take out, most of the dinner crowd 4-8pm is take out, most of the breakfast and lunch is eat in.
I like the idea of a kids eat in special. Something to try.
These are all great Tips and ideas, thank you for the time in shearing them. I think you are absolutely right we may have been guilty of trying to please to many and not pleasing any. There is no other Cafe near by only a Dunking Donut with limited seating, and we do pride ourselves on the friendly dinning atmosphere.
First thing first we will work on differentiating our self, and begin to employ some of the other marketing ideas. What I appreciate in your response all these ideas are low cost which is perfect for this market at this time.
I'll let you know
I hope that it all goes well. When times get tough, it's common to take a look at what others are doing and try to replicate it. However, then the market sees you as a copycat - and unless you blow them away, they tend to favor the restaurant that created the concept or idea first.
What I did as a rule was cut a particular dollar amount from my marketing budget that I allocated to print ads and radio spots because I wasn't seeing the ROI (it wasn't reflected in the comment cards and asking guests where they heard about us).
Let's use a round number $1000. By cutting $1000 in print ads and radio, I would create $1000 (price) of food along with trifolds or flyers that included the menu and new events or changes. Since the price was $1000, my actual cost was closer to about $300. I saved $700 and had a much more effective, interactive campaign that gave me back great insight.
I was able to get peoples' perceptions about my establishment and corrected a few. On the positive side, most of the feedback was excellent because we had won a number of awards for cuisine and service excellence. However, the perception was that we were far more expensive than the competition (which wasn't true) which obviously was a big negative in a down market. Most people viewed us as the special occasion place.
I tried fighting the perception for a little while, but failed. Instead I chose to go with it. I couldn't create more birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, etc... but I could create more special occasions. We created various wine dinners and parties that went over very well. But I was able to do this because I had a well defined differentiating factor. Without differentiation, it is near impossible to create effective programs convincing the right customers why they should dine with you.
I hope all goes well. Good luck.
The Solopreneur's Guide
So I started using my food to market and that worked out great. I took meals to the security of Senior homes (who were shocked by the way) and some hotel front desk. Only to find out that the security was the one to order for most people in the building so we keep him happy and well feed. Since this deliveries has increased. Great idea SoloGuide, thanks!
I am happy to hear that the program is working for you.
After reading your updated profile, have you considered approaching nearby churches for advertisement in their bulletins? These usually aren't that expensive and seem to have a good connection with your focus. Some other options would be bring samples to some of the larger bible study groups (make sure you bring menus) and offer special times or days when you will donate 5% or 10% of proceeds back to the diner's choice of house of worship.
Good luck with growing your business.
There are two additional strategies that have been successful for some of our clients.
The first is a custom gift card program. As we all know, gift cards are an extremely popular gift, however they can also be used as a great marketing tool. One idea with gift cards would be to load a stack of them with $5-10 worth of value and visit local shops and office builidings near your new location. Give them away like business cards, inviting folks to use them to get their first coffee/sandwich/dessert/etc for free. This promotion requires minimal cost to the business owner and provides huge return.
The second is launching a customer rewards program. There are 2 things that this program will do for you. First, it will incent your customers to return to your shop for future visits. This repeat business is obviously good for the bottom line but will also increase the word-of-mouth champions for your business. The second and main purpose is to begin to gather information from your customers (opt-in of course) and to begin tracking their purchasing patterns. A properly implemented card-based system will not only act as a mini-billboard in your customers wallet, but also allow you to identify and segement your customers, to determine whom is most valuable to your business.
Research has shown that your top customer segments are 45 times more likely to respond to your marketing offers. So, with the data that you have gathered, you would be able to employ a targeted marketing approach to drive future visits and waste much less money on "traditional" pay-and-pray advertising.
One last tip. NEVER get generic designed gift/rewards cards. They should be completely custom for your business. Something that you would be proud for your customers to see everytime they open their wallets!
email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I may have a good way for you to advertise your business.
I'll address how to attract customers by advertising. Since it's really hard to find affordable advertising I created a business where I can place ads for smaller businesses in the online classifieds and do it for so much less than newspaper advertising. I wanted smaller businesses to be able to afford it especially in these tough times. The businesses who are alraedy doing it are happy with the results. Usually, if you get even just one sale or one new customer from an ad, it's more than paid for itself. I start out at $14.95 for a 1 month ad on 5 different sites. For a small local business like yours, what I do is research around your area for the local online classifieds since you want local customers, not necessarily people from another state! So say you have a local tv station or newspaper that has a website, usually they will have a classified ad section and that would be the best place for your ad. Then, in those ads is where you can put as little or as much information about your business as you want (location, phone #, hours,etc), any promotions, specials, sales, a partial menu, etc.( I also will create the ad for you.) If you would like to know more just email me or see my website (link below.) All the best in the success of your business!
What kind of couponing are you doing? Perhaps you can partner with that grocery store on specials? If you tell us a bit more about your cafe, I'll do a quick analysis of your search engine presence-- how easy/hard you are to find on google and in map searches. Odds are that you don't show up when people type in "cafe" or "coffee shop" in a map search across multiple search engines. And it's easy to fix-- free.
My name is Rajesh and I am from Chennai, India. I aspire to start a small business this year and am still firming up my Bplan. I have a decade of professional experience in sales and marketing.
We tend to see business from a very myopic view. Let me expand your beusiness definition for you. You are in the business of attacting people who may want to snatch a bite or a coffee while on the stroll - impulse purchase. Dining is a conscious purchase decision that is planned in advance, but visit to a small cafe is not. You recognise this and try to work out around this drawback. look across industries, and you will soon find that the competition is non-existent. I will share some ideas and other senior members in the community may advise you on its usability :
1. Convert your cafe into a community: seek inspiration from Website blogs, communities. Create a database of people with shared interest and hobbies, however diverse it may be. Invite the community over for a discussion and chit chat ( coffee and snacks will just happen). offer discounts. Imagine calling a group on nominated - astronomy day , mathematics day , rock music day etc.
2. Offer low cost freebies and then the premiums: Ever wondered why a particular razor will always have a particular blade. It is called lead in follow on. Offer some low cost freebie and charge premium on extra amounts. Like using a trial software and paying premium for the full version. But the freebie has to be very very tempting. A teeny weeny cut of the most evil chocolate pastry
3. Charge Membership Fees : Create a membership to allow customers to your place during the pre determined hours. You may offer them discounts, free choice to play a limited number of songs ( if you have a music kiosk) and others.
4. Procure and sell items not related to cafe: You could also use your database to sell specific items. like print-your-own-message T-shirts, your-own-photo tea cups, catalogue
The opportunities are immense and you just need to look accross boundaries to sell. Remember that a cafe business is not just Coffee business. It is a chat room.
do write what you think