Monday, January 7, 2013

Going Back to Basics

Many restauranteurs spend an incredible amount of money in marketing, trying to fill in their restaurants with customers.

However, often they forget the basics: Their food is just OK and their service could be improved.

Customers are smart. They might go to a restaurant once or twice attracted by a clever marketing campaign, but everything will be wasted if their experience is less than stelar.

Many times I recommend restaurant owners and managers to focus on the essentials. Deliver the best food that you can make at fair prices, have a nice and clean restaurant, and give an impeccable service.

That's all.

If they do this, customers will love the restaurant and will become the best marketing and sales force by telling their friends (in person or via Social Media), leaving great reviews in Yelp and other review sites and coming back for more.

There is not better restaurant marketing that over-delivering.

If you want to spend some marketing budget, do it by surprising your customers giving them freebies that they don't expect. A free appetizer (it doesn't have to be big or expensive), a complimentary artisan bread, perhaps a liqueur at the end of a really good meal, these go a long way to surprise and delight your customers. Yes, it will cost you a bit (if you are smart, you can come up with creative and inexpensive treats) but consider this as a marketing investment. Instead of doing the old tiring ads, invest money directly on your clients. You will be rewarded a thousand times.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How to Get Your Restaurant Noticed

NOTE: This is a collaboration blog created by Brandon Serna, on behalf of FASTSIGNS. I am not associated with Brandon or FastSigns but I think that this blog contains useful information so I wanted to share it with my readers.

Restaurants need customers to survive. Whether you’re preparing to open a new establishment, hoping to revitalize business at an older restaurant, or simply trying to survive difficult economic times, chances are you’ve been thinking about ways to get your restaurant noticed. There are many helpful possibilities out there. Here are a few to get you started.

Well-designed Menu Boards

An attractive menu board, with appealing meal possibilities and easy-to-read descriptions of them, will attract a customer’s attention quickly. Make a board too confusing, and chances are you’ll lose customers rapidly. By keeping everything easy and quick to understand, you’ll help customers make fast decisions, and hopefully encourage them to come back time and again.

Work with a Charity

Charitable work gives you a chance to help a cause that’s important to you, and get your business noticed as you become more involved with members of your community. You might offer restaurant space for meetings or fundraising activities, encourage your employees to participate in community walk-a-thons, help answer phones at pledge drives, or organize clothing drives. It’s important to choose your causes wisely; if no one notices that members of your company are out helping with a particular cause, it won’t help draw business back to your restaurant. Make sure your employees are enthusiastic about the cause, too, so they will be excited about helping out any way they can.

Make Days Special

Depending on the atmosphere you already have—or hope to create—in your restaurant, you could implement a variety of ideas to make certain days of the week special at your establishment. Perhaps a family discount day is in order, or you’d prefer to offer certain dishes at a better rate on a certain day. Capitalize on sporting events that may be happening in town or on television and invite the public to come enjoy some refreshment at your restaurant. Sometimes, drawing a larger crowd takes a little ingenuity and a willingness to be creative. You may need to work with the media to get the momentum going.

Custom Banners

Custom banners tell your potential customers what you want them to know about your restaurant that’s special. You might want to let people know when Happy Hour is, when you have a special event coming up, where you’re going if you’re planning to move to a new location, whether you are holding a grand opening, or much more. Banners can add a look of professionalism to an outdoor event, or simply draw attention to your business when customers might have passed you by countless times before.

Hire the Right Wait Staff

Wait staff must not only be capable of being good servers, but it is essential that they have solid sales skills as well. Find servers who are good listeners, friendly, and able to relate well to customers. Your employees will also need to be trained in aspects of selling the dishes you offer. Ensure they know the items on the menu, including how they are prepared, and what ingredients they contain. Allow your new staff members to taste the menu items you offer.

Customer Loyalty

By implementing the right strategies at your business, you should be able to draw customers back to your restaurant again and again. The important thing is paying strong attention to what appears to be working and what isn’t. Keep your prices as reasonable as possible. Customers are focused on value and having a simple, positive experience. The job isn’t always easy, but in the long run, it will be worthwhile.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Why Most Restaurant Websites Are So Bad?

I've just read a great article in Slate ( that talks about how bad (in general) restaurant websites are.

Basically, there are two kings of restaurant webistes:

  1. The amateurish ones made, for free or for a meal by the cousin or a friend of the owner with some basic knowledge of HTML and zero skills with design. You know the ones that I mean, when you open the site, they look terrible and they are seldom if ever updated.

  1. The super-expensive ones, made by a "Web master" full of Flash animation and created to self-please the webmaster or the restaurant owner or Chef but not to provide with useful information to the potential customers.

When users to go to a restaurant website, they are looking for an easy way to navigate and find one or more of the following information items:

* Menus (with the following elements):
- Descriptions
- Prices
- Photos to see what they are going to get
* Wine list with prices
* A way to make a reservation (online, phone number, etc.)
* Contact Information (email, phone, etc.)
* Address and directions to the restaurant
* Some photos of the restaurant so that they know how the place looks before they step into the restaurant
* A form to leave comments or feedback (instead of going straight to Yelp, or CitySearch
* Events or specials (updated, please)

The rest (flash animations, annoying music, photos of the SuperChef with a big smile… are superfluous, annoying and self-congratulatory exercises in futility. Customers hate them (I know I do!), restaurateurs pay extra for frills that they don't need, and web masters get to practice their Flash skills and charge their customers high fees.

I would recommend that you read my free article: Ten Basic Rules to Have An Effective Restaurant Website. It contains a lot of good information to have a useful and practical website.

Good luck!
Jose L Riesco

Friday, July 1, 2011

Simplify Your Restaurant Business

The older I grow, the more I like simple things.

Simple doesn't mean dumb or easy, or idiotic. Simple means stripping down the superfluous, the unnecessary, the complicated, the redundant to focus on the core, on what it is really important, on the essence.

This could be applied to anything: to your personal life and also to your restaurant business. A complicated menu with lots of ingredients, complicated operations, complicated rules and regulations, complicated schedules for your staff, etc. give your business an extra overhead and weight that you could do without.

How can you simplify your restaurant business, you may be wondering? Here are some suggestions:

1.- Simplify your menus.

I can't stress enough how important this item is. Many restaurateurs think that a large menu is an asset. In reality, it is not. Not only you get confused customers but you need to train your kitchen staff in the preparation of many items, keep track of which ones sell well and which ones don't, enter all the items in your Point of Sale, train your waiters in the ingredients that each dish have, keep a large inventory of ingredients, etc. On top of everything, I can guarantee you that most customers order 20% of your items all the time. It is much better to have a very simple menu with really good dishes than a large menu with average dishes. People will remember your restaurant because of a few well executed dishes, not because your menu has 20 pages.

What should you do to simplify your menu? First, if you have the information, look at the sales of dishes for the last 6 months to 1 year. Eliminate dishes starting from the bottom of sales. Don't be afraid to cut the menu down to just a handful of good dishes. You can always add some specials. The important thing is that you leave those special dishes that make your restaurant famous or for which people will come to eat at your place.

Once you simplify your menu, you can also reduce the number of your ingredients (saving thus money and preparation time), your staff (kitchen and floor) would be able to learn the new dishes much quicker and either prepare them or explain them to your customers way easier.

You will also be able to keep track of sales much easier than before.

2.- Simplify your operations.

Do you have complicated schedules and/or rules? (tipping rules, employee rotation, what to do with unsatisfied customers, food ordering, number of providers, etc. If so, you should think about simplifying them.

Look at all your operations with an objective perspective. If you see that you have anything that can be made simpler, do it. Not only your employees will be happier having to follow less procedures and understanding the basic rules but you will save many headaches and lots of time.

3.- Simplify your marketing.

Are you investing a lot of money or time in marketing? If so, you should consider simplifying your investments. The best marketing for a restaurant is the simplest and often the most inexpensive one. Here you have a few ideas of simple marketing that just works:

4.- Simplify your decor.

Sometimes less is more. Lots of ornaments and things in your restaurant means more time to clean, more maintenance and an impression of clutter. Look around your place. Do you really need to have that deer head hanging from the wall? I don't mean that a restaurant should be barren, after all, people need to feel comfortable. If you don't have the eye for interior decoration, I would suggest to invest some money and hire a professional to help you. It doesn't need to be very expensive. Sometimes eliminating clutter and freshly painting the walls with nice neutral colors is all you need. Think about it.

5- Simplify your schedule.

Do you have a complicated business opening and closing schedule? Does it vary by the day of the week? Many times customers get annoyed when they go to your place just to find out that you open at 4pm each day except for the day when they visit. Same thing with weekends, etc.

Same thing with your workers. Do you have an easy to understand and logical rotation schedule? If not, you should. People like to know when they are working and when they rest so that they can plan accordingly. Of course, this doesn't mean that you can't be flexible when they ask you for changes. But these should be the exceptions, not the rule.

Try to make a simple and predictable schedule so that your employees and customers know what's going on.

These are just 5 simple rules to simplify your business. I'm sure that you can find many more on your own. The point that I am trying to make is that simple is often better. Better for your customers, better for you, better for your business, and better for your employees.

Everyone wins.

Happy simplification,
Jose L Riesco

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Power of Restaurant Customers

I’ve just read an interesting article in BusinessWeek about the Yelp Elite reviewers and their power to make or break a restaurant. It is kind of scary to think that these people, mysteriously selected by Yelp (they don’t say the criteria) have so much power and feel entitled to review a restaurant based on their experience of one visit. If one waiter has a bad day, tough luck, the restaurant will go down in infamy because of the review of the Yelp Elite Member.

You can read the complete article here:

Although this seems like a very unfair practice (and it is), you have always to remember everything that I told you: your main marketing expenses should be always focused on your existing customers. It is useless to spend money trying to bring new customers to your restaurant (at least that you just opened it) while neglecting the ones that you already have sitting at your table.

In the past, there were a few prestigious food critics. Only big newspapers and magazines could afford to have foodies in their staff eating at fashionable places and writing a review about them. Because of the scarcity of the critics, 90% of the restaurants never got reviewed and therefore could afford to keep on doing business as usual, even if business as usual meant getting several customers unhappy or even blatantly angry. After all, the maximum damage that they could do is to tell their friends and family, a relatively reduced crowd.

In these days of the Internet and Social Media, everything has changed. All the sudden, the critics could be anyone and their opinions are read by hundreds if not thousands of potential customers. If you already know the place, you make your own opinions based on your own experience, but if you don’t, you probably go online (I know I do) and read the opinions of other people who had eaten there.

With all the restaurant offerings guess which one people will choose? The one with high ratings and reviews or the one with low ratings and nasty comments?

The fact that the opinions can be read by so many people means that each customer counts. Never underestimate the lonely customer that you sit in the crappiest table because you think that s/he will spend little money. S/he could be an Elite member of Yelp or just some foodie blogger with influence over hundreds or even thousands (depending where your place is located) potential customers.

Just that one meal could cost you dearly in future revenues.

If you always follow the model that I preach: bend backwards to please your customers and think that your clients are your number one priority, you will be heads and shoulders above your competitors who think short term profits versus lifelong clients.

Of course, I am partial, but if you haven’t done so, I would recommend that you buy my Restaurant Marketing Strategies book or ebook (just click on the link for more info, it is a VERY inexpensive marketing investment that can bring you thousands in revenue). Read very carefully chapter one and try to apply the learnings to your business.

Your customers will be grateful that you did and your business will get great online reviews.

Happy customers,
Jose L Riesco

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sitting is killing you

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, there is one thing nearly all modern Americans have in common: we sit all the time. Though our great shift towards computer-based work has done great things for productivity, it has, unfortunately, done terrible things for our health. From increased risk of heart disease and obesity in the long term, to sharply hampered cholesterol maintenance in the short term, the negative health effects of sitting are starting to weigh heavily against the benefits. Even the medical field – the greatest advocates and reducing sitting time – is plagued by this new health issue. Though doctors and nurses get plenty of walking time, it usually falls to the secretaries, billers, and coders to do all the sitting. And, as we can see, something has to change.

This is a great graphic that shows the perils of spending a lot of time sitting...

Sitting is Killing You
Via: Medical Billing And Coding

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why You Shouldn't Use Groupon

I often get this question from restaurant owners and managers about Groupon.

Should I use Groupon to attract hundreds of people to my place?

My answer is simple. No, you shouldn't. And the reason is very simple.

It is true that Groupon could bring many customers to your business but the question that you should ask yourself is: Are these the kind of customers that you want?

Not only your profit margin will be minuscule (if any) after all the fees that you must pay to Groupon and all the (big) discounts that you must give to these customers but, by definition, you will bring people who are addicted to bargains. If your hope is to capture these customers so that they will love your place and come back to your restaurant, I have bad news for you: They won't. Instead, they will go to the next restaurant that gives them a new Groupon offer.

If you read my book Restaurant Marketing Strategies or some of the content in this site, you know how much I don't like spending money to attract new customers. Instead, try something different: Spend your marketing budget in your existing customers.

Yes, that's right. Treat your regular customers like kings and queens. Surprise them with something extra that they don't expect. Woo them with impeccable service and excellent food. Give them some free dishes or gift certificates so that they come back another time. Make your best effort to convince them (with facts, no words) that your restaurant is their favorite restaurant in the city.

Not only you will expend less money than trying to bring hundreds of cheap customers to your place, but these customers who you already have in your restaurant will come back and bring their friends and family members with them. They will become your best salesforce because people trust their friends and family members more than any fancy advertising. And, as an added bonus, they will be so happy with your business that they will express their opinions in blogs and forums all over the place.

When somebody is looking to try a new restaurant, they go to the Internet and look for reviews. If yours scores very high in customer satisfaction, this is the best advertisement that you can buy at any price.

Good luck,

Jose L Riesco

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Super Clients


Every small business has these special customers, you know who I mean, the regulars who come often to your place and spend nice money. They love your restaurant and are happy to enjoy a good meal at your place.

But these customers are not just good clients, they are also very powerful influencers and if you do the right thing, they can become your best sales force. Let me explain what I mean.

Whenever you have very happy clients, you can "leverage" them to spread the word about your restaurant. If you are familiar with my Formalized Referral System in a Box, you know that you can pamper these customers by offering them gift certificates for them (and this is VERY important) for their friends and family members to come again to your restaurant and get a nice discount.

Why would you like to give something to clients who come regularly anyway? Because by giving them a free meal or a discount you prove three things directly to them:

  1. That you care about them. There is not just about the money but you genuinely want them to be happy and have a great experience dinning at your place.
  2. That you appreciate their patronage and are willing to demonstrate it not just with words but with a gift.
  3. You pamper their ego since you, as the owner or manager of the restaurant, acknowledge their presence and reward their company. Everybody likes that.

But there is another very important benefit that although it may be not obvious to them, it will happen anyway:

By surprising your best clients with a gift, you will exceed their expectations.

This will translate in them telling all their family and friends how great your place is and how nice you are. This is sales at its best. Genuine, spontaneous praise of a business by a person you trust and like. The amount of potential customers and sales that this initiative will bring to your restaurant is priceless.

I recommend you that you take a hard look at your regular customers and make a conscious decision to approach them and give them a reason to be really happy that they visited your place.

Just one word of advice: don't be cheap here. If you just give them a free dessert or glass of wine, it is a nice gesture but it won't woo your customers. If you do this, make it stand out. Complement their whole meal, bring them a bottle of a complementary good wine, give them a gift certificate that they can use in their next visit... you get the point.

Think about this as a proven marketing investment that will bring you good reputation and many new customers. It is way better to spend money with your best clients than to waste it in newspapers or yellow pages ads trying to bring new customers all the time.

Good luck and happy meals,

Jose L Riesco

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The impossible customers

You all know who they are. Angry people who are looking for an excuse to blame everybody around for their unhappiness.

I met a few of these when I was managing my own restaurant. Actually, we had several who were regular clients and keep on complaining all the time: about the temperature of the food (too hot or too cold), about the service (too slow or they didn't spend enough time chatting with them), about the music (too loud or they just didn't like it, could we please turn it off?)... you get the point.

Now, if you have read my book or just my blogs and articles, you'll know that I always advocate to bend backwards to please your customers. But what if the customers are impossible to please? What can you do to please those customers who no matter what you do will always complain?

First I will tell you what no to do. You don't want to confront them or to argue with them. This is exactly what they are looking for. They have rage inside and a good fight with a waiter, manager or restaurant owner will give them satisfaction and perhaps an excuse for a free meal.

What you need to do is to diffuse the situation. Try to no take their criticism personal (it is not) and give them alternatives to their complain. For example, when they asked me to turn off the music, I explained to them that I understood that they wanted to talk but most people were enjoying the music so I lowered the music a bit and relocated them to sit on a different table farther away from the speakers. That didn't make them happy but they complied and I took the arguments for them to complain about.

Try to work a solution with them and if everything else fails, offer them a free meal and let them know that perhaps next time they should look for a different restaurant. If they appreciate your place, they will come back and hopefully behave next time. If this doesn't happen and you see that they come over and over and always complain, well, there is a point to cut your loses. Let them know that this is the last time that you serve them and invite them to visit a different restaurant next time.

I still remember the case of a couple, the guy quite introverted and his wife always complaining about every single thing. They used to come to my restaurant and although, they spent good money, no server wanted to wait their table because they were impossible to please. At one point, I had them with them so I approached their table and I told them that since they never seemed happy with our food or service, I will complement them their dinner that night and invite them never to come back to my place. The impact was immediate. The always quiet husband looked at her wife and told her in a quite angry tone that he really liked my restaurant and wanted to stay so she better be quiet.

After that day, things changed for the better. Although she still complained here and there, her attitude was very different and she behaved almost normal.

The point that I am trying to make is that you must always please your customers but also you can select the customers that you want. After all, if you can't make some customers happy, no matter what you try, what's the point? It is not good for either of you. Besides, they will have a negative influence on the rest of your clients.

Treat your customers the best you can and eliminate the ones that cause you problems or disruptions. In this way, your restaurant will be always full of happy people and that's what you want.

Happy meals,
Jose L Riesco

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Playing safe or the dead of originality

I was listening on the radio today how most of Hollywood new movies are sequels. 27 of them for 2011! Marketers and corporate suits are killing any original or non-mass market directed movies.

 Audiences are mainly preteens and teens and more and more adults are staying home creating thus a vicious circle, after all, who wants to spend a small fortune to watch a movie that has more special effects than plot?

When you think about it, the same happens to restaurants. When you travel, more and more restaurants are chains or franchises. People like to go to places that are familiar with and feel comfortable ordering and eating. 

Personally, I prefer independent films and independent restaurants with substance. I like the discovery of nice, unique places where the owners great you and the food is a surprise. Perhaps I am more open than most Americans to all kinds of food, perhaps I like the uniqueness of a family (or boutique) restaurant.

If you own a franchise, I guess you are in luck since people seems to love chains; however, if you own a small independent restaurant, don't despair, some people still love their neighborhood independent restaurants.

I would suggest that you maximize the difference with the large chains. Here are some things you can do to that effect:
  • Create a unique ambiance that reflects your food and style, different from the chain restaurants.
  • Offer unique dishes, not the typical fare that franchises offer.
  • Greet the customers, learn the names of the regulars and talk to them. People loved to be recognized and acknowledged.
  • Change menus or at least offer different specials often. It is very difficult for franchises and big chains to modify their menus since standardization is part of their game.
  • Suggest or even cook dishes out of the menu for special customers. Big chains can't do this.
  • Treat each customer differently. If you make a mistake, compensate the customers. Big chains have policies and procedures and often they can't complement a failed service, just offer some freebies.
  • Don't spend money in advertising and PR. Leave this for the big chains. Instead, use referrals as your preferred way to bring new customers. I would suggest that you download my free Restaurant Referral System in a Box and setup a formalized referral system for your restaurant.

And here you have it. The good news is that you have a lot of control over each aspect of your restaurant so you need to maximize this strength.

Good luck and happy meals.
Jose L Riesc