Executive Director’s Message: Surviving the Competition


Gregg Fraser, HRA Executive Director

New restaurants are opening in every part of town. There are an array of menu choices and concepts, some that mirror your own. So how can you compete with the new place? Most don’t have a lot of money for a big advertising campaign. You know some of your customers are going to try them out. How can I get them back and keep my other customers?

Many cringe whenever a new place opens up near their restaurant because people like new things – cars, clothes, movies, and restaurants are no exception.

When new competition comes to town, a dip in business is inevitable. If it lasts for more than a few weeks, you should start looking at ramping up your advertising (which doesn’t have to cost a lot of money) and closely examine your menu and customer service. Get your hands on a copy of your competitor’s menu (because they most likely have a copy of yours) and see what they’re offering, and at what prices. You don’t want to duplicate their menu, nor do you want to undercut to a point where you are losing money. You can try offering specials and other promotions, like two-for-one menu specials. This is also a good time to make sure your menu prices reflect the correct food cost.

Next, ask for feedback about your restaurant. It allows you to catch problems before they get out of control and also lets you know what you’re doing right. A great way to get that feedback is through customer comment cards. Comment cards are an opportunity for customers to both praise your restaurant and make suggestions. They offer instant feedback for servers, food, and atmosphere. While you will likely receive some criticism, many restaurant staff will be pleasantly surprised at the amount of positive feedback customers leave on comment cards.

Sometimes your customers need a gentle (or not so gentle) reminder that your restaurant is still around and kicking.

A Social media marketing campaign offers restaurants an opportunity to sell their product and services. Social media utilizes sites like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest, Yelp, Foursquare, Stumbleupon, Revver, and Instagram and help build an online identity for businesses. Plus they are free and not too terribly time consuming once you’ve set up accounts and pages. Another bonus – they allow you to follow your competition online. You might also look into a restaurant App, many Apps allow you a basic amount of services that are free. Take advantage of all the free offers and then look at the option of paid services.

In addition to advertising, you need to focus on good customer service, training your staff to upsell, can help improve customer experience as well as increase check averages. Up-selling should be part of your employee training. All servers should know the basics of up-selling, from offering top shelf liquor to knowing how to give a mouthwatering description of menu items. Up-selling not only increases restaurant sales, it makes for bigger tips for servers and it shows customers that your staff is knowledgeable as well as friendly.

The good thing about new competition (or old competition, for that matter) is that it keeps you on your toes. If you’ve lost customers to new restaurants, ask yourself – what are they getting there that they aren’t getting at your place? Send in scouts to check out the menu, the ambiance, the style of customer service.


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