The typical restaurant owner gets into the business out of a love of two things – food and independence. You’ll rarely, if ever, hear a restaurateur say he or she opened a restaurant because he or she loved marketing, data, or business strategy. Unfortunately, these are areas in which a great many restaurant owners are lacking. Without good marketing and strategy, even the best restaurants can fail.
On the bright side, this means that if you put even a small amount of effort into improving these skills, you’ll have a better than average change of beating the notoriously high restaurant failure rate. I’d even go so far as to speculate that part of the reason restaurant franchises succeed more often than independents is that they benefit from a large corporate office that can crunch numbers and run tests on their behalf.
So how can you benefit from testing and data in a small restaurant? For starters, get over the idea that you’ll run your restaurant on your “inspired whims” (of those of your chef). It’s great to offer up unique and creative specials, and that should certainly be part of your business if you want it to be, but don’t throw logic and testing out the window.
For example, suppose you want to permanently add a new vegetarian risotto dish to your menu. Instead of making one, why not try creating 2 or 3 for a limited time and then tracking which one sells the most units? Asking guests on your Facebook page can also be a helpful way to get feedback, but keep in mind that your big spenders may not be the same people who spend a lot of time on your Facebook page. Let the actual revenue guide you as much as possible.
The same can be done with any dish on your menu, and it can also be applied to other aspects of your restaurant. Do people order more when your staff recommends a specific appetizer? Does a certain type of music have an impact on average check size? Do people spend more when the lights are dim? What about long group dining tables? Do they decrease your revenue or increase it? We can all make guesses, but they’re very often wrong. Don’t be afraid to test different scenarios to see what works best for your specific restaurant, location, and guests. Your bottom line will thank you.