Building trade in your quiet times is an art that may require lateral thinking

The perennial problem of how to boost restaurant patronage from Monday to Wednesday seems to regularly crop-up in our marketing training. I’m happy to deal with this, but perhaps we should expand the question to: ‘How can you encourage people to come to you during your quiet times?’ Some businesses have quite different trading patterns to the norm.

Generic marketing is like throwing $1000 bills in the air. Targeted marketing is appropriate for most small hospitality businesses

Targeted marketing is required

My first observation is that you can throw away quite a bit of money if you go down the path of advertising generically to hook more customers. This kind of marketing will inevitably encourage people to come or try to book on Thursday to Saturday, when you’re probably already full. If you’re not full or nearly full on those nights there is something wrong with your offering, and you need to address that before you go any further.

Generic ads (‘Nosh Pit – open Mon – Sun; International Cuisine’) will mostly prompt people to try to book on your already busy nights and would-be customers will possibly get politely knocked-back. Your advertising will then amount to an expensive way to irritate your customers and get them to go elsewhere. There are far cheaper ways to annoy people.

If there is no natural market , you need to create one

A networking dinner. This one is: ‘Women in Business’

I have often found that there are no natural markets at certain times of the day, week, month and year; and an astute restaurateur will accept that they have to create business that doesn’t already exist if they want to make good profits. An example of this would be the creation of regular networking dinners for different occupational groups, such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, real estate agents, retailers, etc.

You have to adopt a different mindset to do this because you are not selling food and beverage per se, you are selling a chance for the participants to catch-up on the latest industry trends and foster their networks — your food and beverage simply provides opportunity and the convivial atmosphere.

The beauty of these types of events is that you can often get that particular occupational group’s suppliers to pay for the food and beverage, because this is a great way for suppliers to target their particular clients. For instance, the drug companies are awash with money, and have limited ways to reach medical professionals without being seen to be acting unconscionably — so you would market the networking events in two directions; to the potential attendees and to the potential sponsors; it’s not hard.

Themed service tent card

Themed promotions

If that seems beyond you, you can always create special theme events, like the Chilli Lovers Dinner, Offal Night, BYO Bottle Night, or whatever your frenzied, creative thought process can dream-up. Fortune favours the brave — go for it. Over the years I’ve seen cooking, baking, bread and smallgoods making classes at lunch time on Mondays and Tuesdays; and wine education events, table and cake decoration classes, home brewing and wine making; you name it . . .

I even experienced themed events on a grander scale. Many years ago one of my clients identified August as a very quiet month, and decided to hold an Oyster Festival because oysters are at their peak then. To our astonishment small, boutique oyster growers started to send bags of their oysters in the hope that we would feature them on the menu — then the wineries started to get in on the act with boxes of wines they wanted to promote. To cut a long story short, August became the strongest month of the year with the lowest food and beverage costs. All it takes is a bit of lateral thinking and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone and take a few risks.

Consider modern yield management pricing

Yield management adjusts pricing to keep the other inventory and demand balanced

Taking a completely different tack, I believe it is time some popular restaurants adopted the same kind of yield management as hotels and the airlines use. If I want to fly interstate at 8.30am, I will pay two or three times what I’d pay at 5.30am. They know the demand exceeds the supply at 8.30, so they provide a financial incentive to travel at a time when they want more business. If you own a restaurant and you are knocking back quite a few potential customers on your busy nights, and you have spare seats earlier in the week, why not have increased prices during times of highest demand, in order to shift peoples’ dining patterns if they want to save money?

Rather than discount on the quiet nights, which would reduce you profitability, you add a premium onto your busy nights to reduce the queue. You see this kind of marketing everywhere else and probably don’t realise it. Try buying a house with a view and you’ll see what I mean.

To be fair, I have noticed that many of the restaurateurs and managers who come through our training centre are happy to acknowledge innovative ideas, but extremely reluctant to act on them. Sadly, it usually takes imminent bankruptcy to stimulate their thinking, and then it is too late.