How to Grow Your Restaurant the Cheap Way

A major asset that new restaurant operators have is the variety of inexpensive ways to grow a restaurant. Some tools focus on the marketing end and others focus on cutting costs in the kitchen. In the best of worlds, you can spread your efforts on growth across a variety of resources and follow these tips.

· Be willing to adjust: Don’t ring the same bell too many times. If something’s not working, there are many other marketing/purchasing opportunities to grow.
· Spread your attention: Don’t merely excel at social marketing or only pay attention to printing coupons. Mix it up to reach the widest audience.
· Work the phone: Challenge vendors to compete against each other and never be married to a single vendor.
· Get butts in the seats: Nobody wants to give anything away, but there’s a lot to be said for a new restaurant that looks crowded.
· Step out of your comfort zone: Trying something different is sometimes the best answer. Maybe you don’t know how to market to women, but a Ladies’ Night event can bring in a lot of new customers.

As is the case with your concept and menu, your low-cost growth efforts should be a reflection of your personality. Look around at what other restaurants are doing for a few new cost-efficient tricks up your sleeve.

Rewards Cards

Independents are at a disadvantage when battling against major national brands with a proven track record. Your best asset can be attracting return business, especially the kind of business you covet. Rewards cards are a great tool, letting you apply discounts for repeat visits or add credit based on a percentage of a total bill.

Make sure the cards themselves are classy—perhaps try a plastic credit card-like format with magnetic stripes for your POS terminals to read. Attach them to sectors you covet, such as a corporate card or a local business owner’s card.

Promotional Nights

Promotions are about marshaling word of mouth in your favor. Promotions are a great idea to find cheap ways to give people something to talk about. Promotions have to fit your concept. If you’re a fine-dining restaurant, make them a classy event. If you’re a pizza joint, make them family-oriented. If you’re a local independent, center them around a local event, such as a high school football game or a charitable cause.

Promotions that entail give-aways or reduced cost menus should go hand-in-hand with your vendors supplying you cheaper food/beverages. Hit up your suppliers for deals, or buy lower-cost proteins, liquor and wine. In the end, your promotions are mostly about enticing new guests and earning their long-term business. They’re not about one-time margin bumps.

Use Local Vendors

Local vendors are often looking for exposure. Offer your venue in exchange for reduced costs and you have a win-win. This may be a small return, such as pastry shop giving you cheap desserts to sell. But local vendors imply to your guests a local connection with the surrounding community. They signal local investment that can’t be found in a corporate restaurant.

Use Discounted Menus

Discounted menus have become pervasive in recent years, especially as a response to the challenges presented by the economy. Everyone from expensive steakhouses to mom-and-pops has tried discounted menus, and many of them have been successful.

Discounted menus should demonstrate value to be effective. They have to convey the same great food, service, and whatever else you’re known for, at a reduced cost. They should also have a catchy name and be well-advertised. They should make your guests say, “Hey, have you heard about Restaurant X’s “— —“ menu?”

Use Social Media

Believe it or not, Facebook and Twitter were created for people like you—the small business owner looking to grow his business without spending a dime. Facebook dovetails beautifully with this business because it’s the perfect platform to announce promotions, coupons, rewards cards, relationships with local vendors, discounted menus, or anything else on your mind. With social media carrying your torch, you’ll never have to buy a poorly viewed advertisement in a widely-ignored local newspaper again.

Whichever growth tools you use, be sure to stick with trial-and-error tactics and keep at it. This business offers ample opportunities to get the word out while keeping costs down.