Being a homer should be in the Ten Commandments of this business, right after “Serve Fresh Ingredients” and “Always Build Rapport”. Being a homer means representing the surrounding community in a variety of ways, through activities such as:
• Participating in local events
• Sponsoring athletic events
• Contributing to charities
• Being featured in local newspapers/websites
• Posting local paraphernalia around the interior
• Offering discounts to locals
These all add up to embedding the business in the community. The majority of independent restaurants are run by members of the surrounding community or people who have lived and worked in the area for many years. This should be a strength of the business. It should help forge a connection between the restaurant and the community, which has to become an asset.
Unfortunately, too many operators miss out on this opportunity for growth. Sure, they may embrace local guests and get to know the people in the neighborhood. But really embracing the community means local tie-ins, sponsored events, and awards from local media. It means truly getting involved with the lives of people, inside and outside of the restaurant. This is an effort that can build exceptional long-term dividends.
Decorate the Interior
You’ve seen the restaurants with thousands of pictures of local diners or pennants and awards from the local sports teams. This is a shrewd strategy for business owners looking to become part of the community. Businesses that work at it can become a destination for celebrations or get-togethers, just as bars in major cities often establish themselves as hangouts for the fans of local (or even out-of-state) teams.
This is one beauty of the hospitality business. Local guests feel more welcome when they know they’re dining at a locally owned and operated business. The casual restaurant or pizza joint with interior decoration that means it could be located in any city in the country is missing out on the clientele they should be aiming for.
Get to Know People
Becoming part of the community means that the operator has to care about the lives of guests. He has to be out front in the dining room when guests arrive, asking questions about their families, jobs, or interests. He has to be having fun, laughing, and joking around, and genuinely interested in what is new in the community.
This should be a minor effort. After all, this is the hospitality business, and it should be fun (most of the time) to talk with the people entering the building. Make as many of them as possible feel like VIPs and watch as they eventually take ownership of your business, feeling as though your success is indicative of the welfare of the community.
In some instances, the location of the building can contribute to the sense of a local tie-in with the community. For example, many cities have tourist or business areas where out-of-towners tend to congregate. Restaurants located there might benefit from the increased traffic, but this can be a turn-off to locals who prefer to avoid the crowds.
There are certainly pros and cons to many potential restaurant locations. However, locations where only locals would go tend to build a sense that the place is a community spot. This can combine with other elements to create the niche of the business, and create the beginnings of a continual source of clientele.
Hire Local Employees
Local employees who are from or have ties to the area are a great way to build a connection with the community. This is an important tool when the operator is not from the area. Strong employees who know the fabric and character of the environment can stay out front in the dining room and hostess stand, welcoming guests from the moment they walk in the door.
There are many ways to build ties with the locals. For some reason, there are many struggling restaurants who fail to grasp any of them. This is a quick fix in an industry with few of them.