Tuesday, May 31, 2016

4 of the Most Common Pitfalls Faced During a Restaurant Rebrand

Deciding to rebrand a restaurant can be a major risk—it might involve redesigning the physical space, opting for a new logo, significantly changing the menu, or even choosing a new name. In essence, a rebrand is a signal to customers and other businesses that the restaurant’s whole approach to the preparation and serving of food will be different. In today’s volatile markets, rebrands sometimes are necessary. A rebrand can renew a restaurant’s business and generate a whole new group of regular customers if it is approached carefully. Unfortunately, restaurant developers often fall into a few common pitfalls when they decide to undertake a rebrand.

Below are some of the hazards that arise during the rebrand process and a look at how they can be avoided.

1. Failing to do market research.

Before undertaking a rebrand, restaurant developers need to research the market and determine if the rebrand will help secure a greater share of it. What exactly will the new brand say about the restaurant, and why would it appeal more to customers than the current brand? To answer this question, it’s important to analyze why a rebrand is necessary in the first place. Sometimes, restaurateurs will find that they can realign their brand rather than undertaking a radical rebrand.

Since big changes cost a lot of time and money, restaurant developers should see how customers react to more subtle ones. The results may be surprising. Listening to feedback from customers can reveal a lot about what they already like about the brand, which can point to ways of preserving it or identify what elements should be reincorporated into the new brand. The value of market research during a rebrand cannot be understated. Restaurant developers cannot lead a successful rebrand unless they fully understand how customers think about the restaurant as it is now, and how they feel about proposed changes.

2. Not integrating the new brand into all aspects of the business.

When restaurateurs limit the rebrand to just a new name or logo, they may be disappointed with the results of the project. When customers hear that a restaurant is undergoing a rebrand, they will want to see changes in the food, the service, or the look of the place—in other words, in the way the business is run. If longtime customers come into the restaurant and see that nothing has really changed except the name, they probably won’t give the establishment another chance. Even worse, a superficial rebrand can drive off some regular customers who may not like the new name or new look, even if they like the food.

A rebrand is a promise to customers and employers that the restaurant will operate in a different way. If a restaurant developer hires a new chef and decides to turn a neighborhood café into a high-end, luxury restaurant, everything from the décor to the presentation of the food must change. Simply altering the menu will result in a strange hodgepodge that drives away old customers and sends mixed, confusing signals to new customers. Customers, whether old or new, quickly see through a superficial rebrand, and it may put them off.

3. Avoiding differentiation.

When restaurateurs are motivated to rebrand their restaurant to make it trendier, they often lose what differentiates them from the competition. Rather than trying to make their restaurant more like the competition, restaurant developers should identify and embrace what the restaurant does well and highlight that with the new brand.

For example, if a restaurant developer notices that their establishment’s seafood dishes sell very well, despite the fact that the eatery presents itself as a steakhouse, it may be time to ditch that identity and transform into a seafood restaurant. However, if the restaurant developer decides to turn their steakhouse into a seafood eatery simply because that’s what the most successful restaurants in the neighborhood are serving, then the rebrand will likely fail.

4. Underestimating or misjudging the power of the existing brand.

Some restaurant developers try to rebrand because they feel that the new brand will appeal to customers more than the current one. Too often, however, restaurateurs do this without taking the time to think about what is appealing about the current brand.

Take, for example, the neighborhood bar and grill that people frequent for a quick meal and a drink after a long day at work. Some restaurant developers may take the success of the eatery to indicate that it could shed its pub image and instead open as a luxury cocktail lounge with upscale food. If customers like the restaurant because it is a laid-back, casual place to get solid food at a decent price, a transformation into a pricey lounge will drive them away.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

3 Important Tips for Creating the Best Restaurant Website

website code
One of the most important branding tools that a restaurant developer has is a website. For many diners, the website will serve as the first point of contact with the restaurant, and if it looks dated or fails to offer relevant information, people may choose to eat elsewhere. In an increasingly digital world, restaurant developers need to recognize the importance of investing in quality web designers who can create a clean, modern, easy-to-use site for potential diners. In addition, it is important to keep the website regularly updated, not only to reflect changes to the menu, but also to keep up with the latest web design standards. For example, many restaurant websites continue to play background music, which will instantly turn many potential customers away, because this is a very dated feature.

Below are some of the key points to keep in mind for restaurateurs seeking to create a winning website for their establishment. 

1. Content is key.

As with any website, clear and engaging content will pull individuals in and keep them reading. The About page needs a well written story that reflects the restaurant’s brand and vision. It should also highlight important members of the staff. A page that includes the restaurant’s address, contact information, hours of operation, and perhaps an embedded Google Map or written directions is also necessary.

In addition, it’s important to create a page dedicated to the current menu, and to keep it updated. People shouldn’t see last year’s Christmas specials still listed on the page in April. Many restaurants only upload scanned PDFs of their menus, rather than building an actual page that lists the current dishes. This can be frustrating for users—no one wants to go through the extra step of downloading a document just to get basic information that should be clearly presented on the page.

To engage with customers, restaurant developers should also consider creating a blog on the site that allows staff to write about the history of the restaurant, highlight specific dishes, announce new menu items, and offer other engaging content. Such a blog appeals to both readers and Google’s search algorithms.

2. Link the website with social media.

social media
Many social media websites have grown into important tools for connecting with current and future customers, as well as marketing a restaurant. A restaurant’s website should link to all its major social media accounts, from Facebook to Instagram. All of these networks have tools for embedding links, and designers should avoid pop-ups or any other sort of “in-your-face” advertising that can detract from the user experience. Give visitors the opportunity to go to the Facebook account and “like” it if they are impressed by the website, as well as the tools needed to share content, including menus, pictures, and blog posts on their own accounts. Nothing more than a simple button is required for encouraging shares.

Some social networks may demand a greater degree of integration, such as booking services like OpenTable. If restaurants use OpenTable or a similar service to make reservations, this should have its own page that is clearly designated in the website’s navigation menu. Many people come to the website with the intention of booking a table, so it’s critical to make this easy to do. In addition, restaurants should also give other options for making a reservation, such as a phone number or an email address.

3. Make intelligent use of color.

Visuals are an important part of any website. When potential diners visit the restaurant’s website, they will expect to see attractive pictures of the food, as well as the dining area. People want to picture what it will be like to sit down at the restaurant, from the décor to the food and drink in front of them. It makes sense to hire a skilled professional photographer to take photos of the restaurant and all signature dishes and drinks. The colors of the photo should pop and make people excited to visit. Usually this means that the photos should be edited so the colors are bright and alluring.

The use of color also applies to the overall look of the website. The choice of background color will largely tie into the restaurant’s brand, but the color should also work well with the photos of the food and drink displayed. A popular choice today is the black background. While black certainly does make colorful photos pop, the choice also suggests something about the restaurant’s brand that may or may not be accurate. Restaurant developers should not be afraid of using bright colors, which can actually appeal to diners more than black. Ideally, the colors should be inspired by or complement the food photos. Restaurateurs should also consider the value of textures on a website. While light brown and tan are neutral colors that could be considered boring, similarly colored wood grain or burlap textures can make the website more engaging and appealing, especially for those restaurants that want to cultivate a more rustic or natural aesthetic.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How to Develop an Employee Dress Code for a Restaurant

Although an employee dress code is often an afterthought for restaurant developers, it’s important to consider what servers, kitchen staff, and hosts should wear in order to create the right kind of atmosphere in the restaurant. A dress code policy does not necessarily mean that all servers will wear a uniform, although this makes sense for many restaurants. A dress code policy is closely tied to the restaurant’s brand and says a lot about the sort of clientele that the restaurant hopes to attract.

Imagine three men who all work as servers. One man is wearing jeans and cowboy boots, another is wearing a jacket and tie, and the third is wearing shorts and a t-shirt. All three of these individuals could be wearing appropriate serving attire based on the branding of the restaurants where they work. The cowboy boots fit well into a Southwest-themed barbecue joint, while the shorts and t-shirt work for a casual café in the heart of a college town where the diners are primarily young students. The jacket and tie would look completely out of place at any of these restaurants, but it would fit well into a five-star French restaurant in Manhattan.

Restaurant developers need to think about the message they want to send to customers with their employees’ clothing. In addition, restaurateurs need to walk a line between allowing employees to feel comfortable at work, and ensuring that their choices represent the values and brand of the restaurant. Once restaurant owners have an idea of how they want their employees to dress, they need to create, implement, and enforce the policy.

Creating, Implementing, and Enforcing a Dress Code Policy

When creating a dress code policy, it’s critical that restaurant developers check local regulatory requirements, as well as the food code issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Complying with these requirements helps you avoid serious fines and keeps both customers and employees safe. With these requirements considered, it’s time to think about how employees should appear to customers and how much freedom of expression you want to allow them.

Importantly, the rules may be slightly different among employees, depending on their position. For example, a host or hostess often dresses more formally than servers. Furthermore, kitchen employees need to wear proper cooking attire, which is naturally different from the clothing worn by those interacting with guests in the dining room.

Dress code policies should address more than what employees may wear according to their positions. When developing a policy, restaurateurs also need to think about jewelry, hair, fingernails, and hygiene. Written codes should have clear guidelines for each of these concerns. Typically, people who work directly with food may not wear artificial nails or nail polish to avoid contamination. Hair should be kept short or controlled with hair restraints. Jewelry is typically limited, especially among kitchen staff. Usually, servers may wear limited amounts of tasteful jewelry. In terms of hygiene, the code should outline personal cleanliness standards for both employees and their clothes.

Before implementing a dress code policy, restaurant developers need to ensure that they give employees the tools they need to follow it. For example, it’s common to encourage employees to change into work clothes at a restaurant to ensure maximum cleanliness, but this policy requires having lockers where individuals can store their street clothes. Laundry bags should be made available for dirty aprons, chef coats, and other pieces of clothing to keep them separate from clean laundry.

Implementation involves writing down the dress code policy, distributing it among all employees, and discussing it to ensure that everyone understands the rules that apply to their positions. Employees in both the front and back of the house should understand the importance of the dress code, and the consequences of breaking it.

Dress codes need to be enforced uniformly among all employees. While it may seem more important for a kitchen worker to follow the code than a server, only enforcing the code among certain employees sets a bad precedent and breeds resentment, which can create an unhealthy work environment.

When an employee breaks the code for the first time, it’s common to give him or her the option to go home, change, and return to work. Talking with the employee can point to some important considerations that may not have been addressed when the dress code was formalized.

The Importance of a Formalized Dress Code

Employees may ignore a dress code unless they understand why it is important. In some circumstances, restaurant developers can point to local and federal requirements about food safety, but there are other good reasons to implement a dress code. One of the most important reasons was already discussed: creating a good first impression. Restaurateurs should take the time to explain to employees the first impression they want to create for guests. When employees understand this, they’re usually better able to understand what is and isn’t appropriate to wear.  

A dress code can also increase team morale. Employees should have a sense of pride in their job and a dress code that makes them distinguishable can make them feel like they’re part of a team. Furthermore, a dress code helps customers identify employees. In the end, a dress code increases the sense of professionalism and cohesion in the restaurant. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

5 Points to Consider When Undertaking a Restaurant Renovation

Restaurant renovations are an expensive and stressful process, whether restaurateurs undertake them as part of a new project or to breathe new life into a dated establishment. Before undertaking such a project, it is critical that individuals do the necessary due diligence to ensure its viability and undertake as much planning as possible to ensure a smooth experience. While the general strategy may require revisions as obstacles prevent themselves, having an overall plan helps individuals to better deal with these hiccups and keep the renovation on track. Below are some of the most important points for restaurant developers to keep in mind as they undertake renovation projects:

1. Check the terms of the lease. 

While it may seem like an obvious point, restaurant developers need to discuss their renovation plans with their landlords before committing to a project. Sometimes, restaurateurs take it for granted that the landlord will approve the renovation when this is not actually the case. More importantly, some landlords will actually foot part of the bill. Such terms may be built into the lease, so it is important to review them before speaking to the landlord. Some landlords believe that the tenant needs to foot the entire bill, while others build capital improvement policies into the lease. The policies can vary widely. In some situations, the landlord may foot only a portion of the bill, such as a fixed percentage, while in others the landlord may pay for all — or almost all — of the improvements made to the space.

2. Shop around for contractors. 

Not all contractors are created equal, and restaurant developers should consult with several different individuals before making a final decision. Contractors do not just vary in terms of cost. Some people may be better prepared to realize a restaurateur’s final vision than others. Looking at examples of past projects give a good sense of what kinds of styles the contractor has mastered. Vetting contractors also involves reading online reviews and speaking with former customers. Restaurateurs can always ask for references from past projects. While quality is important, restaurant developers should also ask about on-time and on-budget executions.

3. Plan for interruptions to dining service. 

Depending on the extent of the job, some restaurants may keep their doors open during a renovation. Often, however, the establishment will need to close its doors for a period of time. The impact of the lost revenue must be taken into account when creating a renovation budget. Sometimes, it is difficult to minimize interruptions, since obtaining necessary permits can take an undetermined amount of time. Restaurant developers need to think about how they can minimize downtime through creative approaches such as continuing to offer takeout or delivery food when the dining room is under construction. When the kitchen is undergoing renovations, it may still be possible to cater events by using other kitchens, but this requires a great deal of planning. In the end, this planning could mean the difference between a successful and failed project by keeping the business solvent.

4. Invest in marketing. 

A renovation is hardly worth the time, effort, and expense if restaurant developers do not let the world know. Even before renovations begin, restaurant developers can keep people informed through posts on social media. Then, throughout the renovation process, regular pictures and other posts about progress should be made to keep people excited about the new space. Once the renovation is complete, it is time to kick marketing into high gear with a grand opening event and by contacting customers through the full range of modalities, including social media, mailing lists, and even flyers in the local neighborhood. More buzz about the reopening ultimately generates more excitement from potential customers. While large events like grand openings can be costly, they generate a lot of money and should be seen as an investment in the future.

5. Finance wisely. 

While it may initially seem difficult to finance a renovation, restaurant developers actually have a lot of options. However, not all of these options are wise choices depending on the individual situation of each restaurant. Securing traditional business loans from banks can prove difficult since few restaurants have the collateral or history needed for the loans to be approved. Since a restaurant’s cash flow can be somewhat unpredictable, banks are particularly scrupulous with their loan applications. Some alternative forms of financing include turning to the landlord, as previously discussed, or engaging with services like Fundivo, which provides loans specifically for restaurants. When looking for funding, it is critical to ask not only about interest rates, but also about fees and typical timelines. Some processes can take months, while others take only a few weeks or days.

When restaurant developers pursue loans, they should think carefully about how much money they need and build a lot of padding into the estimate. Some individuals may be hesitant to ask for a large loan because they fear that they will not be approved, but it is worse not to take a chance and subsequently run out of money halfway through the project.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

5 Tips for Creating a Successful Restaurant Beverage Program

Modern consumers have a number of conflicting motivations. People want exotic flavors, but they also seek comfort food. The conflicting desires can make menu development particularly complicated. Luckily, one element of menu design that is certain is the need for a thoughtful beverage program. Beverages continue to experience a growth in popularity with more people than ever ordering specialty drinks to go with their meals.

The growth in beverage sales is evident at fast casual eateries, many of which now offer diners alcoholic beverages and other options, ranging from milkshakes and smoothies to fresh juice blends. Today’s diners expect restaurants to have a well-developed and artfully curated beverage program. The following tips can help restaurant developers to identify some of the most important aspects of creating such a program:

1. Embrace customization

The customization trend has gained a great deal of momentum in recent years. Many modern consumers seek out restaurants that embrace customization, making it more of a necessity than a luxury. To illustrate this point, individuals need only think of the new digital soda fountains that offer hundreds of different options through a single machine. By stocking a variety of flavored syrups and other ingredients, restaurants can easily offer individuals the option of creating their own unique flavor combinations.

For a high-end restaurant, this may mean offering a handful of “base” beverages that can be customized through the addition of various salts, syrups, and other flavors. For example, the menu could offer a “basic martini,” but then provide the option of making the drink spicy, bitter, fruity, sweet, or salty. Restaurants will score extra points with consumers if they make their flavorings in-house.

2. Never ignore non-alcoholic beverages

When restaurant developers think of curating a beverage program, they often think of beer, wine, and liquor. However, by offering specialty nonalcoholic drinks, restaurants can significantly boost their sales. Many restaurants now offer mocktails, but some other options are smoother, locally sourced coffees, Italian sodas, craft teas, and more. The non-alcoholic options appeal to people who are health conscious and who cannot or choose not to drink alcohol. When restaurants create in-house infusions and syrups, they should think of creative ways to incorporate similar flavors into non-alcoholic offerings that appeal to all customers.

Moreover, restaurants may want to consider offering to-go beverages for particularly busy customers. Many individuals today will replace their lunches with smoothies or grab a handcrafted coffee drink for a snack before or after lunch. Many customers would pay a little more than the local smoothie shop for particularly unique and interesting flavor combinations.

3. Pay attention to the brand

wine cork
A restaurant’s brand will have a major impact on what the beverage program should look like. If a Mexican restaurant offers a wide range of imported wines, they may not sell very well. Similarly, an Italian restaurant that only offers beer — not wine — will likely receive a number of complaints from customers. Diners will expect the beverage menu, including both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, to reflect the mission of the restaurant.

For example, a farm-to-table restaurant may want to focus on using fresh fruit and vegetables in its drinks, as well as savory flavors from herbs. Similarly, a restaurant that focuses on cutting-edge food and molecular gastronomy should offer some signature cocktails that make use of these cooking techniques. Importantly, the brand should be reflected in the signature cocktails and other drinks. However, this does not mean that the restaurant cannot offer more basic, classic cocktails should a diner request them.

4. Listen to guests

The best way to find out what guests want is to ask them, whether it’s through market surveys; focus groups; or simply by having a conversation with them before, during, or after a meal. Restaurant developers can also look at sales trends to see what customers seem to like the most. By paying attention to this information, restaurateurs can evolve their beverage programs to meet consumers’ desires and keep the offerings trendy.

A restaurant that initially sold more wine than beer may notice that more people are ordering microbrews, which should prompt the owner to begin offering more beer and to perhaps even add more taps. Similarly, if a restaurant begins selling more bourbon than vodka-based cocktails, perhaps the next rendition of the cocktail list should include a few more bourbon cocktails and less vodka ones. Listening to guests gives restaurant developers a greater sense of changing trends, whether they exist in the populations being attracted to the restaurant or in the food industry in general.

5. Focus on staff training

The greatest tool that restaurants have to sell beverages is the staff. Restaurant developers need to ensure that all of their waiters are trained in the basics behind the beer, wine, and cocktail offered at their restaurant so that they can answer questions and give recommendations. With some education, the wait staff will have the confidence they need to make unprompted recommendations, such as suggesting a good pairing with the meal that someone has ordered. Proactively selling drinks increases guest engagement and typically results in greater meal satisfaction. As a result, staff training increases the bottom line while also improving the overall reputation of the restaurant.