Some days it feels like everywhere you turn there’s a shiny new chain restaurant opening up around the corner.
With fast casual on the rise and plenty of big business muscle behind these restaurant chains, keeping up can be an overwhelming prospect for today’s one-unit eateries.
But the truth is that restaurant chains may not be as omnipresent as they seem: original restaurants still account for 70 of all eating establishments while 90 percent of restaurants have fewer than 50 employees, according to the National Restaurant Association.
So what can you do to help keep it that way? Consider these five tips aimed at helping your one-unit restaurant survive the threat of chain restaurants.
1. Keep the Focus on the Food
Chain restaurants may come with the advantage of familiarity, but what if the food is familiar in bad way? Chain restaurants aren’t often celebrated for their extraordinary food, which opens the door for one-unit restaurants which make high-quality food their hallmark.
Even better news? Today’s diners not only have higher-than-ever expectations when it comes to the food they eat, but they’re also more informed and educated when it comes to the eateries and restaurants they choose to frequent.
The takeaway for restaurateurs? Knowing what diners are looking for and serving it up in the most delicious way can give you an essential inside edge.
Because while a small majority of diners might prioritize cheap over tasty, the remainder will choose quality every time.
2. Be Inclusive
While you may not be able to offer 16-page menu consisting of every conceivable item and type of food, you can make sure that your menu offers something for everyone.
From gluten-free and vegetarian options to kids’ menus, the more your restaurant is able to accommodate the different needs and preferences of contemporary diners, the more business — and repeat business — you’ll see.
3. Make It Personal
While familiarity may be worth something to diners, a personal experience is worth much, much more. And while restaurant chains can easily deliver the former, the latter is far more accessible to one-unit eateries.
Rewards clubs, birthday and anniversary promotions, invite-only events, and other promotions can help keep your restaurant at the forefront of diners’ attention.
If you’re not collecting email addresses yet, now is the time to start: there’s no better way to quickly and easily cultivate relationships with your diners.
And don’t forget about the value of social media in terms of keeping your customers in the know about the latest happenings at your restaurant.
4. Build Your Brand
Just because your restaurant isn’t a chain doesn’t mean brand-building should not be part of your business strategies. In fact, when it comes to distinguishing yourself from your chain restaurant competitors, branding is an invaluable endeavor.
Your website is a large part of this, as are your marketing efforts. After all, while restaurant chains may try to position themselves as “family,” they fall short by nature.
If you’re restaurant is family-owned and/or small in size, fostering the welcoming “family” feel is much easier and believable. And considering that authenticity is one of the major forces driving consumers today — delivering an authentic experience is a major advantage.
On a related note, hiring the right people is vital to your success. Friendly, educated servers who represent your brand well are integral to a positive dining experience.
5. Master Mobile
Mobile is now a dominant method through which potential diners interact with the restaurants. Do you have a website? Is it optimized for mobile? If diners can’t easily get a sense of your restaurant and its offerings via their mobile phones, they’re likely to move onto what they do know.
In today’s fast-paced world, meanwhile, diners are also looking for online ordering and delivery options.
While embracing these technologies may seem like a huge undertaking, doing so may be the imperative in today’s increasingly competitive restaurant world.
But there is a caveat. If offering takeout or delivery means sacrificing the quality of your food or service, refrain from doing so. Luckily, a new breed of businesses like GrubHub can help you not only get your restaurant online, but can also handle order processing and even on-demand delivery.
Many small restaurants find that outsourcing these tasks offers a best-of-both-worlds solution: customers get the high-quality food they crave and the service they expect from your operation.
One last thing to keep in mind? Considering the massive movement toward all things local, your eateries may have more of an advantage than you realize when it comes to taking on the restaurant chains.
These five tips can help ensure that you’re maximizing your advantages in order to stand out from the crowd.