Bussone: Restaurants provide business guide | Columnists

Bussone: Restaurants provide business guide | Columnists

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Around these parts we hear it often, but it bears repeating, that statistically McLean County residents dine out as often as anyone in the country.

Restaurants are, almost by definition, small business enterprises. At the Illinois Small Business Development Center of McLean County at Illinois Wesleyan University (SBDC), we consult with a lot of clients who are launching eating establishments, but we also encourage a lot of entrepreneurs to look to restaurants for best practices in retail marketing. I’m going to highlight a couple of ideas for restaurants, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to apply them to any small business concern.

Presentation is critical. Successful eateries present their product on the plate in an attractive manner that is consistent with their brand. Social media photos for marketing purposes should be interestingly arranged, colorful, and provide a context (in this case, silverware, flowers, or something else indigenous to the specific dining experience.)

Online presence is more critical than ever. Every restaurant has, of course, a kitchen behind the scenes, but in 2021 and moving forward there’s an entire engine of online and social media activity that is needed to drive a successful concern. It’s a big plus to have an interface for customers to reserve a table, or order for pickup or delivery. At the very least, the menu has to go online to attract customers and get them excited about their visit even if they’ve already decided to come to you.

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There may be no type of business that has more to gain from constantly and consistently engaging customers electronically. There are a plethora of places a customer review could appear, and the restaurant should respond courteously to those comments. It’s also a great way to engage the community, supporting other community-relations efforts like meal donations or non-profit sponsorships.

Work to enhance the onsite experience. Even high-end restaurants will sometimes provide free samples of interesting hors d’oeuvres by way of an “amuse bouche.” If not this time, maybe on their next visit the customer will buy the full-size portion.

Think about ways to enhance the onsite experience. Can you accommodate live music? Can you take advantage of local scenery with window seating (or attract walk-by business by “displaying” customers having a great time in the window)? Encourage return customers with some sort of loyalty program. (Be creative. It doesn’t have to be a punch card.)

Are you starting or operating a restaurant? Or are you inspired to emulate what restaurants do in your business? Reach out to SBDC, (www.mcleancosbdc.org). We’ve got a whole buffet of good ideas!

Buy – and eat – local, please. Local small businesses are the backbone of our community.

Karen Bussone is director of the Small Business Development Center, Illinois Wesleyan University. 

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