Beyond Great Food: Tips to Make Your Restaurant or Bar THE Place to Be!

With so many options for where to go to get a bite to eat or enjoy drinks with friends, how can you make your place the place to be in the neighborhood? The first answer for most is to offer a fantastic selection of menu items cooked to perfection. But let’s assume that your location is surrounded by restaurants that all fit that criteria. What do you do?

First, start with the basics. Your place has to be clean. In fact, it should be impressively clean and well equipped, with spotless bathrooms, floors, and tables. Customers notice. Check out your competition and you’ll no doubt find most lacking in one way or another. Be better.

Second, and this may be a tie for first, have the right folks working for you. This also is easier said than done. In fact, it’s always a work in progress. Here are some hints to help you make it happen:

  • You are only as good as your weakest link. You want experienced employees that know your culture, menu, and customers. But don’t let that experience come at a cost by sacrificing attitude and service for knowledge. Make it a point to weed out employees who require this tradeoff. It is those employees who your customers occasionally complain about and will most definitely Yelp about.
  • ABI: Always Be Interviewing. The worst thing you can do is interview for a position that is immediately available. When you do that, you are anxious to fill the slot, may not have time to interview the best applicants, and, as a result, may hire a less than ideal candidate. It matters not if it is a line, service, or manager position. Make Mondays “Interview Mondays” and have a funnel of qualified candidates you can call back when the need arises.
  • Check those references. Always. If you do not validate accuracy of employment, you will continue to be disappointed with your staff.
  • Never forget: You’re in a service business. When interviewing, again regardless of position, never hire a prospect that does not smile, laugh, and exude engagement. Sure, you may miss a diamond in the rough, but you will never teach an employee to smile. You will never teach an employee to be friendly. You will never teach an employee to be engaging. Remind yourself of this before every interview.
  • Train, train, train. Once you have a staff of friendly, caring, jovial employees, set your employees up for success. Have manuals, checklists, rules, and regulations for everything. The clear direction that these guidelines provide makes for happier employees who are more efficient and effective in executing their job.

So you have set the stage with great food, a wonderful ambiance, and engaging employees. Now you can focus on further enhancing the customer experience. You must thoroughly understand your target customer to best assess how to enrich their visit. For the sake of brevity, however, let’s assume that your objective is to help your customers have fun, without sacrificing profitability. Here are a few suggestions, but they’ll no doubt spur ideas of your own.

  • Make the bar a hopping place. Happy hours should be killer. Make them a wonderful value and you’ll see increased food sales.
  • Use those flat screens to maximum effect. If the local football team isn’t playing, show the food network or cooking shows. This will deepen the sensory engagement during mealtime.
  • Customers love a good tasting. Work with your vendors to have regular wine and food tastings. Make the vendors give away samples to your customers and make them pay for the promotion for your restaurant. They benefit from the customer feedback and you can determine the attractiveness of adding the item to the menu and better estimate pricing.
  • Make special occasions special – for both you and your customer. When someone has a birthday party at your place, make them pay for their cake, but give them a gift box with an appropriate gift card and a personal happy birthday wish. Provide each and every guest at that party with a $5 gift card for their next visit. How’s that for a tale to tell friends or to post on Facebook? And, of course, the gift cards should increase customer visits.

If you ever need to chat and discuss how to make any of these ideas actually happen, let me know. I am fun, too.

About the Author

Henry Pertman is Director, Hospitality Consulting at CohnReznick LLP, located in the firm’s Baltimore, Md. office. He can be contacted at 410-783-4900 or

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