“Where is everyone?”

This is a common question. Even after your restaurant is open, you’re making great food, and you’ve got the day-to-day business questions ironed out; how can you get more people through the door?

The short answer to how to do this is to make a quality service or product and offer it consistently … and over time, word of mouth will help people know that your business is where it’s at!

Unfortunately, that is both difficult and time consuming. You may not have months or even years to wait for business to organically grow in this way. And it does take time! Consistent growth over time is the best way to ensure long-term success, but you have dreams to fulfill as well as bills to pay and probably can’t just hope for the best. There are ways to help this system along.

1. Get the word out.

Put banners up for your grand opening. Contact your local food columnist and make sure they know you’re about to open up. Base your opening around the biggest audience – if that’s the higher-end dining crowd, make sure it’s when they eat meals. If your focus is a classic lunch menu, open those doors around mid-day. People love the next big thing, and your initial opening should be accompanied by a crowd. The more difficult part is keeping a consistent line of patrons after the initial excitement wears down.

2. Base your business around a quality service or product.

This is the best long-term solution. It also works for the short-term, too, because you may make beautiful advertisements and hire famous people to promote your business, but if what you’re offering isn’t top quality, it still won’t pan out. There are various ways of getting customers through the door; there are fewer ways to get them to stay, and only one way to get them to keep coming back.

3. Work smarter, not harder.

The food service industry is about connections between people. Sure, there is food involved, but at the end of the day, it’s about how you make your customers feel when they walk through the door. As almost every food-related business is currently experiencing staffing shortages, it’s becoming harder to find the employees to do that … which can be catastrophic for your business. How can you combat this issue? Dedicate your employees to that task, and use modern technology to offset the difference.

Software and other technologies have been created to help you successfully run your business. Inventory management software lets you keep track of items in your kitchen without constantly counting everything. Scheduling software lets you – and your staff – more easily collaborate on who is filling which shift, thus keeping the stress down. Some order systems in your restaurant also easily integrate with your website, so orders come in quickly and with fewer errors. Automated phone systems, like Reachify, can help you reduce the amount of time your staff is spending on the phone, so they are free to make and improve those in-person connections.

4. Advertise.

If you have some spending room, advertisements are a great way to get your brand’s name out there. One of the hardest things about running a small business is competing with behemoth companies that have seemingly endless pockets for advertising, but also already have name recognition. When you’re in an unfamiliar city on a business trip and you’re hungry, you may or may not take the time to find the best locally-owned diner. Often, you will end up seeing a large franchise business and go there because you already know what to expect from it. The solution? Test various advertising solutions for getting the word out. Advertise on social media, on a billboard, on the radio … wherever your particular audience is listening and/or watching. Social media is hit and miss on your preferred audience, but is also the most bang for your buck at the moment.

5. Be available online.

Put your local or small business on Google Business. Make a website and keep it up to date. Get on social media so you can interact with the people you want to form long-term relationships with.

It is easy to go overboard here, and sign up for every single social media account you can get, but if you can’t maintain accounts and regularly address comments posted there, don’t get the account. It is far more disappointing to customers to be ignored on their medium of choice than it is to have to branch out and call or email to get a concern resolved. Don’t overextend your reach. This brings us to the next point. You need to be able to respond to customer service concerns in less than 24 hours.

That being said, consumers are more likely to want to purchase from a business they feel is humanized than a large, headless company. Make yourself and your business approachable, down-to-earth, and human, and you’ll find success with your online presence.

Do remember that what happens online does not stay online. If you are associated with your business in any way and make comments on your personal social media accounts that others don’t agree with, that will reflect on your business. Alternatively, if people find you witty, clever, humorous, or a thought leader on your accounts, that is sometimes a motivator to get people through your doors as much as your menu is.

6. Offer first-time discounts.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle small businesses face is just getting people through the door. Offering a discount is a good way to get people’s interest. If your food is delicious, they’ll come back again, and bring their friends with them.

7. Offer referral promotions.

If your main goal is really to attract more traffic to your business, then asking for referrals is a great idea – assuming you have a few loyal customers. People love to share good experiences, and hearing from a friend that the food is good at a particular restaurant is much more enticing than hearing the restaurant’s ads claiming to offer the best food ever to exist. It is personable and real, so people are more likely to believe it.

Not only that, consumers sharing word of your business for you is also cheaper than actually paying for ads, so it’s a double win for you. Finally, rewarding customers for sharing something they already love builds a strong loyalty with your customers.

8. Be different.

Sometimes, the way to get attention is to not blend in. Make yourself, your employees, and your restaurant memorable. Create a consistent, comfortable ambience that lends your business a personality that people can relate to.