Opening a restaurant isn’t the easiest task in the world. But even after you’ve overcome the initial challenges of finding investors and/or raising capital, getting a suitable location and equipment, having the right staff, creating a menu, getting suppliers, plus the other million little things you need to handle before opening your doors, there is another issue: growth.

Once the excitement of a newly opened restaurant starts to die down, there is a tendency to stagnate growth. It occurs very naturally in business. When you hit a peak level of customers, it’s hard to find new customers; you can saturate your current market, people might move on to the next new food fad, and more. 

People go back to what they used to order, they go on diets, they move, they stop eating out … for whatever reason, new customers stop coming in – or at least don’t come in as steadily – and you end up with some regulars that faithfully eat at your establishment.

Unfortunately, even if you enjoy owning and operating a small business in a small town and are uninterested in expansion, you still have to have customer growth in order to break even. Maintaining a current customer base won’t do it for you. 

As inflation and the cost of living rises, your employees will need higher wages. You’ll need to cover not only your usual maintenance costs but also increasing supply costs. Your rent may go up, or property taxes might increase, if you happen to own your building. And as that happens, you’ll need more income to make it happen.

What’s the solution? You need more customers coming through those doors.

There are many ways to do this. You can advertise with commercials, billboards, posters, and online ads. You can post pictures of your delicious food on social media platforms so people can see it. You can work on SEO on your restaurant website to encourage people to browse on it. You can offer discounts or promotions. You can encourage referrals from current customers, because word of mouth is better than any paid advertising. You can sponsor a local event or charity to get your name out. You can sell or give away t-shirts to regulars so they can become walking advertisements for you.

It’s also important to remember that your most important asset is your food and experience. Loyalty programs give motivation for customers to come back regularly. Offering new takes on classic dishes, seasonal specialties, and limited time menu items can draw people in. Showcasing artfully designed food on your social media sites brings your food to people’s minds more often (this is, obviously, significantly more effective if you also work to build up social media followers). A good picture of food is not only visually appealing, but can actually make your potential customers hungry for what you’re selling.

Advertising dishes that are “back for a limited time” encourages immediate action. Seasonal or temporary changes are often extremely effective because customers can’t procrastinate it, and if you do it consistently throughout the year, you’ll create a regular line of customers who are excited to eat at your restaurant.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re actively doing something to increase the number of customers you have. Do be prepared for a lot of growth; if you put up a billboard, you’d better be prepared for the number of people who might see if and wander in for something to eat. Running out of food and turning people away will not improve your situation, because it will result in a bad experience that can cause negative posts or reviews. If you don’t want a huge influx of people, be sure to focus on promotional strategies that won’t be seen by as many potential customers.

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