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Struggling to increase your covers? A guide for restaurant entrepreneurs

Whether you own a restaurant or are looking to open one it is crucial to ensure you keep your tables full, especially in an uncertain market. With the right marketing strategy, you can improve your chances of having a busy restaurant and also reduce ‘no shows’.

Every restaurant has three core ways to increase revenue:

  1. Acquiring more customers or covers;
  2. Increasing spend per customer with upselling, and;
  3. Retaining customers and ensuring they visit more frequently.

So how do you maximise each core area?

Acquiring More Covers

To begin with you need to do the following:

  • Start creating content for use online as soon as possible. In the food industry the main accounts you will need are Instagram and Facebook. Examples of content include photos, videos or competitions. Try and be inventive and appeal to your desired customer demographic.
  • Think of an offer that if successful will bring in so many customers that it would almost scare you!
  • Be prepared to invest money into your restaurant to reach the right people.
  • Test, adapt, test, adapt for as long as possible.

It is important to get started as soon as possible. All too many people wait for the perfect social media post rather than getting stuck into and learning from the process.

Posting frequently on social media is cheap and free but it can be slow to build up a following. There are some simple steps that can help though.

Step 1: Use paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram mainly. If you have some decent video content, then you can also use YouTube.

Step 2: Craft an offer that people actually care about. That does not mean a free drink with a meal. Make it actually worth the time for someone to stop, see your ad and take action. Some offers that work are:

  • A birthday special.
  • A group table offer with value added items.
  • Large giveaways.

Step 3: The follow up process is key. Your goal is to build your database of names, emails and phone numbers of preferably local people. This will allow you to run weekly/monthly offers and specials targeted at those “fans” who have shown interest in the past.

Step 4: Retarget them regularly. Be clear about your brand identity. Make sure they know who you are, what you serve, why you love what you do and most importantly why they should come and visit again.

Increasing spend per customer

Once you have an abundance of leads, bookings and people visiting it is crucial to get them to spend more and more often, if possible.

How is it best to do this?

The key is to train your staff well in the techniques. They need to always offer starters, desserts and drinks and point out specials and interesting items on the menu. They also need to engage with the customer and pick up on any uncertainty or wavering over whether to order that extra dish or not!

Retaining Customers

It usually takes around four visits before you gain a loyal long-term customer. So how do you achieve this?

Create offers for people based on how many times they have visited the restaurant. Not a loyalty card but something more personal than that. Personalised emails, texts, or even hand-written notes alongside the paid advertising.

Use your list of customers and carefully analyse visit frequency to ensure you are targeting the right ads and offers to the right people at the right times.

Reputation is priceless, hard to win but easy to lose

Many mistakes that harm reputation are own goals, things that could have been foreseen and avoided. Also, very importantly, it is sometimes how a business responds to a crisis that decides if it comes out well or badly. Too many business leaders run for cover or pretend there is no problem too long, while quick remedial action reduces reputation risk.

Social media means bad news is known to many in minutes, so it is crucial to be quick to deal with things that go wrong.

Also attention should be paid to regular risk management, watching for typical problems, which can involve staff issues, safety or regulatory concerns, or advertising mistakes, among other things.

Clearly it is now a high legal risk, as well as obvious reputation risk, to be found to employ people on illegally low wages, people who have no legal right to work in the UK, victims of modern slavery, or even just buying from suppliers found to have done these things.

Every business needs good control on its own employment practices and diligence about the standards applied by suppliers.

If something does go wrong urgent intervention may be vital, good media advisers can help in public communications, and legal concerns may have to be promptly addressed to assure the public and relevant authorities that the business is well run and can be trusted.

It usually takes around four visits before you gain a loyal long-term customer.

In short, if in a hole stop digging and call for help. A good name is for many businesses their biggest asset. They work hard to win brand reputation and must guard it carefully.

Summary Checklist to increase restaurant covers

  • Create content
  • Create an offer that people care about
  • Run paid ads on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, targeted to the demographic who are most likely to visit you
  • Ascertain and target your customer base and be relevant and specific to that audience
  • Build your contact lists
  • Continue to retarget and keep different approaches
  • Carefully protect your image and reputation


About this article

This information is for guidance purposes only and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. Please refer to the full General Notices on our website.

About this article

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