Is your business slow during summer?

Here in Australia, we are fortunate to experience the warmer season for most of the year and our summers are certainly very busy. There is a lot of travelling and migration that happens. But being a busy season, it does not always guarantee to be busy for every business out there. If you are at the end of the pole where people leave your location for somewhere else, then you know the effect of the sudden loss of usual customers.

Some restaurants located near universities experience major business loss when summer comes because patrons are usually students. Most return home to families or go on vacations and the massive drop of a population in that area causes most businesses there to suffer.

When that happens, opening your business doors becomes even more expensive than your actual revenue at the end of the day. If you don’t have any strategy, you will be forced to do some shortcuts to keep your operating costs low, either through availability or quality of food, or the number of staff and more. These can, in turn, harm your business if people experience this cost-cutting through the quality of your service.

1. Talk to your customers

I am putting this one here in number 1 because this is the best way that you can get insights on your customer’s behaviour. I prefer really having a talk with them. Get to know your dining patrons by having a quick chat. This talk is different from just gathering data about your service. You may think the worst why people are not coming to your restaurant during the summer only to find out after a good chat that they’ve been away on vacation.

When you chat with customers, I suggest doing it after dinner when everyone is already relaxed and calm. I don’t know about you, but sometimes a dining staff tends to do chitchat with customers in the middle of their meals. This can be pretty awkward. It’s hard to talk when your mouth is full…or when you are just about dying of hunger and you want to devour your meal fast (and in private). Be mindful of body language. If you decide to chat with them when they are nearing the end of their meal, observe if they are rushing to settle the bill and hurry out. You can still chat with them, but make it brief and friendly. You’ll never know if your friendly approach may persuade them to chat longer with you…

2. Consider activities outside the restaurant

You have your team with the skills – your chefs and kitchen staff – and they help you operate your business. If people are not coming to your restaurant, bring your people out to them. Consider holding a catering service that you can operate when the slow season comes in. There will be some differences in the preparation since in catering, a large volume of food is served at the same time versus the per order set up in the restaurant.

This can be just an occasional option for you, therefore it is not practical to hire another full-time chef to help you out. This is where services like short term chef relief agencies come to play. Our agency, AnyTime Chefs, focuses on this particular service. If you need to have an extra chef for a day, you can quickly call and let us know the details and we will provide a skilled professional chef who will deliver impeccable service to help you out in your event. I am not just saying this as a shameless plug, but I do take pride in our company and providing excellent service is something that we take seriously. For temporary chef solutions, click HERE.

You can also have the option of providing food delivery during this slow summer season. Some people prefer not to go out to buy food due to the extreme heat. Study your logistics well since this will involve a vehicle (make use of a decent and serviceable vehicle that you already have), gas, a rider, insurance, thermal delivery containers etc. If you are able to determine that it is feasible for you, then go. Or use apps and services like uber eat or deliveroo.

3. Reshift your clientele

When you get to know your customers, you will discover some patterns that will help you create specific strategies to refocus your service.

Younger people with paychecks tend to travel more than the older and established ones. This is not a generalization but if you noticed that during summers you get less young customers than usual, then come up with strategies to target those who are remaining in the area.

4. Monitor your competitor

Like all business owners, ideally, you should be observing your competitors on how they perform against your establishment as well as their performance in your shared market or area.

Restaurants who opened ahead of you in your geographical area is your best gauge since you will have an idea how your own restaurant may end up after several years. There are many factors to determine how long your business will last in a location since it is such a fickle business, but this is one helpful gauge. Also remember that the staff is the face of your business so oftentimes people come by for your staff even if the competitor is cheaper.

5. Learn how to use customer rewards and promotional specials to get people in

Consider having promotions. These could be anything from a free drink or a free dish or at a discounted price . But do this before the slow season comes. You need to let the word out before most of the people go away for holidays. When you also run the promo before summer hits, you are most likely to build a loyal following. If your promotions are attractive, loyal customers will come time and time again, regardless of the season. But, if you can, limit providing discounts and focus more on promoting activities in your venue to attract people. Do your best to make your restaurant the NEXT gathering place.

Distribute flyers or cards to people who work at businesses in your area or create a promotional deal with them in return for handing out your flyers to their customers (and friends and families).

Send flyers or cards to the homes in your area, and give them discounts based off of their zip code.

Another example of creating a promotional deal with businesses in your area is to have them host events at your restaurant.

Create loyalty programs for people who live or work directly in your area.

6. Reduce Expenditures

Be smart with your staffing strategy. Schedule a skeleton crew during slow months. Base this from your sales history of previous years (if any) and use this a metric for staffing needs. You will only need key people to help you run the day so give preference to committed full-time staff and high performers. This can later be a potent motivator for the rest of your employees to level up their game. Cutting staff can be difficult therefore do your best to explain to them the seasonal ups and downs of the business.

Create a separate budget for your slow months. Again, this is where the historical figures of your business will be useful. Factor in your average sales in the previous slow season, and use this as a guideline. Of course, as with all budgets, it will be of no good if you don’t stick to it. So stay true to your budget and follow it.

Analyze your food and beverage menus and stop serving low performing menu items. Not only that, determine which of your high-cost items do not generate enough revenue. Adjust your menu or inventory accordingly. Buy menu items that are in season since they are usually cheaper. Try reducing the number of perishable products you buy.

Control your fixed costs such as rent, utilities, and payroll. That way, you know exactly how much money you have to spend even if no one walks in the door.

7. Social Media Marketing

Your social media accounts, newsletters, and overall online presence are a low-cost way to increase marketing efforts. Increase your Facebook, Instagram, and all social media output. Get creative with it. Use it to announce a new menu (take a good clear photo as much as possible), event or entertainment, and special deals. Basically, use them to promote any reason they should come to your restaurant!

8. Seasonal Hours

Take note of the peak hours of your restaurant so you can determine which time of the day you can shave off hours. If customers still come later in the day, then try delaying your opening times. Once you have decided on the hours – be consistent.

The important thing is that your customers know this – either by placing a sign in your restaurant or updating your website and social media accounts, or all of them.

9. Last option – close for the summer

As a solution, city restaurants in some parts of the world close for breaks during the summer months. This practice of restaurants closing for summer breaks is common in Europe, such as in France, Cayman, Norway etc. Restaurant operators observe a standardized six weeks of vacation, which sometimes is taken over two or more intervals. Some choose to pause operation because of the intense heat wave that happens. Most people would rather go to beaches or travel to colder locations. (Unless your establishment is located in a winter resort, then the opposite happens to you. There is an influx of people in your area during colder seasons and then a drop when the temperature climbs up.)

It sounds contradictory indeed, but depending on your restaurant location, closing your business in summer months is going to be better for your business. It can help prevent potential financial loss.

Should you decide to go for this option, remember to communicate this clearly to your customers, either by placing a sign in your restaurant or updating your website and social media accounts.

As much as you can, keep the real reason to close off for the summer, internal. You don’t want to give that information to customers as sometimes it can affect the customer’s opinion on your business.

Perhaps state that it is a vacation break for your staff. And if you, as the owner, do not have any summer vacation plan and decides to stay behind, why not schedule this break to focus on repairs and maintenance. (Which you can use as another reason why you are closing).

In summary:

When business is slow, you have to change how you normally do business. Reservations and walk-ins decrease, so you have to find new ways to bring customers in. The tips above can very well work for when business is slow in general, regardless of the season.

I believe that the important thing as a business owner is that you learn the pattern of your restaurant. You can observe your competitor for basis but your restaurant will definitely have its own characteristics and differences from them. Consider 2 restaurants in the same area. One is right smacked where people get off from a commuter bus or train station and the other restaurant is located in the same area but directly ACROSS the street. Now, which of the two do you think will get more traffic. The first one, of course. That is why aside from market studies, you also need to find the factors that specifically contribute to your business.

This will help you formulate the necessary marketing, incentives, specials, etc. to get people in during slower times.

Ciao for now,
Thomas


 


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