How to Fill Your Restaurant During Off-Peak Hours
If you manage a restaurant you’ll be all too familiar with the business challenge of filling seats during your quiet periods. Typically, between 2pm and 5pm on a weekday might be a tricky time – after the lunch hour and before dinner, when a lot of people will be in the office (depending on your location and set-up). Most people eat at traditional times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and so to tempt them to eat outside of these hours is asking them to break habit and change behaviour; something that is only achievable with the right strategy.
There are many ways to offer customers incentives to come and dine during your off-peak hours, that may have a three fold result: increased revenue, more satisfied customers, better rate of repeat business. To get there you must firstly approach these times very differently to how you do your standard busy hours, and most importantly – get creative. Start by looking at your current and target customer base. From here, plan a strategy around what is appropriate and relevant to these customers.
If you know for example that your afternoon periods might time well with certain mother and toddler groups finishing in your area – think what incentives you could offer for families. Maybe coffee and cake deals, or kids eat free. If you’re based in the financial district of a city you’ll want to think of something tempting to that kind of target customer base. Whoever your potential audience, targeted planning that’s specific to that customer-type will always work best, vs marketing to the masses.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which you can fill those empty seats and give your business a boost during your slow times.
Money and Time-Saving Incentives
This might be the most obvious and easiest approach to attract off-peak trade. You should be thinking from the perspective of the customer – what can you offer them that will make their life easier, and save them money? Can you give them a discount, or give them more of something? Can you offer deals that bundle things together so they don’t have to spend as much time choosing something on their lunch break?
As far as discounts go, there are so many ways to offer money incentives. For example:
- 10% discount throughout the month of X
- X% discount off lunch if you visit before 10am
- Free starter or dessert
- Discount on take away
- Happy hour between 4pm and 6pm
- One friend or family member eats for free for groups of 5+
- Loyalty schemes, eg 10th meal free
If you’re considering a loyalty scheme or a diners card that gets a stamp with every meal purchased, to help boost quiet periods further why not offer two stamps for meals purchased on a weekday afternoon?
Get Creative With Your Menu
If offering discounts is something you want to avoid, think about how you can make your menu so tempting people won’t be able to resist coming in to sample! Interesting appetisers, a variation on bar food, new gourmet sandwich fillings, different kinds of artisan bread, a raw salad bar, gluten-free alternatives… again start with your target audience and create something that will be tempting to them.
If your restaurant is next door or near a gym for example, you might try offering a new range of smoothies or fruit-based snacks. Quick fixes will help attract people who don’t have time to spare sitting down to eat at regular times. If you offer enough of a variety people are more likely to keep returning to try something new. And when you find something that sells well, add it to your regular menu.
Try asking your staff for menu suggestions and favourites, and name certain dishes after them. Adding a personal touch to what you do will help catch the eye of the customer, and increase their chances of remembering you too.
Target A New Customer-Type
Your 2pm-5pm slots may already be busy with young, creative freelancers for example, taking advantage of your late lunch offer. However, how do you know your restaurant wouldn’t be busy at this time with this type of customer anyway, even without the offer? It’s worth looking at a different kind of customer to broaden the generations you target, so you don’t end up relying on one particular customer-type to keep you busy in quiet periods.
For example, you could look at how to tempt dinner guests in earlier. Or how to entice university students to come in after lectures. If there’s a certain sports club nearby, why not get in touch with the coach or manager and offer a special offer if the whole team comes in after practice. The idea is that for the team or group, meeting at your restaurant will become ritual. You’ll blow them away with your exceptional service, and so eventually no discount will be needed to draw them back again and again.
You could even set aside special days for particular customer types, such as “NUS discount every Monday” or “BOGOF on wine every Thursday.” It’s all about creating good relationships by understanding and catering for your customers.
If you’re near a high street, college, university, or an area surrounded by offices, free Wi-Fi could be something extra you can offer customers. Field-based and other mobile workers might be more tempted to stop in at your restaurant mid-morning or mid-afternoon for a snack if they know they can access the internet and answer emails on-the-go. Similarly you’re more likely to attract businessmen and women out and about on client meetings if they know they can get online from your restaurant.
Free Wi-Fi is something that’s relatively low-cost and if you’re clever, you can offer a structured deal to compliment – such as half price coffee, pastries, or bar snacks for every hour you spend online. Or one hour’s free access with every coffee purchased. Again it’s all about looking at ways in which you might be able to help your customer save time or money during those off-peak hours.
Scope Out Your Local Area
Get to know your local community. This can do you nothing but good in so many ways. If you get to know other local businesses, you can partner up to offer even better deals no one can resist. If you find out what’s going on around you, events that are coming up, you can plan ahead to get involved.
For example, if university graduation is coming up why not team up with your neighbouring cocktail bar and offer a dinner and drinks promotion to all who bring an NUS card that weekend? You could catch graduates for an early dinner, graduates who would then be looking to move onto a drinks venue for the rest of the evening.
If your restaurant is located within a seasonal tourist trap, make sure you develop a good relationship with local residents and businesses. This will increase your chances of securing business all year-round, despite the off-peak lulls. Communicating with the people who work and live in your community is vital; think about using newsletters, feedback surveys, and frequent updates with special offers and events. If you get this right and manage to create a loyal local customer base, then season peaks will be an extra bonus rather than trade you come to depend on.
Identifying local clubs and groups that meet on your slower nights is another way to boost trade. If you have a nearby wine shop why not see if they want to partner up and put on a wine-tasting night every Tuesday or Wednesday? Check out local charities too and see if there is anything you can do to get involved on your quiet days. Not only will you attract attention but you might also generate some good publicity for your brand.
With your new-found ways of enticing in customers during off-peak hours, you’ll need to be super organised so that you can cope with the influx of business and ensure customer service standards don’t slip. In fact you’ll want the opposite to happen; you’ll want to impress your guests so much you turn them into loyal customers. One way to do this is to ensure you have an efficient staff rota in place. Knowing who is covering what shift and what holidays are coming up is essential for running a smooth operation.
Making sure you have an efficient customer booking system in place can vastly increase the time you have left to focus on running a tight ship too. As part of our offering at Groupon, we offer a free Booking Tool that enables you to manage customer bookings anytime from anywhere you can get an internet connection. Head here for more info and some video tutorials.
Get On Groupon
Our ability to tailor marketing campaigns is a great way for restaurants to fill off-peak hours. Many restaurants use us for exactly this reason; we help them create an enticing, irresistible offer, and then we decide together when the best time is to offer this deal. Not only can we run the deal over a time period that might be quieter for you (eg after Xmas, during summer holidays when people are away etc) for a length of time that suits your needs, we can also specify what times and days customers can use the voucher.
For example, the family-run Chancel restaurant in Plymouth used Groupon to not only get their new business up and running, but to help fill seats during their slow periods. Knowing that raising awareness was vital since The Chancel was still in its early days, husband and wife team Jamie and Paula MacLeod-Johnstone accepted: “We were still a very new business when Phil introduced us to Groupon and what it could do. We knew how tough many restaurants, bars and pubs were finding it in Plymouth, so we wanted to make sure we started The Chancel off on the right foot and did everything we could to make it a success.”
Phil, Paula and Groupon Business Consultant Jamie thought up potential deal ideas together. The couple then calculated the most cost-effective way to offer the deal and two weeks later, it was launched. “Our first deal, which we’ve run several times since, was an antipasti platter for two with wine for £14. Diners could enjoy a selection of breads, olives, meats and compliment it with one of six house wine favourites,” says Paula.
The deal was so successful, The Chancel soared up the Tripadvisor ratings to become the 8th best restaurant in Plymouth from 539 restaurants, with a huge 4.5 out of 5 stars. They were also able to fill off-peak hours, and said, “Groupon has helped put The Chancel on the map and made us a name in the community. Whilst other restaurants in the area are quieter, we’re always full to the brim. We schedule the deals to fill our quieter evenings on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so the surge in deal diners doesn’t disrupt our usual service. We must be doing something right because over 75% of our Groupon customers come back within the next month.”
The Chancel is now one of Plymouths most well-loved restaurants. It offers customers 42 different wines along with a variety of light bites and main meals, cheeses, and desserts, and since advertising on Groupon has won the “Best Bar None” award for serving the best bar food in the city. For the full case study please head here, and if you’d like to know how to work with Groupon, please register with us here.