Restaurant Success Tips

Boosting sales in your restaurant doesn’t have to be complicated. By analyzing your profit margins with an integrated POS, and combining that knowledge with these tips, you’ll start to see profit margins boost in your restaurant. Add value, cut what doesn’t work, and use savvy marketing tips.

Add Value to Desserts to Boost Restaurant Sales

Dessert is delicious, but many restaurants struggle to make a profit from serving it. Razor-thin margins prohibit chefs from sourcing the right ingredients, or a busy schedule may prohibit them from spending the necessary time to make a great dessert. The result is a lesser recipe, or worse, a menu of dismal, repetitive dessert options.

“It’s hard to make money on desserts in the restaurant business today,” said Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University who writes at length about the economics of dining out. “I don’t think many [restaurants] benefit when people order them anymore.”

There are a few problems with dessert, and they mainly boil down to one simple truth: Desserts tend to offer the thinnest margins.

As food costs rise, (alongside labor, rent, and health care costs), restaurants are figuring out how to serve food that meets a high expectation within a comfortable price range for customers.

“Dessert needs good ingredients to taste good, but you can’t psychologically convince people to pay even $20 for dessert,” Cowen said. “You can’t really go cheap on it, but you really can’t charge extra either.”

According to NYC restaurateur Gabriel Stulman, “People spend way more money and a disproportionate number of hours on the savory portion of their meal.”

His point highlights one of the biggest problems for restaurants: Customers don’t find value in the dessert. “The majority of guests aren’t willing to spend more than $12 for a dessert, and it is not uncommon for three to four people to share that dessert. That rarely happens with appetizers or entrees,” he notes.

To offset the costs, Cowen suggests that restaurants upsell cocktails, digestivos, and dessert wines.

“Parties that might have finished their dinner in a little over an hour instead linger for closer to two when they opt for dessert. And they stay the extra 30 minutes while consuming only a fraction of what they did during the first part of the meal. It would be different if people ordered drinks more often alongside cake, but they often don’t. It would change things if dessert wines were more popular, finer, and more expensive, but they aren’t,” Cowen tells the Washington Post.

Lavu Pro Tip: Boost your dessert sales with this Instagram Trick.

Focus on Alcohol Specials During Breakfast, Brunch, and Lunch

Day drinking is in, but customers don’t usually want a beer with breakfast, think about your alcohol options in the morning and noon hours.

Adding drink specials to your brunch can help bring in thirsty customers—and keep them coming back. Whether your restaurant is strictly beer-and-wine only or you operate a full bar, drink specials are one of the best ways to increase revenue. An easy and popular choice is the bottomless mimosa. Or consider having a Bloody Mary bar; guests (particularly millennials) love the ability to customize their drink options.

If there is a lot of brunch-time competition in your area, consider less traditional brunch-time drinks, like sangria pitchers or margaritas. Zuma, an extremely successful brunch place in Miami, offers guests a variety of unlimited drink options, including martinis, Bellinis, Bloody Marys, sangria, and mojitos. Guests can switch drinks when they get tired of one option.

You can also upsell your brunch-time alcohol options to increase sales. For instance, try offering different tiers of alcohol at different price points, like unlimited mimosas with either bottom-shelf champagne or a glass of nicer champagne. Or you can offer different alcohol packages, such as “Only Unlimited Mimosas” or “Unlimited Mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Sangria,” the latter at a higher price point. By offering more options, you can appeal to a wider variety of guests.

Upsell Beverages

First things first, know your customer. Upselling is more than sales; it requires perception, knowledge, and discretion. At its best, upselling looks less like sales and more like customer service, and effective techniques should be subtle enough to avoid pressuring or pestering the customer. Staff should always take the time to know their customers, especially loyal ones, personally. To do so, train servers to ask questions that get to the depth of better understanding customers’ personal preferences and then offer particular menu suggestions, accordingly. The other crucial aspect of upselling is to get the information out there: prepare your servers with a well organized, smartly priced beverage list with an easy to read font and clearly marked pricing.

One of the most effective upselling techniques a server can use is to show enthusiasm about what they are describing. As with anything, there is always a delicate balance between offering helpful suggestions to your customers and becoming an annoyance. The key lies in authenticity and offering a genuine experience that goes the distance.

Often, customers are receptive to those that go the extra mile to suggest additional items they may not have known on their own. If servers genuinely enjoy your food and drinks, they are equipped to know what to suggest, and in turn, patrons are more likely to take their suggestions. Whether it’s the house cup of coffee or a top-shelf cocktail, it’s all in the details. If a server can describe an item from personal experience and preference, it can be more convincing than simply suggesting an expensive item.

Here’s where cross-selling comes in. A cross-sell is important because it can increase the check total by suggesting options from other categories than the product being viewed or purchased. For example, if a customer is considering ordering wine and says, “I’m thinking about the x pinot noir,” but the server knows that a certain cabernet (y) is the same price but has a higher profit margin, he or she could say, “The x pinot noir is a good wine. But, personally, I’m a big fan of cabernet sauvignon y. It’s smooth and has an excellent finish.” If two or more guests order the same wine-by-the-glass, encourage an upsell to a half-bottle or bottle of the same. Product knowledge gives servers confidence, which allows them to win a guest’s precious trust.

Sometimes, the skill lies in recognizing the guest’s intentions and observing the behavior of the table—never assume anything; too often, a table is cut short or rushed through their service. Make sure servers never assume that their guests aren’t interested in another round of drinks until they have asked. Two desserts and a round of after-dinner drinks could end up adding another $50 or $60 to the check.

Buffets are in for Brunch

Though many restaurants have veered away from traditional brunch buffets in recent years, having a buffet at your restaurant can bring a number of benefits. For instance, a buffet, as opposed to an à la carte menu, helps to create faster table turnover (meaning more customers) and reduce labor costs. Best of all, customers love good buffets, as they allow for customization and can feed all types of food cravings.

To set your buffet apart from the competition, try offering a mix of traditional brunch selections and chef-manned stations for made-to-order offerings. This will demonstrate the food’s freshness to your customers and ensure that their food is hot.

Fresh is Always In

Homemade, made-to-order, and fresh ingredients are more popular than ever. When designing your brunch, be sure to capitalize on these concepts by offering choices like freshly made fruit smoothies, fruit bowls, and homemade baked goods.

When finalizing your brunch menu, use verbiage indicating the fresh or homemade nature of the menu items, such as house-made, slow-roasted, made-to-order, crisp, or garden-fresh. This will grab potential customers’ attention as they decide between different dining options.

Offer Regional or Exotic Options

Try offering regional specials or menu items using local ingredients. Depending on your region and clientele, your restaurant could offer buffet options such as sushi and sashimi, or even a ceviche station.

If your restaurant doesn’t offer a buffet, you could incorporate ethnic flavors into your menu, for instance, by adding huevos rancheros or bacon-and-egg fried rice.

By offering exotic options, you add exciting variety to your menu that attracts new customers, while allowing you to source lower-cost food options with high-profit margins.

Deals Rule

Let’s face it; one of the best ways to boost restaurant traffic is to offer a deal. Consider deal sites like Groupon, or for high-end restaurants, try Gilt City. While these sites may not be the best for the initial profit margin, they do get customers in the door, and they provide an opportunity to turn new customers into regulars.

A more cost-effective alternative to popular coupon sites is to promote brunch specials via social media or through newsletters. Want to reach more customers? Try boosting your posts on Facebook. You don’t have to spend much to get attention from people in your area.