It is important to know what other restaurants in your area that are targeting the same customers are offering, especially in difficult economic conditions. In order to stay appropriate to your local market and retain customers, there are five key areas that you need to address when you’re assessing the competition – Product, Cost, Service, Staff and Ambience.
ProductIt is unusual for successful restaurants to offer a wide range of cuisines, unless that is the concept. Most popular restaurants have a relatively narrow menu that uses seasonal, local ingredients as much as possible, with each dish cooked well. When you’re assessing the competition, try to get a copy of their menu (many restaurants have them available online now) and see what specials they offer.
Go through the menu with your head chef and work out what type of ingredients they’re buying (menus may even name the suppliers) and how they’re costing their dishes. You could go for lunch there and see what is selling well as well as being able to see and taste the food.
ServiceEven the greatest restaurant will lose customers if the service is not up to scratch. When people are paying to go out for lunch or dinner they expect to enjoy good service, so this area can be a key differentiator if your competitors are not so service-focused.
Good service is about listening to your customers and offering what they value, whether that’s free water and bread on the table or a complimentary liqueur at the end of the meal. When you visit your competitors’ restaurant for an assessment recce, take careful mental notes about the quality of service to see what areas you can improve on.
Polite, attentive and informed staff makes a huge difference to the success of your restaurant. If a customer asked for a meal recommendation, it is important that your staff know what is best that day, what you are pushing to sell and what it tastes like. A great way to promote this is to have regular tasting sessions with your staff – they’ll be pleased to have a good free meal (especially as waiting staff are often students!) and you’ll gain a more professional staff.
AmbienceThe atmosphere in a restaurant has a great impact on the customer perception. Remember that the ambience needs to be suited to your target audience, so there’s no point having a dark, smoky coffee bar atmosphere if you’re trying to appeal to the ‘yummy mummies’ in your area.
Assess what your competition are offering by visiting at different times of the day to see what type of customers use the restaurant at different times. If you then see that the ‘coffee and cake’ market in the afternoon is booming and your restaurant is practically empty at that time as you only offer full meals, then you have a great idea for boosting your business.
CostIt is not the case that the cheapest place gets the most business. People love to treat themselves and they are also happy to pay for quality. Convenience is also a consideration – if the most expensive coffee shop or restaurant offers free baby food, coffee refills or great bread and olives free with an aperitif, then customers are still happy to visit.
What you cannot do is be expensive and poor quality. Customers will usually only stand for being ripped off once. See what your competitors are charging for what type of quality and position yourself accordingly – ideally a little cheaper for a little better!