Running a successful small town restaurant

The problems for small-town restaurants

I wrote a post on Facebook about a restaurant that had closed down in the town my Mum and Dad live in. It has really stuck with me since I found out.  As a business coach, someone who is passionate about helping female entrepreneurs innovate their businesses, I hate to see any business fail and as an advocate of female entrepreneurs, I especially hate to see a female-owned business having to close. Especially when there was no need for it to happen.

I only went to this restaurant once and did not have a great experience. A bacon sandwich with two slices of bread and one piece of bacon and when we complained the response was poor. What was and is frustrating to me is there was great potential. If you just looked around the restaurant, I could see the writing on the wall. However, there were a dozen things that could have been tweaked or changed that would have meant that this business would have been a success rather than fail within a year. According to research, 59% of hospitality business fail within the first 3 years.

Despite the fact that most small town centres have lost a lot of their foot-fall but have become overloaded with coffee shops and restaurants there is no excuse for them to fail. And no one is denying that running a restaurant isn’t hard work, running any business is hard work but it needs to be focused in the right direction. Do that and other restaurants will be looking to you to see why you are so successful.

So here are 10 basic things that every restaurant in a small town could undertake and make it part of their strategy.





Make this part of your strategy





1) Brand

Salt BoxHaving a strong brand is so000000000 important (bad spelling but emphasises the importance). It is not just about a logo. The whole restaurant should encompass your brand values. If you want a restaurant that is about good home cooking then you should feel, hear and see this the minute you walk through the door. If you want to create a healthy environment people should leave feeling inspired and want to cook healthy food, if you want to attract a younger clientele then that should be reflected in your brand. Once you have your brand designed then it should be on everything.  Look for unique ways for people to see your brand when they are in your restaurant then they will remember it.

Speak to a brand expert, not just the local website designer, who when it comes to designing your brand.

This is amazing branding for a restaurant call Salt Box design by a branding expert called Elyse Taylor.  See how the branding has been incorporated into all aspects of the products and stationery.

2) Stand Out

freakshakesThis can be one of my biggest frustrations with any business. When clients come to me and tell that is how it is always done.

You need to do some thing that will make your customers, the customers you have so carefully targeted through understanding your brand values, get in their cars and come spend their money in your restaurant and choose you over the other restaurants in town.

Don’t try and be all things to all people. You have to be brilliant in the lane you have chosen, whether it is Gluten Free, Italian, Health Food, Comfort Foods, Cakes. Be incredible. In Daniel Priestley’s book Over Subscribed he talks about this, about how you need to make it difficult to get a seat. A street food vendor in Singapore has just been awarded a Michelin star and it is not unusual for customers to queue for several hours to get served, because his few simple dishes he serves are perfection.

Be innovative with your products, what new food product can you create. What have people eaten, that is in your niche, the same way for a long time that you can reinvent. Look at how crazy people have gone over Freakshakes. The restaurants that started this craze had people queuing around the block. Find your thing and perfect it.

This is a freakshake from Arnott’s restaurant in Australia

3) Take Away Market

take outIf you work in a small town you will be limited to bringing your own lunch,  a few sandwich shops, maybe the odd food truck and the local supermarket. People want some thing different, they want some thing a bit more inspired.

Take advantage of these bored people. When I worked in London there was a food retailer with a small kiosk who served hot meat sandwiches, different roast joints, different breads, the queue was endless.  Even if you were to offer amazing Bircher Museli pots made with your own nut milk for people to pick up for breakfast, or you offer something spectacular once a week, this would create demand.  Be unique.

Again for many people in a small town they will have the traditional Chinese and Indian restaurants and a Fish and Chip shop, but they will not have the choice that the concierge food services in the city can offer. Give them an evening take out option that will make them not want to make dinner.  Again stand out, give them something different, offer a children’s menu take out between 5pm – 7pm give parents a break once in a while.

Create a delivery service that is excellent and people and make people put you at the top of the list.

Packaging designed by Liendesign

4) Exceptional Service

I can’t even believe that I have to put this one but restaurant owners still do not understand how important excellent, exceptional service is. If you have ever spent time in a local woman’s Facebook group, you will see the number of times, on a daily basis, that people ask for recommendations for places to eat. Shit service, no recommendation.

Don’t just take anyone looking for a part-time job or teenagers looking for a weekend job and give them five minutes of training and expect them to get on with it.  Make constant training a priority, teach all staff to serve properly and in the same way, ensure that they know and have tasted the menu so they can speak with emotion about the food. For those of the right age teach them about drinks so they can make personal recommendations to your customers. And one of the most important things to teach and empower staff is how to deal with complaints.  I was working on a social media project for a town and people had complained about two restaurants, I contacted the restaurants to give them the opportunity to clear up the problems, both neither did anything.  You will have complaints but if you deal with them brilliantly people will respond positively.

5) Make your own products

You want your food in people’s mind’s eye and there is no better way to do that than to have your food in their kitchen’s.  Make your own ketchup, relishes, sauces, salad dressings, whatever is relevant to your restaurant put them in branded jars.  Put then in clear site in your restaurant on your website and get people to buy.

This is a company called Hunter Gatherer who sell their own branded food, how gorgeous is packaging but brilliant branding.


6) Events

Many small-town restaurants do not open the same hours as their city counterparts. When you don’t have volume for  24/7 clientele some times opening every evening of the week for the normal menu doesn’t pay off.  Use those times to do events. Local networking groups are always looking for new and inspiring places to hold their events. Mums are always looking for a place to comfortably go for a little time with their friends.  Teenagers in towns never have anywhere to go so why not cater to them on the odd evening, hold a pizza event once a month or a freakshake evening. Hold a local book club once a month, hold classes or give demonstrations. A friend and I paid £60 to learn how to make cocktails, they showed us how to make a few classic cocktails, gave us some food, we had a ton of fun met some really nice people and guess what when the event was over we stayed for another few hours and spent a lot more money drinking.  There are a ton of different ways to entice people to your restaurant when the rest of the town is quiet.

7) Partnerships

There is power in numbers. Be inventive and create partnerships. There is a coffee shop in the town my Mum and Dad live in and they serve their drinks in the most gorgeous crockery, if I could I would buy it, I have looked and I am not the only one.  They could create a partnership with this company and add an additional stream of income by selling it. What if you partnered with someone who was a skilled upcycler and you made everything in your restaurant saleable. It would keep the restaurant changing and be a unique source of income.  What if you partner with the local vegetable seller and the butcher and you created dishes for in-season produce, so you have two other places your restaurant is promoted and not just by you, you could put the recipes on your website, you could make it a promotion.  Be inventive the partnerships are right on your doorstep and the more innovative way you use them the more successful.

8) Detail

Details matter, some people will notice, many will but it gives to the overall quality of threserved 1e brand.  This particular restaurant that sparked this post, I always remember, this tiny poor detail of the menus being taped to the windows. So as you passed the window you could read as you go past but it stuck with me because it was just cheap and lazy. When menus get creased, when seats and tables start to wobble, when glasses start to get scratched. Think about the details that will make people leave with the impression of perfection. A coffee shop in town offers a jug of water by the till will glasses that you can fill up as much as you like. But the jug and glasses are plastic and worn and look and feel cheap. What if they replaced that with a beautiful big mason drinks dispenser, add fruit and had some really nice glasses (this doesn’t need to be expensive my favourite glasses cost a pound from tescos).  Add detail that others would not think of but would walk away and think that was genius.

This is such a cute idea and attention to detail for a reserved sign for a table.

9) Website

Coffee CoYour website not only needs to reflect your brand but it needs to be excellent. It is a reflection of your restaurant. Add value, make it easy for people to book a table. If you offer a takeout service make it easy for them to order online. If you sell products then make it easy for them to buy. Offer recipes and keep adding content via a blog.  Not only will this help your Google rankings but it will also help keep your customers, whether they never end up stepping inside your restaurant, loyal.

Also, you always want to grow your list, you can do this via your website and in the restaurant and keep your customers up to date with what is going on through a newsletter.

This website is excellent for a coffee shop in Ealing called 11 Coffee & Co.

10) SOCIAL MEDIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is a shame that the restaurants that need this post the most are least likely to see it.  I can not rant, stress and say enough about how social media is important to the success of your restaurant/coffee shop.   Restaurants are one of the most visible and therefore, image and video creating businesses, so those not taking advantage of this are fools.

Hoping I get my point across, once again I refer to the endless list of female Facebook groups that constantly write about food and restaurants.  No one walks the street and looks for a new restaurant, they find out about them on Social Media and as the generations of children who have known nothing but social media grow up this will increase.  I could write a separate post on each social media platform and give you an endless list of ideas that you could action. The beauty of this is that so many small-town restaurants fail to do it, so if you do you will be so far ahead of your competition that it will add to the success of your restaurant.  Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, take constant pictures, videos of the day to day activity that goes on, record recipe videos for the website, put out offers and run competitions, the ideas are endless. Learn to take incredible pictures, show your food off, show off your brand and people will respond.

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 16.43.18

This is a great image taken by a food blogger Julie Choi. Food bloggers are great ambassadors on social media.

To close up

I am so sad about this restaurant that failed. It takes courage to start a business and I only wish I had said something or that they had come to me because it could have been a different story.  Someone put a comment about rates, trying to blame outside forces.  Look at how successful Rachel Khoo was with Little Paris Kitchen. She set up a restaurant in a studio flat, with no proper cooker and yet she put most of the above in place and is hugely successful as a result. It doesn’t have to be overly expensive or even time consuming but focused on will ensure success over failure.

If you are a small restaurant in a small town and want some help then arrange a session with me.