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Attracting Restaurant Customers - A Guide to Getting Walk in Business

Updated on June 28, 2010

I’ve been running restaurants for 8 years. I started out a total beginner and made a great many mistakes. Somehow, we survived and along the way we learned a few feet-on-the-ground tricks of the trade.

I don’t claim to a be any kind of restaurant ‘expert’ and I’ve never received any formal education on the running of restaurants or the restaurant business – I’m just someone who’s been in the business for a few years and has seen a little bit of what works - and a lot of what doesn’t!

Here are some principles for maximizing your share of the walk by market – people who are looking for a place to eat in a particular area, but who are haven’t decided on any place in advance, and are just walking by and checking out the options before deciding on where to go.

If you’re a famous destination restaurant, you probably don’t need to worry about what I’m saying here – for the rest of us…read on!

Getting Walk In Trade

1. Let People Know Your Prices

The cardinal principle governing basically all of what I am going to say is that people are reluctant to get themselves into a situation that they might regret. It’s awkward to walk into a restaurant, sit down and a have a waiter bring you a menu only to realize that the price is more than you want to pay. At this point, you are left with 2 bad choices; either an awkward leaving, or an expensive staying!

People don’t want to put themselves in this situation, so when in doubt of a restaurant’s costs, and when there are other options in the area, they will generally avoid the mystery priced establishment.

2. Have Your Menu Out Front

The best way to let passers by know your prices and your selection is to have a copy of the menu readable to pedestrians outside of your restaurant. Have it on some sort of stand outside or displayed through the glass of your frontage. It’s a no-brainer, but it’s one that restaurants sometimes ignore.

3. Don’t Supervise People Reading the Menu Outside

You sometimes see restaurant hostesses hovering over people who are examining a menu on display in front of a restaurant. I think the motivation behind this is to express interest or caring to/in the customer, but in my opinion, customers don’t really need a lot of help taking a preliminary glance at a menu while deciding where they might want to eat – and by watching too closely as they examine the menu – you’ll only scare them off.

It’s awkward to look at a menu while a host or owner swoons over us only to decide that we don’t want what they’re serving. Walking away at this point is a little bit awkward and we can feel a bit badly – after all, we just want to eat out, not hurt anybody’s feelings here.

Too avoid this, when customers see a situation where someone will be supervising their perusal of the menu, they are more likely to walk on by and not look at the menu, even if they are in the market for a place to eat. They get scared off.

4. Let Potential Customers See the Inside of Your Restaurant from the Street

Again with rule number 1 – people don’t want to have to walk out of a restaurant, but nor do they want to eat in a restaurant with an unpleasant or unclean interior. To avoid making people take a gamble on your place (or decide not to risk it and keep on walking) let people see clearly how nice your interior is from the street front.

5. Keep the Entrance-Way Wide and Uncluttered

This last one takes a little unconscious psychology into account. People don’t like to get into situations that may be hard to get out of. If it looks even a little hard to get in and out of your restaurant (going up to a second floor is a killer), we subconsciously reject it and keep on walking.

There you go. None of these little tricks will make or break an establishment, but having your restaurant well set up to maximize walk by trade can only serve to help the bottom line!


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