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Six Tools & Ideas for Restaurants to Outperform Chains

It’s been nearly a year since the onset of COVID-19, and in that time, independent restaurants have been forced to pivot and recalibrate again and again. It’s been overwhelming, unprecedented, and…an opportunity? Woolco CEO Steven Toboroff believes this unprecedented series of events may change the future of dining and independent restaurants’ positioning in it. His take? Independent restaurants have learned enough this year to compete with national chains. But they need actionable strategies to gain parity. 

1. Establish a Loyalty Program 

In the latest episode of Woolco’s The Profitable Table podcast, Steven breaks down this observation and offers some essential tools and ideas for independent restaurant owners to implement in the spirit of leveling the playing field. While there are no “quick fixes,” there are actionable strategies for better days ahead.

2. Keep communicating 

If you run a restaurant, you have messages to share: menu changes, cocktail changes, your thoughts on plant-based foods, etc. Relevant information always resonates when shared consistently and with purpose. Steven’s advice? Work on building out your customer email base and keeping them engaged. Give them reasons to keep ordering from you and to support the culture you’re building.

3. App-ly yourself

According to Steven, every independent restaurant needs to get an app. Why? To create curated engagements for your customers. Maybe it’s a specific menu option, or updates around the restaurant’s core missions and values. Whatever the case may be, this is an opportunity to communicate on your own terms. 

Additionally, the more customers you can get to order food and make reservations through your app directly, the more you’ll free yourself from the algorithms of third-party apps that are in the business of ranking restaurants (read: your competitors). With an app, you’re more in control of your digital ecosystem. But make sure the app is intuitive and easy-to-use. Bonus points if you tie in the loyalty program we mentioned in #1!

4. Turn contact creation into value creation

Emails and phone numbers may seem like basic stuff, but the immediacy they lend your restaurant is unparalleled. Send out notifications, run contests, or drum up interest with special giveaways. 

But! Make sure the information is of value. You want to be sending communications that are relevant, timely, and specific. Be respectful of people’s time (and information). It’s critical. 

5. Cater to your audience 

In 2020 and 2021, businesses can claim 100% deduction on meals purchased from restaurants. A catering division can be a solid revenue stream if you are connected within the area and build out local relationships. 

6. Go virtual 

If you feel your market is open to some new offerings beyond what your original brick-and-mortar restaurant sells, creating a virtual kitchen that extends beyond that menu can be a smart move. Leverage your brand, your fixed resources, and your creativity to design another experience within the restaurant. This new menu may not work as part of your every day offerings, but that’s the beauty of it—it’s meant to be an offshoot. 

Ultimately, independent restaurants need to create value for customers, whether that’s through savings, convenience, or information. The smallest things can make a big difference. Have you pivoted to more take-out orders? Make some items available for take-out only. Or create a special moment for people picking up: Dog treats for furry friends; smaller treats for human customers. Indie can be 

Click here to listen to the full episode of the Profitable Table podcast.