A few weeks ago, I posted this article offering a few tips on how small business owners can grow their businesses during the recession. As I noted in the post, even in this dismal economy some businesses are thriving.

But for the majority of smaller businesses the focus has become just trying to hunker down and survive the economic storm while remaining somewhat intact.

One of the best examples of small business survival has been in the restaurant industry. The restaurant industry as a whole has seen both ups and downs over the past two years. Price increases in products and supplies, lower consumer confidence, changes in consumer behavior and demand, and less available credit have all had their impact on food services businesses. Yet many are proving to be surprisingly resilient and are successfully weathering the storm.

What’s their secret?

Successful restaurant owners are paying close attention to changes in the market and then adapting to them, they are also focused on developing and defining their brand..

So what specifically are some restaurants doing? Here’s a brief rundown:

Paying attention to quality:

Many restauranteurs are focused on the quality of the experience their customers have when they come to their eateries. This translates into the quality of the food, the service, and the overall level of hospitality. By providing an enjoyable experience, restaurant owners are giving their customers the opportunity to break away from all the dreariness and are in the processing cashing in.

Creating the perception of value:

These days as people look for ways to save money, they need a lot more incentive to spend it on eating out. Put simply, customers are looking to stretch their hard-earned dollars as far as they will go. One successful strategy used by restaurant owners is to focus on their customers’ perception of value. 

But communicating to customers that they are getting a good value (in terms of food quality, portioning, or ambiance) while at the same time not cheapening the perception of the business is actually a delicate balancing act.  It requires sound pricing strategy, menu planning, and marketing. Several restaurants have begun bundling meals, increasing portion size, or adding extras, like a free dessert, to add value while avoiding the appearance of discounting.

Using promotions to draw customers:

Many restaurant owners are also trying to draw customers with a variety of promotions and specials. Some examples include: having a night where kids eat for free or for a small charge, having a theme night, or setting aside slower times of the day or week for special value deals or unique events. Other restaurant owners are experimenting with cooking classes, dietary workshops, or birthday promotions.

Using the Internet to advertise:

The Internet can be an effective and often cheap means of advertising a small business, and this has not gone unnoticed by many restaurant owners. Many restauranteurs rely on a conscientious email marketing campaign, are making sure their business is listed on the popular online directories, and are a maintaining a website.

Emphasizing their unique brand:

All of the previous points are included in this one. The most successful restaurant owners understand the experience and the occasions that their business (i.e. their brand) is positioned for and are focused on building up these areas.

In short, whether you run a foodservice business, or another kind of small business, there are definitely a few lessons to be learned.

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