3 ways restaurants can beat their competitors

by John Jones | Jan 12, 2023

For a business owner, the restaurant sector is a pretty tough place to be right now as restaurateurs fight to recover from the pandemic, do battle with rising costs and struggle with a lack of available staff. But it doesn’t stop there, because each restaurant is also in competition with the others in the sector facing exactly the same challenges and keen to entice the same customers through the door.

In this week’s blog, we take a look at how you can define your points of difference and identify some USPs across three areas. In other words, we briefly examine why – in a crowded restaurant market, diners should choose to eat at yours.

Because the food is better

Probably the number one reason diners choose a particular restaurant over another has to be the food. Sure, the restaurant experience as a whole comprises many different elements and these do come into play, such as location, but at the end of the day we go to restaurants primarily to eat, not be in awe of the view, the music, or the staff attire. The novelty of dining on the 60th floor will wear off pretty quickly if the food is memorable for the wrong reasons.

Modern diners have more experience than their forefathers when it comes to food, because they have more exposure to the world be it through social media or their own travels. A raft of TV cooking shows has spawned a generation of armchair gastronomy experts with firm opinions about what good restaurant food should be. They’ve experienced new cultures and associated international cuisine courtesy of bargain air fares and ocean cruises, and they’re going to be critical of dishes which fail to impress.

Restaurants should consider incorporating a mix of elements in their food offer, including the use of fresh, seasonal ingredients, a range of flavours assembled with innovation and flare, niche specialisms and with an eye for worldwide trends.

Because the service is better

This really goes without saying, but the service must be great if a restaurant is to steal a march on the competition. By service, we mean the basics; the feel-good factor delivered; the extent to which diners feel comfortable; the smiles-per-dollar, if you will. Service is one area which cannot be dressed up to look like something it is not with the addition of snazzy uniforms or slick words. It cannot be pasted on top of a business through customer charters or staff briefings – it has to ooze from the very fabric of the business, and do so naturally. In short, great customer service should be a given, the base-line, the minimum if you will. The bit which will get your restaurant noticed is the service above that base-level. That’s the sweet spot.

Aside from recruiting the right staff from the get-go (the ones who just love seeing customers happy), great restaurant service starts at the door. Acdtually, that’s not quite true but we’ll come that to that in a moment. Diners expect to be expected; to feel wanted and welcome; and that they are the most important people in the building at that moment – irrespective of how many other diners are present. Modern diners don’t necessarily seek “royal” treatment – down-to-earth is fine – but they want efficiency, a seamless flow and genuine passion. Restaurant owners who think that that can be achieved by asking “how is your meal?” every five minutes really need to think again. 

Perhaps the single most sought-after service element is personalisation. Customers love to feel special and will return time and time again to restaurants which make them so. Here is where service starts before the door – in fact, we’re going to suggest that restaurants avoid the very notion of service starting and ending at all. Huh? Let us explain: service is not an A-Z journey which begins and, crucially, ends: it is a never-ending cycle which flows throughout the customer experience. It doesn’t stop, but exists before, during and after the meal and then rejuvenates itself again and again.

For restaurateurs, data is their friend when it comes to creating that cycle. Diners need to feel a deep level of personalisation when they book and expect restaurants to not just recognise them on arrival, but know them. Restaurants which demonstrate more than a passing familiarity with individual diners’ tastes – from their favourite table to allergies or wine preferences to birthdays – will score massively over their competitors. Similarly, a gentle line of relevant communication after the meal and forever more can be achieved by careful use of data culminate in extremely loyal and engaged customers.

Because the tech is better

Earlier we mentioned modern diners and how they are more wordly-wise than previous generations. In the same vein we’d like to suggest that a very large proportion of foodies have grown up with – or at the very least developed an expectation for – the best restaurant booking experience. 

Many consumers, particularly because of changed behaviours brought about by the pandemic, use their personal tech to support the majority of their buying behaviours these days and they expect that to extend to restaurants. In some ways the technology embraced by a particular restaurant should underpin the provision of that deep-seated customer service we mentioned above, but even as a stand-alone attribute it should be impressive.

But restaurant technology isn’t just about showing off, because there is a point where technology becomes technology for technology’s sake and, ultimately, a barrier to enjoyment. The best table reservation systems offer a seamless, intuitive experience for restaurant bookers which represent the start of a great relationship and encourage both parties to get to know each other. But that’s not all, because online reservation systems need to offer the range of value-added functionality expected by the smartphone generation, such as live and real-time booking from any web-enabled device, online menus and pre-ordering, deposits and payments plus of course a safe and secure session. 

Let’s not forget, though, that the technology experience should not be a one-hit wonder scoring a number one place for the quality of the booking experience but falling flat thereafter. The technology experience must be threaded throughout the business and be present at every touchpoint, from ordering and paying at the table to re-booking next time.

Wrapping up

Food, service and tech: three key areas for attention if your ambition is to steal a march on your competitors. Of course, there are many other areas to look at if that is your goal, but none should be attended to in isolation. Wonderful food will count for nothing if the service is terrible; amazing service will not mask poor food; likewise, the best restaurant booking software cannot make up for other deficiencies inherent in the business. 

At the end of the day, beating your competitors is about recognising how diners choose the restaurants in which they will eat, and why. Restaurant owners must then deliver a range of USPs in the right proportions, without neglecting one or favouring another, in order to win over that customer. It’s about getting the mix right – do that and customers will choose your restaurant every time. 

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