The five Ps of Successful Party Bookings
It's that time of year again when things are starting to get (dare we say it?) Chrismassy. The TV adverts start to feature snowy scenes, tinsel appears in the shops, the weather gets cold and groups pf colleagues and friends start to plan their seasonal group parties. With such pent-up demand for a good time during a "bad-news" year and equally dire 2021 and 2020, this season is sure to be very busy for restaurants.
But custom can never be taken for granted and it is important that F&B businesses wanting to capitalise on diners craving a big bang to the season's end don't leave things to chance.
So, what are the basics for ensuring a clear and compelling party booking offer sure to bring in trade and beat the competitors? We list the top 5.
It is so important to define what customers will actually get, if they book their party with you. Let's start with the obvious: menus and dishes. When drawing up a menu for Christmas, consider how many courses, portion size, ingredients together with options for those with allergies or lifestyle preferences. Will you rely on frozen product, or cook everything from scratch? It all matters.
But products don't stop at what gets served and eaten, because pretty much everything the diner experiences is by extension part of your product offer, from the ambience to the attitudes of staff. Think about the "packaging" you uniquely offer around the meal - what makes a party at your restaurant special - and you'll be onto a winner.
A great way to visualise this is to break the experience down into before, during and after and map out your USPs. For example, you might consider the ease with which the customer can book and manage their party, using your online booking system. It's all part of the product!
Unless your customer-base comprises wealthy, rich and famous, it is likely your price will be capped by what your local market can stand. It is essential therefore to know your customers' spend habits and profiles using data, and monitor the competition's own pricing structure.
The other part of the equation, however, is cost and your pricing must reflect your expenditure plus leave room for a healthy margin. This is where an experienced chef will come into his or her own, using a number of costing models at dish-and-ingredient level to ensure profits are not leached through over-enthusiasm in the quest to thrill diners. Keep an eye on the less tangible costs, too, because consumables such as napkins, table cloths, staff and advertising can all eat at your financial surpluses.
Once you have an idea of where you should be pitching your price, you can play with it using a number of models to make it more compelling. For example, if your research suggests a pricing sweet-spot of £30 per head, you could advertise at £25 and offer a range of up-sell options to top-up. Or, perhaps you'll steal a march on your competitors if you decide on £30 and a free glass of fizz on arrival. Think flexibly and imaginatively about pricing.
A final thought on the finances - make sure you have a robust way of collecting deposits and payments and that you set the rules. A decent table management system will make life much easier.
Having created a fantastic product offer at a great price, it is time to tell people all about it. Promotion can take many forms, but before jumping straight in to an advert, it is important to decide what you want to say to your audience.
Broadly, an effective package of marketing communications will include a snappy headline, a description of the benefits of your offer, the finer details including price, any special offer and the call to action (that is, what the reader should do next). Remember, you're trying to stand out over the competition so make it punchy, compelling and in-tune with your restaurant's overall "feel".
The promotion itself doesn't have to be expensive (or cost anything at all!), if you make use of social media and your website. Facebook is a great place to connect your audience with your special offers by creating a dedicated page with a link to your booking portal and you can also create posts periodically to substantiate your message.
If you have an restaurant table reservation or management system you will no doubt have a built-in marketing module which will allow you to send promotional emails and SMS texts to your customer database.
Your restaurant, together with the food you're famous for, is what brings the public in so make sure to make the most of it. You know your building better than anyone, but taking a little time to think about all things "place" will often generate new ideas to maximise covers and customer flow. Once you've done that, you can set up your new floor plans and spaces in your restaurant table management system.
Coming back to promotion briefly, customers are unlikely to react well to tired or library photos of your pub, restaurant or bar, so take the time to take some nice attractive pictures which are fresh and in keeping with your brand. Include interior shots, exterior and don't forget to include people. Finally, ensure that all of the contact and location details are included and up to date.
Even the best-planned menu will fall flat if you haven't considered your other critical resource: people. Customers will demand "the event of the year" so your staff's performance is of paramount importance. Get rosters agreed well in advance, think about individual team members' key strengths and make sure everyone is in no doubt as to why the forthcoming season is the flagship part of the year for your business.
Some extra training sessions nearer the time won't go amiss either, to ensure staff are on-message, know what to say, how to behave and can rattle off the menu from memory. Try to get the service team to familiarise themselves with the lead booker and his/her guests before the event.
'Tis shortly the season to be jolly for sure, but memorable parties, lunches and dinners need to be planned well in advance if they are to be remembered for the right reasons long after the guests have left. By giving consideration to the five "Ps", restaurateurs will ensure they run smoothly, are well attended, profitable and done better than the competition.
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