Grow Your Restaurant’s Lunch Sales with these Practical Tips
Updated: Jun 21
In this episode, we are going to answer an inquiry from a fellow restaurant owner all the way from Santiago, Chile, his name is Jean Marc who owns a small Italian restaurant located in a business area in Chile's capital city.
Jean Marc's question is:
"We work only weekdays from 8 am to 7 pm mainly with office people around. It would be great to have some tips to increase sales focus on these clients at lunch and coffee without cutting prices."
How to grow your lunch sales without cutting on your prices?
Here are some of the practical tips that we can share with you:
Study your customer demographics
I believe that you know exactly who are the people you are serving. Those are the folks who work within your area.
When you are thinking about the people you are going to attract, specifically, in this case, a demographic of office people, you must understand what they care about.
You need to study them, you need to observe them and their behavior. The easiest method to know these things is by approaching them directly, asking them specific questions in finding ways you can serve them.
How we do it with our company's proven method...
What we have been doing in our company for almost five years now is we physically go to different business establishments every single day.
Our goal is to visit about 100 businesses within the one-mile radius of our restaurant every month.
At the beginning of our business, it was only my husband and me who have been working as a team, religiously doing this every single month. But now we added another team member whose job solely is to build relationships with our corporate clients.
We are a local business, but it does not mean that we are going to be small, think small, and act small, right?
Having this belief, we've become very professional in dealing with people, especially with other business owners.
We've been visiting all the businesses that are within the one-mile radius of our restaurant. In our case, there is a lot of establishments that surround us, there are headquarters and big companies, which is fantastic because some of them become our clients.
So we've been going to these establishments every month. We take food samples that we give to them whenever we come over to meet them personally.
Here's what you can do...
Make a list of all the companies that are within the one-mile radius of your restaurant.
You can look them up on Google map. Are there hundreds of them, maybe 20 or 30 of them?
Start with a list and then make the effort to go visit these places in the next coming weeks.
You can choose to visit maybe one or three businesses a day.
It is actually not difficult to hit 3 establishments in one day, just take some food with you and go visit them one by one.
Probably your question now is, what are you supposed to do when you visit an establishment?
You simply are going to say hello, shake hands with the owners or managers and introduce yourself like this, "Hey, my name is Jean from _____ Restaurant, I just came to stop by and give you guys some samples of our bread sticks that we make in-house."
You need to gather intel, like a CIA agent, you want to collect information and profile of your future customers, right?
You may ask them some questions like:
-What are you guys doing here?
-What is this all up to?
-What is this office all about?
The more you know them, the better you can serve them. So you just need to ask a series of questions and for you to go deeper.
In our case, we document all these things, whatever they say, we write them all down.
Capture the right opportunity to ask, for example, "Do you guys need catering for your office meetings or whenever you have a training session? Because our restaurant also has a catering service and we would love to have the opportunity to serve you guys."
Building deep relationships versus wide
We strongly believe in our company that building a deep relationship with customers is way better than just going wide. What is the use of meeting hundreds of people if they would not become loyal to you, right?
It's like we just don't want our customers to become our acquaintances, but we want them to be our best friends. We want them to stay with us long-term and not just for a day or two.
Leave a good impression!
You want to come across as you really want to serve them, you want to give them a good impression of your company.
You are seeking an opportunity to assist them, people appreciate that, especially when you are a local restaurant, everybody wants to be nice to you.
We, in the beginning, had encountered a lot of times that they may be already doing business with a competitor, and that may be a big box franchise company like they mentioned Pizza Hut or Papa John's.
In that case, I would say, "I understand that, but I would still love to have the possibility to serve you next time."
Give first-time deals
For the first time that we cater to them, we give discounts on our food because we are looking for a long-term business relationship, so we are okay with catering deals. We do discounts, again for one first time because this is an opportunity to get our food in their mouth, and for them to experience our service.
We also give them a courtesy call after, and then we call them again to keep in touch with them.
Just about several businesses, you go to, but those you need to build relationships with, come back and write all the stuff that you learned so the following month, you can follow up with them again, "hey you are hosting this event, how did it go?", or something like that.
When it comes to businesses, there are 2 things you want to look for:
1. Large orders. You can do lunch or breakfast catering. But have you considered breakfast catering like a continental style? In the US, we usually have croissants or some pastry or coffee. It may be that you currently don't have croissants, but are you able to put together a breakfast menu?
Ask your clients what they want, do they need catering for lunches or do they need it for breakfast? They are surely going to tell you, all you need to do is ask.
If I were you, put together like a breakfast
catering menu that is like a continental style.
You may also want to have your catering for lunch orders because a lot of times they need it for office parties. Catering orders matter a lot.
2. Recurring business. I have seen here in the US, there is a coffee business that recurring, these offices have like a subscription thing for snacks or subscription for coffee.
Have you thought about going to these offices and offer like, once a week you will drop off, for instance, coffee and pastry on a Friday morning.
So you want to get a recurring business, it does not matter if that is once a month, it does not matter if it is daily, as long as it is recurring, it is good business.
Let's talk about your lunch crowd!
So as you mentioned office people make up a large number of your customers during lunchtime.
There are 4 things that people who go out to lunches from work on weekdays care about:
1. Speed - Customers have a very limited time for lunch, that alone should give you enough reason not to make them wait, you need to be fast.
It does not matter if you give them a lobster made with gold if it's taking more than it should, people will not wait for you. Some people have only a 30-minute lunchtime, so to honor that, you need to be as quick as possible.
2. Price - It is not about giving discounts, but you need to always be mindful of your pricing.
People go out for lunch 5 days a week if it's going to be $15 a plate that kinda adds up a lot.
I feel like the average that people look for lunches is just almost $10. It is somewhere within that range, not more than $10.
It is really not cheap now to eat at McDonald's as you now, but still a lot of people choose that option, the fast-food, because of the price and speed.
3. Waistline - Everybody is looking into healthy options nowadays.
I am not saying that you change your whole menu, just keep in mind about having healthy choices. You may have a salad with chicken, that alone is an entree. You may have salads complementing your food, but do you have a salad entree?
If you come up with something like that, a couple of healthier main courses, this may open up and promote to a new demographic. Those people who will go to your restaurant but don't want pasta or pizza, but they come for nutritious meals that you offer.
4. Convenience - It matters to people who are busy and always on the go.
Make it easy and frictionless to place an order if it is for pick up, whether it is via phone, whether they come in, they don't want a long line, they want it convenient.
Don't make it too complicated to place an order with you.
This also works for catering, a lot of our corporate clients, they just got our cell phone number, and they text us today if they need catering, we make exceptions.
We want to be friends with corporate people. Make it convenient for people to do business with you. People are hungry, they got money in their hands, they want to give it to you, make it easier for them.
Why speed so important at lunchtime?
For instance, for a pizzeria or an Italian restaurant, it takes some time to cook our food. I understand that we are not fast-food, but then again, people have only 30 minutes to eat. So you need to be always mindful of your speed.
There are some ways that you can use to ensure that you provide a fast service all the time, they are classic but are absolutely still working for restaurants until now:
1. Lunch special
Come up with a lunch special. What you can do is to have a weekday lunch special that will include a main dish and a drink for like $10.
If you can have something like that or as an Italian restaurant, maybe you can have a particular pasta every day of the week. That is very easy to market because people who like, for example, Fettuccine Alfredo, are going to love it.
They will always come to you every Monday if you scheduled it for that day, and then you may have Spaghetti Meatballs on Tuesdays.
So if people are into specific things, it will help to have daily specials that have weekly repeats for people to turn this into a habit.
You want them to come to you every single week. You want people to have you as one of their lunch stops.
People who usually work in the office have 5-6 different places they go to rotate and they go with their co-workers most of the time.
Always be watchful of your speed and price.
Look at your menu, put together a combo that is fast to execute, like pasta special.
When you know that Fettuccine Alfredo is going to be your featured dish for the day, then you must make some extra sauce that is ready to go.
That is going to help you to be faster serving that dish because of that special you have.
2. Mini-salad bar buffet style
Creating a mini-salad bar is not difficult to execute. You may need about 10 ingredients for this and you probably have all of them already. It may be lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, croutons, cheese, peppers, onions, etc.
You can do a flat rate for that for like $4.99, which is great for people who would want to add that to their lunch or some people would prefer to get it alone or as an à la carte.
If a customer wants it to go, it would be really fast and easy.
All you need to do is to provide takeout boxes, they can just fill it up as much as they can and then go.
Again it depends on your demographics if they like salad, but that is something for you to consider.
3. Lunch buffet
A lunch buffet is what we have for our restaurant. If we don't have a lunch buffet, to be honest, our ticket times would be really high.
If you have 60 people coming in for lunches and you want to serve them pizzas that are of different sizes and different toppings with customization, that would take a while and you would need even more staff.
Our lunch buffet is $7.99 and if it comes with a drink, it adds up to be about $10. So we have a variety of pizzas, we have a mini-salad bar that is not that elaborate, Fettuccine Alfredo, pizza rolls, and bread sticks.
We have made it very convenient for our customers. If somebody comes in, first they just need to pay at the cashier, and then they can go directly to the buffet area, grab a plate and within the next three minutes, they have food in their mouth.
People are hungry for lunch, maybe they only have 20 minutes to go eat and still managed to come and dine with us, and in 20 minutes they need to eat enough food very fast so there shouldn't be no wait time.
It's powerful to have no wait time because the customers know that lunchtime can be really very busy.
The line may be long but the minute they get to the register and pay, immediately, they can grab a cup and a plate, and within a few minutes, they're already eating their food.
We also have the option for to-go or takeout orders. We give our customers one large to-go box (the Styrofoam classic container) and one small Styrofoam box, and they can fill them up as much as they can.
We have a lot of folks who do that, they stepped out of their offices and just come in, they want something to-go so they can just put in their boxes pizza, salad or pasta, a variety of food, into those boxes for only $7.99, that's a pretty good deal.
Because of the lunch buffet concept, our lunches have been very successful. We usually have a very busy lunch, and on top of that, because of the relationships we have, going deep versus going wide, we get a lot of catering orders, 10 pizzas, 20 pizzas during lunches for these offices.
Here's a challenge for you:
1. Make a list of 10-20 business within the one-mile radius of your restaurant.
2. Without any expectations, take some of your food samples and go visit these folks. Get to know them and ask for their cards. On their cards, you will see their name, email, and phone.
Use these pieces of information so next time when you go to their place, you can be a little bit more friendly.
That's where all starts, don't expect much, just go there and meet some people, shake hands with them and get to know them.
There is this law of reciprocity, you're nice to people, you come across genuine, you are the owner of the restaurant who's coming over and shaking hands with people.
And you'll be surprised, people start calling you, placing catering orders. This has definitely been our experience in our restaurant and hopes to you as well.
I hope you get one or two ideas that you can implement to your restaurant, go out there, make more dough, make more sales!
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