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4 things restaurant owners can learn from Dine Out Vancouver

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DH Vancouver Staff Jan 26, 2015 8:33 am

For the hundreds of restaurateurs participating in Dine Out Vancouver 2015, there are some valuable business lessons to be learned.

Restaurateurs may know that their margins will be relatively low during the two week festival, however, they will be receiving higher traffic volumes as well as the ability to leverage a marketing campaign without spending too much of their time and money.

All in all, it’s a marketing maneuver, and there are several instances where it’s been both a hit and miss decision. Most importantly though, Dine Out is a big deal in Vancouver. Even for a restaurateur that’s not participating this year, there are still several things to learn from one of the few popular local events that focuses solely on culinary experiences.

Here are four things a restaurateur can learn from the Dine Out Vancouver Festival:

1. A lot of traffic isn’t always a good thing

Consumers who have taken part in Dine Out Vancouver know that many restaurants (especially the popular ones) become an absolute zoo during these two weeks. Servers are scrambling trying to keep their tables happy, hosts are nervously trying to manage long lineups, and the kitchen is sweating just trying to keep up with the orders.

Diners know that nothing ruins a great night out with friends or family like bad food or service. And the chance of this happening increases as a restaurant gets busier. As a restaurateur, a busy night can actually turn out to be a bad night when it ends up causing too much negative word-of-mouth.

In the long term, a night with 100 happy customers and 20 unhappy ones trumps 300 happy customers and 200 unhappy ones – especially since negative word-of-mouth travels way faster than positive word-of-mouth. A restaurant has to project whether or not having extraordinarily busy nights, like ones they would receive on Dine Out nights, is actually manageable by the staff.

2. A restaurant is more than just the food it serves

Dine Out Vancouver is evolving, and is no longer fixated on only offering simple restaurant deals. There are interesting events like 2012’s “Hawksworth at Holt Renfrew,” which included a cocktail reception, dinner and dessert at the retail boutique Holt Renfrew. Those who attended got a preview of new fashions and a $50 gift certificate from Holt Renfrew as well. Creative partnerships like this illustrate how a restaurant like Hawksworth can help define themselves as a high-end restaurant by pairing with luxury retailers.

An event like that focuses less on just the food, but the brand experience that the host restaurant offers. Another good example is The Eatery, whether it be their annual New Year’s eve celebration, or their neat sushi-making game, the restaurant’s unique style has become as pivotal as the food itself. Restaurateurs should always be creating and collaborating in order to further define and expand their brand’s identity.

3. Be memorable as often as possible

Dine Out is a social-heavy experience. People there are excited to tell their Dine Out stories to their friends and family through photos, face to face interactions or blog posts and articles. All in all, it’s a lot of pressure for restaurants well to perform in a short period of time. A restaurant has to maintain good food and good service all the while shifting the menu and mentality to suit a high-volume, low-margin, two-week event.

In the midst of all this, a restaurant has to display their differentiator. What makes the restaurant stand out? What makes the customer want to come back after the festival is over? After all, this is what Dine Out is all about; an opportunity to expose the restaurant to a high amount of people in hopes they’ll come back in the future.

For those restaurants not participating in Dine Out, the concept applies just the same, but on a longer-term scale. Plan ways to be memorable as often as possible. It doesn’t even necessarily have to do with food or service either. Good food and service are already staples for good word-of-mouth, but memorable differentiators can help create conversations that lead to the food and service.

4. Know your audience

Every restaurateur should know:

  1. The customers they want to target
  2. Who their current customers are
  3. What their current supporters are saying about them
  4. What their detractors are saying about them (for more information on defining your target demo, see “How To Write a Marketing Plan“)

How well a restaurant’s brand is defined and marketed will determine the type of customers they get, and even though a restaurant might have a specific target, a majority of the branding and marketing might be attracting a completely different customer base unbeknownst to its owners. For example, it is relatively safe to say that the Dine Out crowd is a little more price-driven. They’re usually participating in order to try new restaurants that they usually can’t afford or have found are too risky to try out. For some restaurants, this is the most desirable client, while for others, it’s the exact opposite.

As an example, I’ll refer to last year’s “Hawksworth at Holt Renfrew” event again, for which their tickets started at $199. Also notice that this year the high-end Hawksworth did not participate in the regular Dine Out festival, but was still able to partner with Dine Out through their now-sold-out “Side Dishes” event. Their price points are continually higher than the most expensive Dine Out fixed price menus – which is probably not preferable to the majority of the Dine Out crowd. Yet, they were able to leverage the Dine Out brand’s reach and recognition to market their restaurant.

It’s so important to know (and avoid assuming) who a restaurant’s audience is and who an owner wants them to be in order to help inform marketing decisions. Higher-end restaurants must determine the Dine Out crowd is really their target market. Will those customers come out after the festival is over? What are your detractors saying about the restaurant? Is it bad food, bad service, or just not what they expected? Perhaps the restaurant brand has been pushed in one direction, but the customers are showing up for a different reason? The questions are endless, but if a restaurateur truly know their audience, they will already know all the answers.

Feature image: Restaurant place setting via Shutterstock

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DH Vancouver Staff
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