By Rick Braa, CHAE

Q: Our sales growth has been driven by check average over the years. We can’t keep raising prices endlessly, where else should we focus to experience real growth?

A: Having a wide variety of successful clients allows consultants to see some of the best companies in action. One prosperous company already had restaurant sales over $1,000 sq ft/year and after some changes doubled the top line in just three years. The CEO responsible explained it was simple: he redirected everyone to focus on the Guest experience. Elevating the Guest experience isn’t difficult, and it provides a superior return on investment. To maximize that investment, consider the following:

Raise the Smile factor—smiles are contagious. In a Swedish study, subjects were shown pictures of people smiling. Researchers discovered facial expressions went directly to imitation of what subjects saw. It took conscious effort to stop smiling! The conclusion? If you’re smiling at someone, it’s likely they can’t help but smile back. Smiling faces produce a happy business. Make a sincere effort to smile frequently and be diligent to ensure those around you reflect your smile by being the first one to flash it. Here’s the bigger picture, each time you smile at a person, his/her brain coaxes him/her to return the favor. You’re creating a symbiotic relationship that allows both of you to release feel-good chemicals in your brains, activate reward centers, make you both more attractive, and increase the chances of you both living longer, healthier lives. This fulfills the purpose of hospitality.

Pay fanatical attention to quality and detail—quality is in the invisible things that Guests might not even know they see. The opposite can be true as well. Walt Disney is famous for stating, “People can feel perfection.” If people can feel perfection, what can fanatical attention to detail convey to Guests? In many restaurants, undermanaged or ignored small details deteriorate the Guest experience. Where Guests come into contact with your brand it must deliver a quality service experience. When strategically focusing on the details of your restaurant evaluate lighting, atmosphere, music, tactical touch points, ambiance, and service. Be sure to teach and train staff to be diligent in continually evaluating every detail in the restaurant.

Create and foster experiences— delivering near-perfect Guest experiences will provide a competitive advantage. Every time a Guest enters your restaurant there is a wish to be transported from everyday life to an experience and emotion of being on vacation. Consistent brand standards help manage Guest experiences. Detractors from a great Guest experience can be as simple as a tear in a booth, a piece of wallpaper peeling away, dirty tables or worn carpet. Brand standards need to execute whatever is necessary to enrich the Guest experience and ensure they remember their time on their mini vacation at the restaurant.  

Make the Guest “feel” happy and desire to return— people return to establishments where they feel emotionally satisfied not just rationally satisfied (78% won’t return, Gallup). If a restaurant averages 60-80% of sales coming from the regular Guests and 20-40% of sales from new Guests, what happens if it receives one more visit per year from those visiting spending $25? For every $1 million in sales with 80% regulars and a regular dining 20 visits per year there are 1,600 regulars and 8,000 new Guest visits. If one more visit is made per year that’s 9,600 visits at $25 each equaling $240,000 in additional sales or 24% increase (26 Guests per day). Easy math, big profits as these additional visits require little additional expense other than COGS so there is at least 50% flow through on those sales or another $120,000 in profit, a 12% increase per million. Implement systems and service that deliver the Guest emotional satisfaction where they feel happy. The result must be positive, memorable and emotional. Through proper staff training, you can empower your staff to take responsibility for the happiness of every Guest.

It’s simple science, if a restaurant is falling short of expectations in sales, redirect focus to elevate the Guest experience by every means possible. Focus maximum energy on the Guest experience and sales will increase double digits or more.

For a more information on improving profitability and driving performance, contact AMP Services at rbraa@ampservices.com. Rick Braa is the co-founder of AMP Services, an accounting and consulting firm specializing in helping companies grow profitability.