Q: As we head into the quieter time of the year for our restaurant, what are some ways we can build sales and not spend much money?

A: Statistically, 60 to 80 percent of sales come from repeat guests. What about the other 20 to 40 percent? Those sales are comprised of infrequent and new guests. Yet few have a strategy to convert infrequent or new guests into passionate, lifelong customers. If your restaurant has sales of $1 million per year and a $25 per guest check average, you have about 40,000 guest visits in one year. Twenty percent of those visits would be from 8,000 infrequent or new guests. Get just one more visit from each of these and you’ll produce an additional $200,000 in annual sales (8,000 guests multiplied by $25 per guest).Building and maintaining sales in seasonal markets is a challenge. There is one area that is rarely exploited and it’s absolutely free: infrequent and new guests that are dining in your restaurant.

Here are five ways to increase sales and turn infrequent or new guests into lifelong advocates of your restaurant:

1. Have an on-floor sales plan every shift.

There is only one place to generate sales at your restaurant: the point of contact between the server and the guest. Each manager should have a sales plan for every server or bartender for each shift. The plan should include, but not be limited to, increasing performance, guest check average, sales of appetizers, desserts, beverages, specials and guest comments.

2. Provide a superior guest experience.

Research shows 93.9 percent of companies believe guest service has a direct impact on sales. Eighty percent of companies believe they deliver a superior guest experience. There is one big problem: only 8 percent of guests agree with this. There is a gap between what the owner or manager believes and what the guest knows to be true. Every interaction at your restaurant is judged through the same lens. Inconsistent messaging between other members of the team and the guest creates a variance (gap) in the level of service. Bussers, front desk, kitchen staff and managers have the same impact on the guest experience as the server at the table. Focus the entire team on flawless execution to be truly superior.

4. Ensure every employee creates a memorable experience.

According to Gallup, an engaged guest provides a 23 percent premium, while a disengaged guest provides a 13 percent discount. Profits double with engaged guests. The startling fact is that it’s not about the food. Guests are five times more likely to return if they have a memorable experience with an employee.

5. Say “Thank you!” and invite the guest back.

Guests are 75 percent more likely to return to your restaurant if they receive a legitimate, heartfelt “Thank you.” Focus on the return visit. By the time your guests leave, everyone should have acknowledged them and invited them back.

Use these free ways to drive sales and you’ll see your sales grow exponentially.

For a more information on improving profitability and driving sales, 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.