As a smaller restaurant, competition from large, nationally-known chains can be daunting, but is by no means unsurpassable. Small restaurant owners must bear in mind that they have traits which large chain stores cannot duplicate. In order to survive, and even thrive against competition from a major national brand, small restaurant owners must find ways to accentuate what makes them unique to their advantage.
An independent restaurant, or even a branch of a smaller chain, has much more flexibility than a large nation-wide chain restaurant branch. The restaurant industry and customer expectations are by no means fixed entities. As a small restaurant owner you must do constant market research to stay out in front of the trends. Word-of-mouth advertising about innovations has been proven to successfully contend with the mass marketing practices of large chains. Trying to outspend large competitors on advertising is a likely a no-win proposition. As a small chain you can focus on creating local buzz, as opposed to brainwashing the public with mass advertising campaigns. Here are some steps you can take to compete against national chains.
1) Specialize your menu
Any restaurant’s success has to begin with its menu. Larger competitors are often encumbered by limited and even stagnant food options. They build on customers’ familiarity with the product. Offering a more diverse menu than larger competitors is a sure-fire way to impress customers. Also staying on top of trends in the industry can help you make larger competitors appear old-fashioned and behind the times. Innovations, such as providing sustainable, local-sourced food, or advertising yourself as eco-friendly, can attract customers away from large chains. Also offering special menus for health-conscious customers or those who suffer from allergies can set you apart from competitors. Making the experience personal is an advantage you have over big chains.
2) Offer unique services
While offering your clientele food that larger chains don’t offer can set you apart from competitors, offering them unique services is another necessity to make sure patrons choose your establishment. Offering services such as delivery, staying open late into the night and providing entertainment at your venue are all methods of setting yourself apart from competitors. Depending upon the demographics of your area, you can target specific population groups by offering specific services. Gearing your venue specifically toward families by offering specialized kids menus and play areas or targeting the Generation Y crowd by boasting environmentally-friendly practices or fresh herbs and vegetables from a restaurant garden are examples of the flexibility being a small restaurant can afford you.
3) Design a one of a kind venue
In addition to offering customers food and services that larger competitors do not, you can also revolutionize your space to set it apart as something special. Interior design and restaurant furniture can help give your space an intimacy that chain restaurants cannot. Adding patio seating or a lounge area are also ways that you can outdo large chains by using your space. Custom dining booths or different genre-styling, such as going for a retro look are other ways to specialize a venue.
The key to making your restaurant successful is the same whether or not you are facing competition from a nationally-known brand. Knowing your clientele and what they want is job one for a restaurant owner. While larger competitors can outspend you on marketing campaigns, your flexibility as an independent or franchise of a small chain gives you advantages that can help you not only survive, but thrive.