Good Business Ideas for a Restaurant in a Small Town
The success of a restaurant owner in a small town isn't limited just because her town's geography is limited. Expanding your market is possible even if the town's population isn't expanding. Go beyond the coupon, early-bird special and children-eat-free concepts into territory that will grow your business.
The opportunities for community involvement for a restaurant include supporting kids' sports teams and having the restaurant's name on the uniform and holding a food drive and spaghetti plate night to boost contributions to the local food bank. Volunteer your restaurant for the next chamber of commerce meeting and serve a sampling of appetizers to attendees. Another idea for community involvement is to start a summer lunch program for disadvantaged children; when school is not in session, these children don't get lunch.
Stand back from your restaurant and look at the customers that frequent your establishment. You'll notice that there are similarities among them. Perhaps mostly families frequent your establishment but not the twenty-something set. If that's the case, offer a Saturday night menu that focuses on pizza, hamburgers and finger foods such as chicken wings. Older adults may like your food but consider your prices beyond their pocketbook. Design a menu that has smaller portions -- older people generally don't eat as much -- for a decreased price. There may not be enough of a market niche for a restaurant devoted just to that niche to survive in a small town. However, there may be enough customers in the niche to take advantage of special menus and promotions.
Even small towns have opportunities for catering at weddings, special occasions and sporting events. Talk with your town's bridal shop to see what possibilities exist. Send a flier to churches offering their memberships a discount. Attend softball games, semi-professional sports and school events. The high school football team might be happy to allow you to sell hot dogs, soft drinks and snacks at games for a percentage of the sales.
You might think that every other restaurant in your small town is a competitor, but that really isn't the case. Restaurants are often grouped together on a street. Shopping malls have food courts with a selection of cuisines. If a customer doesn't feel like steak, the chicken restaurant is right there. Use that same reasoning in a cooperative campaign to promote other restaurants that serve food different from your menu.
There probably are menu staples that your customers expect to see every time they visit. Take your famous chicken pot pie off the menu and you may even lose customers. However, that doesn't mean you can't broaden your menu. Small towns may not have the population to support several different ethnic restaurants. Change up your menu by offering specials on different cuisines. You might advertise a few Italian dishes for one month and Mexican food another month, along with your established menu. Customers won't get bored with the food and return more often to sample what's new.