The beginning of the year is peak Restaurant Week season, when restaurants across the country put out special menus and offers to bring diners in during these famously slow months. OpenTable is proud to partner with restaurant associations and tourism organizations nationwide to connect more diners with restaurants during these events — a surefire way to boost your traffic.
“Restaurant Weeks definitely drive new diners into restaurants,” says Polly Peak, a Restaurant Week consultant who’s worked with organizations like Los Angeles’ dineL.A. for a decade. “This event provides a platform for restaurants to get exposure to thousands of diners looking to discover a new dining experience.” After that, she says, it becomes the restaurant’s responsibility to keep those guests coming back.
Our data back her up, showing that most Restaurant Week diners are trying a restaurant for the first time on OpenTable. So, how to bring them back? We asked Polly to share some of her top tips for businesses participating in Restaurant Weeks. Find them all below, along with some insights from OpenTable’s own in-house team, and get ready to start turning new guests into loyal regulars.
1. Open your books.
Dinner service during Restaurant Week may look a little different from your typical night, with more people booking shoulder times during the events. Plus, people planning for Restaurant Week may reserve tables further in advance than what you usually see — make sure diners looking for a table online can find what they’re looking for.
2. Prep your dining room.
Another fun fact: more Restaurant Week reservations are two-tops than those outside of Restaurant Week periods, according to Venga. Set up your tables accordingly so you can maximize bookings and accommodate those duos.
3. Loop in your staff.
It’s critical that your staff know all about Restaurant Week and when it’s happening, says Polly — not just your front of house, but back of house, too. Hold pre-shift meetings to get them engaged and excited about Restaurant Week, and to help them recognize the potential for new repeat guests.
Also, consider bringing in some extra help. “Most restaurants may have to staff up during Restaurant Week times because they might be busier than normal,” she says. “So you want to make sure that your kitchen isn’t in the weeds, and that your waitstaff isn’t completely overwhelmed.”
4. Take care with your menu.
“The Restaurant Week menu is what’s going to make a restaurant successful during Restaurant Week,” says Polly. She recommends taking time to plan a thoughtful menu that’s reflective of your regular menu. Make sure the menu is descriptive and interesting; that everything’s spelled correctly; and that you include both your restaurant branding and the event branding.
If your chef wants to try out a new dish, now is the time to see how it goes. Overall, be sure to give your guests plenty of choice so you can ensure they walk away with a strong first impression.
5. Get vendors involved.
According to Polly, some restaurants work with their vendors to get bulk discounts during Restaurant Week in exchange for promoting their brands (for example, a salad made with greens provided by a local farm). It’s a great way to celebrate your partners and build more value into your menu.
6. Consider your pricing.
If dinner at your restaurant costs $40 on a typical day, offering a $30 menu during Restaurant Week may help you reach more diners and increase your traffic overall. Balance representing your food philosophy and your brand with creating an experience that broadens your reach, and you’ll be successful in gaining new customers.
7. Build in an upsell.
Along with your Restaurant Week menu, try offering beverage pairings at an additional, supplemental price, Polly advises. “That’s a great way for the restaurant to upsell their customers.” Find opportunities for other supplemental items, too: for example, if you have a pasta dish, fish dish, and chicken dish, consider adding a steak dish for an extra $10.
“Research shows that a lot of diners may come in for a Restaurant Week menu, which might provide value back to diners, but they tend to spend more on other things — maybe some supplemental items on the menu or a pricier bottle of wine,” she adds.
8. Engage on social media.
The best way to get the word out about special Restaurant Week menus is through your social media channels — particularly Instagram and Facebook. Polly says, “Connect with your current audience of followers as well as your email subscribers, and get your information out to folks you’re already connected with.”
Try offering special promotions or contests through your social platforms to get followers involved, and hopefully they’ll share with their own friends and followers. That helps grow your exposure on an exponential level. (And one more marketing tip outside of social media: many Restaurant Week organizers provide promo cards that you can put in your check presenters. Take advantage!)
9. Grow your guest database.
When those new guests come in during Restaurant Week, take note. “Try to get their contact information, their email address, and get them into your database and start engaging with them,” Polly says. OpenTable users can tag and track Restaurant Week diners with a Guest Code so that you can recognize them when they come back and welcome them properly. Plus, you can communicate with them via email in the future about special events and promotions.
10. Offer a bounce-back promotion.
Another way to bring Restaurant Week guests back in is to offer a bounce-back promotion, so that guests receive a coupon or offer on their first visit to redeem on their next one. Maybe it’s 10% off their bill or a complimentary appetizer or glass of bubbly — whatever it is, they have an incentive to come back. Says Polly, “Hopefully you’re creating a pattern of great dining experiences for that new customer.”