What makes a restaurant a hit or a miss?

Youri Michel, Founder and Managing Director of creative agency to the industry Wyld Motion, says it's not the food
Youri Michel
Youri Michel portrait

Being French, I’m a massive foodie. Yet I firmly believe that 99% of a successful restaurant venture has nothing to do with the food or beverages served.

In an oversaturated market, awesome eateries owe nearly everything to what I like to call ‘the packaging’. Therefore, concept, location, architecture and design, service, atmosphere, community involvement, and marketing are what will truly determine whether you make it or break it within the industry.

People want to be treated to an experience these days – just look at Instagram’s perpetual stream of photographed moments. Yes, restaurant guests enjoy tasting delicious food, but they want memorable occasions, unique interactions and visually-stimulating surroundings just as much.

Here are four areas I feel can make or break a restaurant project:

Celebrating the community setting

The best restaurants know their clientele in and out. They’re aware of their demographics, when they like to dine, who likes to eat what, and beyond. And for a restaurant to be really successful, it must be in touch with the local community’s unique desires. Are they professionals? Families on a budget? Artists? Are there any dining-offer gaps that could become an interesting opportunity? One of my favourite projects at Wyld Motion has been to support the African fine dining hall, Alkebulan, as it seeks locations. Last year, we found the perfect hub for Alexander Smalls’ concept in Harlem, NYC. Here the restaurant could perform a function for local foodies, creatives and musicians, providing incredible pan-African dishes on their doorstep, creating jobs for African chefs, and enlivening a district with something different and very special.

Once established in a locale, I’d advocate social involvement so that your restaurant becomes a pillar of the community. Set up a calendar of local events the community can support, and team up with charities in the vicinity. Create an emotional connection with your customers, so that you remain front of mind. If you can support local farmers and producers, and sustainability initiatives, so much the better.

Wowing and winning diners to build loyalty

In the restaurant business, customer retention is where the vast bulk of their profits are made. Repeat customers spend more than new customers - 67% more, according to an often-quoted stat from Bain & Co. So, whether you foster loyalty through simply standing out, or with the added incentive of loyalty points and discounts, building a loyal following will stand you in good stead.

If you have a brilliant restaurant concept, and your food and beverage offer is superb, how can you keep building on that to drive loyalty? One option is to programme events that customers won’t want to miss. This might be Monday night 2-for-1 dining all winter, cocktail making, or tapas tasting events, that can both fill quiet times, and engender loyalty.

Empowering your people

Outstanding venues rely on outstanding people. I’m a big advocate for hospitality workers, who have had to deal with tough conditions since the pandemic. A 2022 survey found that only 16% of frontline workers in retail and hospitality feel that their organisation values their role. So, now more than ever, focus on your staff. They play a crucial role in making the magic work on the restaurant floor and in the kitchen.

Restaurant staff must be energetic, friendly, super-organised and knowledgeable about the food and beverages they’re serving. A highly-valued and well-rewarded team of servers is often the secret sauce of a restaurant’s success.

Think about what makes people leave, and what would make them stay. What kind of experience do they have in your restaurant? If it’s a bad one, you can be sure knowledge of this filters out to customers too.

The Importance of Facility Maintenance

In the restaurant industry, being ready for unforeseen challenges is just as essential as handling day-to-day operations, particularly when keeping the physical premises in prime condition. The ambiance and customer service are undeniably important, but so is the maintenance of the infrastructure. For example, keeping all kitchen equipment and structural elements well-maintained is crucial to avoid unexpected downtimes that can affect business. This highlights the significance of services like commercial tank repairs in water tanks. Addressing issues such as leaks or malfunctions promptly ensures that minor problems don't escalate into larger operational setbacks, enabling the restaurant to maintain seamless operations.

A strong digital presence

Successful restaurants have a great website, and are optimised for mobile. It’s worth spending on booking engine development, so that potential diners don’t bounce off your site or app due to the poor user experience (UX). On a user-friendly, fast-loading website, guests can make and change reservations, check out the menu, leave reviews and even head over to a linked Facebook or Instagram page.

The UX of everything from a restaurant’s smartphone app, to on-site wi-fi sign-up, has the potential to cause significant brand damage if it’s not regularly reviewed for defects. It’s important to create a digital experience beyond the expectations that come with the name recognition of any hospitality business.

Once you have the digital elements optimised, and regular guests signed up to your app, or loyalty scheme, you can drive up bookings with inventive, engaging marketing activities.

Ultimately though, it is on-site customer service and human connection that makes dining experiences truly memorable. The trick is to get all the elements discussed above to gel, and appear seamless to the outside world.

Written by
Youri Michel
Written by
April 6, 2023