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Photo courtesy of Eaters Collective

Food naturally takes center stage in a restaurant. Offering a solid, creative and well-rounded menu, with quality dishes and great execution to pull it off, is essential to a restaurant’s success.

Yet, that is only half the battle. There are many other areas besides the food itself that make a huge impact on customers, and can play a crucial role in their dining experience. Here are four areas that you can focus on to make sure your guest experience keeps customers coming back and bringing friends.

Color Scheme and Décor

Color is one of those things we all see without seeing; we take it in as part of our overall experience, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. When it comes to the food industry, red is the most commonly-used color in fast-food establishments, because it’s been shown that red makes people hungry. But in a restaurant environment, it can be too harsh and obvious. The science of color psychology shows that color affects people’s moods, and is a big part of the ambience of a dining experience.

Photo courtesy of Comelite Architecture
Photo courtesy of Comelite Architecture

Mary Lakzy, creative director at London-based Comelite Architect and Structure, advises against full-service restaurants decorating with predominantly red themes, though she supports it as an effective accent color. Avoid using exclusively blue and purple (colors our subconscious mind can to toxins), and yellow, which can be an irritating color when used too forcefully, she says.

So what does Lakzy recommend instead? “Green is a relaxing color. People often associate green with nature,” she says, “and feel more comfortable in rooms painted in green.” Other tips include using light and cool colors to make a space seem bigger; dark and warm colors for creating intimacy; and bold, primary colors for fast turnover.

Menu Engineering

The average time customers spend reading a menu is less than 109 seconds, so you better make sure your menu looks great, is easy to read, and clearly communicates your restaurant’s brand.

Photo courtesy of Lou Stejskal
Photo courtesy of Lou Stejskal

Menu engineers like Gregg Rapp have found that customers tend to spend the most time looking at the first and last items on a menu. The upper right-hand corner, in particular, is a menu’s sweet spot. You may want to feature a highlighted dish or your most expensive item here. Other design elements that work include “call-out quotes,” shaded boxes and frames, graphics, photographs and other illustrations. Rapp cautions against overuse of these elements, however, as too much of a good thing can lead to dilution and less impact.

For instance, Rapp says that featuring only one photograph per menu page can increase sales for that item by as much as 30 percent. Effective descriptions are vital; using a conversational tone with plenty of adjectives tends to increase sales, as do nostalgic words such as “homestyle” and “traditional.”

The trick, says Rapp, is to cost your menu and then categorize the items according to both profit and popularity. “Establishments absolutely must cost their menu to the penny for food (not labor) costs because the engineering process depends heavily on the profitability level of each menu item,” Rapp says.

Using Tech to your Advantage

“From inventory management to invoicing, to table-top and mobile ordering, there’s a tech gadget for nearly anything restaurant- or food-related,” says Michael Kricseld, marketing manager at Company Kitchen. Apps like iHEARu and MoodMedia can improve the front-of-house customer experience, he says, since the restaurant can control music and lighting with just a touch. He also notes the rising popularity of digital displays since have become more affordable.

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“Guests can see specials and promotional messaging, which can be changed in real time,” Kricseld says. “Online and mobile ordering, as well as delivery, are huge trends that national chains are investing in, but many smaller restaurants are not.”

Data-driven software also allows restaurants to curate the customer experience, and to constantly adapt it according to the information mined. For example, Julian Goglia of the Mercury in Atlanta used sales analytics from Upserve to curate his brunch menu according to customer data, which showed he was losing customers after introducing a new brunch menu.

Goglia took a closer look and realized that the Mercury’s price point for brunch wasn’t right for the market. After tweaking the menu, he saw both sales and customer retention increase exponentially. The restaurant also takes advantage of stored customer preference data to really personalize their diners’ experiences.

Smart Marketing

Social media should top the list of any comprehensive marketing plan.

Photo courtesy of Eaters Collective
Photo courtesy of Eaters Collective

Instagram can be a restaurant’s best friend, and there are many creative ways to use the sharing platform, from contests and customer loyalty programs to freebies for those who post and tag your establishment. You can go a step further and think about social sharing in your plate, glassware, and napkin design to incorporate your name and even a hashtag.

For hotel restaurants, marketing the restaurant independently of the hotel is crucial. Tobias Peach, director of food and beverage at Geraldine’s in Austin, part of the Kimpton Hotel Van Zandt, says an independent identity allows Geraldine’s to not be perceived as a “hotel restaurant.”

“From inventory management to invoicing, to table-top and mobile ordering, there’s a tech gadget for nearly anything restaurant- or food-related,” -Michael Kricseld, marketing manager at Company Kitchen


“True restaurant operators run the restaurant, and elite hotel GMs run the hotel,” Peach says. “The Kimpton brand is one of the best at this, and it helps create a real synergy between the hotel and restaurant teams, while still remaining independent entities. This unique relationship allowed Geraldine’s to be concepted and introduced to the local Austin community as an authentic, Austin restaurant. Therefore, we are more often compared to top stand-alone restaurants as opposed to other hotel venues.”

In the end, having a consistent message across all platforms is crucial to a restaurants success, says Kricseld. “A restaurant should not try to be all things to all people.”

Written by   |  
Shelley Seale is a freelance journalist and author who has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week and Texas Monthly, among others. Her topic specialties include food and beverage, travel and hospitality, lifestyle, wellness, the arts, small business and real estate. She can be contacted at shelleyseale.com.
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