In today’s competitive restaurant marketplace, creating an environment in which people of all ethnicities feel welcome is important, and sometimes means aligning policies that appeal to different groups, whether that means different guests living within the same city or tourists visiting from around the world.
“If you are in a community and you see growing changes around you—more signs in other languages or small businesses pop up that cater to a different culture or ethnicity—trust what your eyes and ears are telling you,” says Kelly McDonald, author of Crafting the Customer Experience for People Not Like You. “A restaurant that puts the welcome mat out for new customers can only help.”
Hope Neiman, vice president of marketing of Tillster, a San Diego-based online ordering and delivery solution for restaurant brands, says there are several approaches she’s seen that have been successful in this regard.
“It starts with the hours open as different ethnicities choose to dine at different times,” she says. “Having a multilingual menu, or even the word choice used, should be considered. People want to see names of products that seem familiar, so how items are listed on a menu matters.”
Additionally, Neiman says that certain drinks transfer well and are a small way of showing an appreciation for an ethnic group and an understanding of culture.
Tillster works with a franchisee of a quick service restaurant who owns a single store in an urban area.
“Show sincere interest in the community, because I think that’s what people really respond to.” – Kelly McDonald
“On Sundays, he creates an environment for his heavily Hispanic clientele that is welcoming post-church,” Neiman says. “He makes sure tables are grouped so it is easy for large families to congregate, he makes certain all his Spanish speaking staff is available, and he is aware that families will come and hang out for hours, which he encourages, even when they are just sitting. It is a place they feel welcome and that is why they come back week after week.”
Brian Goldberg, founder and CEO of Mr Bing, a chain of Beijing-style street crepe shops in New York, says being in Manhattan, one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, has opened his eyes to just how much people are looking for all types of food from around the world, whether it is because they want a taste of home, they’re looking for something new, or they’ve traveled the world and found something they like.
“There are a lot of people from mainland China that live and work in the U.S. and we attract them to our restaurant by offering an authentic Northern Chinese food that hadn’t really had much of a presence in New York before,” he says. “But we also have a lot of Americans and non-Chinese that come to us because they’re interested in trying something new.”
“We welcome customers from any background, who may or may not have ever eaten Mediterranean food, but is just looking for delicious, healthy food,” he says. “At the same time, someone who was born in the Mediterranean or the Middle East can taste our food and feel right at home.”
McDonald notes that cultural sensitivity training should be mandatory for all restaurant staff so they aren’t confused or overwhelmed when people who don’t speak the same language come in to the restaurant to eat.
“You have to make people feel welcome and wanted,” she says. “Having someone who can talk with someone in a different language can definitely pay dividends.”
“Having someone who can talk with someone in a different language can definitely pay dividends.” – Kelly McDonald
Mr Bing has a very diverse staff, with some who can speak Chinese, Mandarin and Cantonese, which helps with efficient customer communication.
“About 30 percent of our customer base is Chinese, so it is important to have staff who can speak the language, but it’s not necessary because most of the Chinese people who come to our stores do live here and speak English,” Goldberg says. “It does help, though.”
Neiman said that having staff members who know certain basic phrases in different languages is helpful—especially in cities that have a large ethnic population.
Advertising in non-English papers and media can also help reach out to those from other countries. Restaurants should also produce menus, flyers, signs and coupons in different languages. Don’t forget about your website (so that non-English speakers can be presented with a language they know) or your social media presence.
“Social media is a fantastic way to market because it’s a great way to identify or geo-target a group within a certain radius around your restaurant,” McDonald notes.
Making People Welcome
“We also use WeChat and Weibo as social media marketing tools,” Goldberg says. “For example, we have a weekly WeChat post in Chinese about what’s happening at Mr Bing, from promotions to new menu items.”
McDonald recommends getting involved with the group you want to reach. If there’s a large Asian population in the area, go to the Chinese New Year festival, talk to people and get a booth.
“Show sincere interest in the community, because I think that’s what people really respond to,” she says. “To show you support them is a great way to get customers to come your way.”