How can I improve lunch sales?

10 February 2006
How can I improve lunch sales?

We're busy for dinner most nights of the week, but lunch covers are always low. How can I improve lunch sales?

Guy Holmes, the Restaurant Ingredient
The first thing to do when starting any new marketing activity is decide who your target market is. Is it office workers; students; ladies who lunch; retired people; tourists or another socioeconomic group? Once you know the target market, formulate a strategy to not only appeal to them but also to communicate your offer in a way that will attract them in. Here are a few general tips to get you started.

  • Contact local clubs and associations that your target markets will belong to. Offer a discount just for members of that club or association. For example, if you'd like to attract retired people then target bridge clubs, bowls clubs, etc. Such an offer can be promoted with posters on notice boards, and you may be able to arrange for a mention in the members' newsletter.
  • Lunch customers are generally more sensitive to price, so give discounts and special offers such as two courses for £10.
  • Take pre-orders for meals by phone or e-mail so there are no long waits. This will help to attract office workers who don't have much time for lunch.
  • Offer special discounts to large local employers. For example, if you have a large company nearby, offer employees 20% off and ask the company to promote the offer on its intranet system and put up posters in the staff rooms.
  • Give out money-off vouchers for lunch to dinner customers.
  • Make sure you stock take-away containers so busy office workers can eat your food at their desk if they're short of time.

Paul West, Ignite Marketing First, make absolutely sure there's a viable market for lunchtimes in your area, and decide if it makes economic sense to open.

Having decided there is a market and identified target segments such as lunching mums, business lunches, shoppers or quick economical bite to eat, select from the following techniques to communicate your offering:

- * Create a special lunch menu that meets the needs of your targets, keep it as economical as possible (lunch spends are lower) and keep it simple, such as two courses for £7.50. As a general rule, lunch menus should be simple to create, quick to serve, good value and relatively light on the stomach.

  • Provide non-alcoholic daytime drinks such as herbal teas and fruit smoothies, and perhaps introduce healthy options, salads and low-carb dishes.
  • Provide Wi-Fi wireless internet access for customers.
  • Offer a "delivered to your desk" service if appropriate to your style of food.
  • Provide highchairs, a children's menu and toddler-friendly items for lunching mums. You can also promote a family-orientated weekend lunch.
  • Promote your lunch offer in the restaurant using table cards, posters and an A-board outside. Provide a lunch discount voucher with evening bills.
  • Produce a flyer with a clear map and lunchtime offer, and distribute these on the street or to local businesses. Ensure that in order to validate the offer, customers must fill in their contact details so you can build a database.
  • If you have a mailing list, use it to communicate the offer.
  • If you have the facilities, during the spring and summer promote increasingly popular alfresco lunch dining.

Ann Elliott, Elliott Independent Understand your target market and what they want at lunchtime. You will probably have three target markets - workers, the retired and women (and men, of course!) who lunch. They're likely to want smaller dishes or just one course. Most important, those who work may not have a lot of time for lunch - a 35-minute lunch break is now the norm.

So if your target market doesn't have much time, make sure your offer (food, drink, service, ambience) is exactly what they want. Don't make life complicated for yourself, your team or your customers. High quality fresh ingredients simply prepared will work better than anything more complicated. Service style should be friendly, efficient and quick. Customers should be able to pay and leave as quickly as they want. Pricing should reflect what customers want to pay.

When you're confident about your offer, make sure it's communicated strongly outside.

You should, of course, market your offer. Drive awareness among your target market through your website and advertising on other relevant sites. Use booking sites if they exist in your area. Advertise in the local press and/or on the radio. Keep a database (e-mail and/or postal addresses) and send them interesting information regularly. Use a text campaign. Mailshot offices, shops, schools, hospitals, industrial units. See if you can buy a list and then direct-mail your audience at home.

Most important, keep listening to your customers and give them what they want.

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