The location of your bar or restaurant will have an impact on how your business develops. Those based in the centre of towns and cities, and other popular urban settings, are going to benefit from passing trade, especially if they’re in an area that has established and popular venues that are aimed at a similar demographic to yours; those venues that are off the beaten track, out-of-town or in the heart of the countryside need to be established and maintained as destinations in their own right.

Irrespective of location and whether your business is trading ahead of expectations and you’re busy all week, or if footfall isn’t quite what is was, there are important steps you can take to help keep your customers (and your bank manager) happy. Running a successful leisure and hospitality business means that you need to keep many plates spinning. Here are some of those plates:

Hygiene ratings
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) offers a free service which allows customers to check the hygiene rating of venues across the UK. Anything less than 5 stars could give you problems by deterring potential customers, do ensure that you maintain the highest standard of cleanliness and keep on top of all FSA paperwork.

You might have a fantastic chef who turns out exquisite food plate after plate, but have that food served by rude, ignorant or otherwise unwelcoming staff and your customers will vote with their feet. The challenge is to recruit and retain people who have a genuine interest in food and serving people, and who are happy to work often unsocial hours.

Staff costs are a significant proportion of an operator’s overheads so whilst it may be tempting to pay them what you can get away with, people need motivating and incentivising. Pooling all tips (even those paid by card) and sharing them equally is one way to help keep staff on-side.

Customer records
Keeping records of your customers — so that you can contact them on a regular basis by email or by post — is a simple and highly effective way of building a rapport and developing an on-going relationship with your customers.

Considering some form of loyalty scheme or having offers available to those who sign-up to receive marketing information is another way of developing that relationship, but the offers have to be genuine and worthwhile and any loyalty scheme must be easy to administer and use.

However, a new EU directive comes into force in May 2018, which is called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and this will affect every company and organisation that stores or otherwise makes use of personal data.

Maintain your website
Make sure that your company’s phone numbers and email addresses are clearly displayed on every web page, because if your customers have to spend time searching for a number to book a table it is very likely that they will abandon your website and book a table elsewhere.

Keeping your website up to date with offers, seasonal menus, news and key personnel is also important. It may not deter people from choosing your venue, but it helps to ensure that the customer experience is positive from the first interaction with your business.

Menus & wine lists
Menus and wine lists serve one purpose: to help your customers decide what they will eat and drink. Whilst this may seem obvious, too many venues create menus that are not easy to read and that detract from the pleasure of deciding what to ear and drink.

So, ensure that your menus and wine lists are well set-out and very clear, presented in a legible font that is at least 12-point in size. Black text on white paper is, obviously, the clearest combination, with white lettering on a dark background also very clear.

Advertising & PR
Ideally, you need to set a budget for on-going advertising and PR activity, which will help ensure that you don’t agree to unplanned advertising, whether this is online or in print. Sales agents that offer last minute deals may well have a genuine bargain, but if it is in a title you have not considered — and you are not planning to run a series of adverts — it will be a waste of money.

And, be aware of those titles offering ‘free’ press coverage in exchange for a colour separation charge — this is paid-for editorial and should be avoided. Genuine media coverage is the result of the distribution of press releases that provide journalists and editors with news that is likely to be of interest to their readers.

Getting coverage in your target media is not guaranteed and requires patience to build up relationships with your key contacts, but the value of gaining exposure in print and online that is genuine editorial content cannot be under estimated.

Social media
If you work on the basis that followers are for vanity and real customers are for sanity, this will help influence your approach to social media. Social media should play a part in the marketing mix, but bear in mind that a report published by a leading international management consultancy found that email marketing is 40 times more effective than social media at generating new customers.

To find out how customers are finding their way to your website you should take advantage of Google Analytics, a powerful, free service that helps you to analyse how often your website is viewed, the demographic profile of your visitors and which pages are popular.

Regular updates should be posted to your main social media sites, but such posts should also be added to your own website, because your ultimate aim is to build customers for your own business and not helping social media platforms to build their own business. If you’re posting regular newsworthy updates to your own site you will be helping with your own company’s ranking, without having to pay hundreds of pounds a month to SEO ‘experts’ that may achieve results but who are unable to guarantee to consistently land your website on the first page of a Google search.

Running a bar or restaurant is hard work and requires you — the managers and owners — to be involved in many aspects of the business. You have to watch your costs, you have to recruit and retain good staff, you need to look after the marketing of the business and you have to ensure that customers leave (and return) with a smile on their face.

But, if you maintain a spotless environment and keep hygiene and quality control at the top of your agenda, if you provide an informative website, post appropriate news to social media, keep in touch with your customers and ensure that they are served by friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff then you will set your business on course for on-going success.


Simon has been running Opera PR & Communications for nearly 20 years and enjoys photography, mountainbiking, reading, cooking, politics and current affairs, he is also a bit of a Francophile.

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