High restaurant lease? Don’t fret. There’s more than one way to use your restaurant space. In fact, there are at least 20. Patrick Nelson, our Food and Beverage Specialist has helped thousands of event organizers all across the industry, from kitchens to restaurants, underground restaurants, gardens, small farms, breweries and distillers. Below, he imparts some ideas on attracting new customers and publicity with your restaurant space.
1. Teach Classes
Chop, dice, blend. Just as there are tricks to making the perfect bisque, cassoulet or grilled cheese, there are methods to making your class a rewarding experience for both student and teacher. Have a lesson plan and start small – teach basic dishes with limited ingredients. Create handouts students can take home. Be engaging and encouraging throughout the class.
2. Pop-Up or Underground Restaurants
It’s the latest thing. Chefs from all over the world are popping up shop in all sorts of places, from tiny dining rooms in Brooklyn to warehouses in Los Angeles. Eager foodies flock to these exclusive supper clubs to converse with interesting people and nosh on off-the-menu items. Many are private events and therefore, immune to the rules and regulations that normally apply to regular restaurants. Plus, they can be held anywhere with space for tables and chairs.
Wine + cheese. Beer + bacon. Tequila + tacos. Whatever pairing party you choose, it’s a great way to partner and cross promote with local distilleries, breweries and wineries.
4. Mix and Mingle
Fill your restaurant with professionals by throwing a networking event. Stimulate sales with free or discounted snacks and drink specials. You may also benefit: for example, if you had a distillers’ mixer, you might meet the right folks to partner with on other events.
Tip: Talk to people you know are well-connected to help organize the event. Professional event organizers could also help. If you already have a large mailing list, start with that. After a few events, the followers will start trickling in.
5. Trivia Night
Bring out the beer-drinking brainiacs. Host a trivia night and find out who among your customers are “Cliff Claven” types. If you lined up a trivia MC, you’re in good shape. The next step is building your customer base. Consistency is the key to developing return business, so have the event at the same time every week.
6. Beer or Beverage Release Party
Spread the word about your new brew. Whether you are a budding new brewery or have been successfully crafting for a decade, throwing a release party can foster excitement, awareness and some well-deserved attention. Get the scoop on how to throw a rockin’ beer release party.
7. Cook Offs
“Top Chef,” “Iron Chef,” “Chopped” and others have made competitive cooking part of the main stream television diet. Bring the competition to your restaurant. Invite local aspiring cooks to try their hand and test their skill. Pack the house. Gain exposure in the food community. Create a one-of-a-kind trophy and title for the victor. The competition will get fierce and food might just fly, but keep things light and fun.
Tip: Turn the cookoff into a fundraiser and show your love to a local charity. Giving is not only personally rewarding, there are lots of wonderful causes that need help. And as a bonus, your good deed may result in added exposure.
Go local. Put together special tasting menus that features local products, anything from wine to craft soda pop or cider. Or host your own whenever you update your menu or wine list. Mix it up – have your patrons vote on new dishes. Use the built-in market research to keep your menu current.
9. Private Events
You might already host weddings, birthday parties, but why not make it part of your business. Boost your value to customers by offering a catering menu and event registration support.
Pool, darts, bocce ball…when it comes to bar or restaurant tournaments, the opportunities are endless. Even beer pong is in play. Register your leagues and use Brown Paper Tickets to collect the dues.
11. Internal Training
Show newbies the ropes. Hold training sessions on food safety, etiquette, procedure and anything else your employees need to know in your space. This is also a great way to update their menu knowledge.
12. Holiday Parties
Dazzle your customers with your own soiree or arrange parties for customers. Offer event registration to make organizing the night a breeze.
13. Poetry Nights/Open Mic Nights
Host an open mic night and find the best minds of your generation. (If you get that reference, you’re well on your way.) Everyone wants to be heard, so open the floor to the community. If your space is small, you might not even need the mic.
14. Community Meetings
Offer to let community groups host meetings and functions in your establishment. Hold an appreciation event for one or more of these groups, offer food and drink specials or even a catering menu tailored to their event.
15. Customer Appreciation Night
Reward your regulars. Create a preferred customer program and show your appreciation for return business with discounts and the occasional appetizer on the house. Feature entertaining activities (trivia, bingo, raffles) and free snacks.
16. Industry Shindig
Get familiar with fellow associates in the food and drink industry by holding special functions for restaurant industry workers. Provide free snacks and drink deals with a valid food handler’s card or liquor license.
17. Singles Mingles
Fan the flames of love. Register attendees for your single’s night. Give out name tags and have plenty of pens and paper available for phone number exchanges. Create aphrodisiac-themed food and drink specials (Cupid Cocktail, anyone?) or line up tables and chairs to turn the evening into a speed dating event.
18. Game Nights
Drinking and gaming go together like beer and pretzels. Pictionary, Outburst, Apples to Apples, Jenga are all perfect choices for group games over drinks or snacks. Organize a large tournament and register players ahead of time.
Pancake breakfast. Spaghetti dinner. Lobster lunch. Throw a charity dinner to raise funds for a good cause. Chat with your purveyors and ask if they will donate some of the food so you can maximize the funds raised.
20. Farm to Table
Go Green Acres. Invite local farms to show off their lovingly grown products with a special menu featuring their ingredients.
Whew. Got more creative uses for your restaurant space? Or have a question about food industry events? Comment below.
Photo credit, 1st photo: Martin Abegglen
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