For many small businesses — locally-owned restaurants included — the relationship they build with their community has a profound impact on their bottom line. Even franchisees can be active participants in their neighborhood, and reap the benefits of community building.
Building and maintaining relationships with people in your community is important, even if they never become your customers, as meeting new people and networking can do a lot for your small business. If people in your community meet and connect with you personally, they will probably want to use your business when they need a service or product you are providing.
Getting Involved with the Community
If you aren’t already a member of the local chamber of commerce, stop reading now and join. And do not just pay the applicable fees. Go to meetings; participate. The chamber of commerce can connect you with local schools, city leadership, other business owners, community leaders, and community members. By listening to others, you can begin to grasp what makes your community tick and what is the common goal. From there, you can match your focus to your customers’ priorities and start with relationship building and community engagement.
You should also be spending time in your restaurant dining room, or have a personable GM who can make a connection with diners. Building individual positive relationships with the patrons of your restaurant helps you know what matters most to them, and they may even offer some great ideas.
Create Community-Driven Promotions
Does the whole town turn out for high school football games on Friday night? Offer a special before games, or a discount for diners wearing school attire. Is a local child suffering from cancer? Offer to host a benefit, donating a portion of proceeds on a specific night to the family. Check-in with your co-workers to see what’s happening in the community and what can you offer them as human beings, not just in the promotional sense.
These changes are simple, but often pay off big and help build trust and strong relationships in the community. This type of community-driven promotions can be included in the original business plan, or instituted later by an already-established restaurant.
In some cases, more general promotions will work well as long as you understand your community well enough to know what they value. Some restaurants offer discounts on special days or ongoing discounts, including:
- Veterans eat free on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day
- Specials for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day
- Get a free dessert on your birthday
- Bring in a ticket stub from a local event and receive a discount
- Get a discount with a bulletin from a nearby church
- Participate in a local coupon book or discount card that benefits schools or a sports team
Start Giving Back
Giving back to the community, often called “social responsibility,” plays a more important role in business today than ever before. In fact, studies show it plays a key role in attracting customers and turning them into regulars. A May 2013 study done by Cone Communications and Echo Research showed that between 85 and 90 percent of buyers consider the company’s community involvement when comparing products. When it comes to eating with you or at the diner down the street, that 85 percent could make a huge difference.
While this may include making donations to local nonprofits, there are also ways to get involved and contribute to the well-being of the community if you don’t have the budget to contribute to all of the local fundraisers. Consider:
- Collecting cans for the local food shelter or a holiday food drive
- Offering customers the opportunity to donate to a local nonprofit
- Promote local nonprofit events with signage inside the restaurant
- Share posts about community events on social media
- Hang a bulletin board for local organizations to post about their upcoming events
- Host a fundraising night where a percentage of the proceeds go to a local school
- Sponsor a local Little League team
- Sponsor a school event, or offer to provide food at the event
Go Out Into The Community
Don’t hesitate to participate in events that benefit local schools, churches and neighborhood nonprofits. Donate time and product when possible to help those around you. Not only will this give people a chance to try your food, but it will also build name recognition and increase customer loyalty. If you have branded items, offer a few drawings for a a t-shirt, cap or other item during the day.
When possible, it’s always a good idea to send a few of your top servers to these events, or to attend yourself. People love good food, but they connect with a friendly face and a kind word. When you can prove to them your restaurant offers both, it’s a win-win situation.
Making a connection with those who live and work in your community often brings far more return on investment than a billboard, radio spot or other traditional advertising. In addition to raising brand awareness for customers, having a well-known name in the community also makes it easier to recruit new employees.
The best part is that building a relationship with your community is simple. By connecting with the chamber of commerce, local business leaders, and other community organizations, you’ll find that the opportunities to reach more and more potential customers seem to magically appear. What creative ways are you connection with your local community? Let us know @joinhomebase.