According to consumer trends posted by Technomic, more restaurant customers are opting for small plates or starters in place of entrees. You may think this trend would take a healthy chunk out of a restaurant’s profits; however, if this aspect of your menu is correctly implemented, it can increase sales by boosting check averages while attracting new and returning customers.
Let’s take a look at how this magic happens.
- Combine beverage and small plate tastings. Use flight size glasses that go along with the small plate theme. Keep the keyword in mind: “tastings.” Your guests will be thrilled to have the opportunity to experience pairings and understand the elements involved in your recommendations. If this is not your area of expertise, there are plenty of people in this world that would like nothing better than to talk with you about their suggested combinations. In fact, be sure to set aside some time before you call them. A few nice pairings I’ve run into include a flank steak slider with horseradish mayo paired with an intense Zinfandel that stood up to the rich flavor of the meal. Another remembered pairing was a Jamaican Jerk Chicken tasting with a Morgan’s Spiced Mango Rum Punch. My mouth is watering.
- Create a small plate menu that offers ethnic cuisine. According to the National Restaurant Association, consumers desire for ethnic cuisines and around-the-world flavors is a long-term trend with 66 percent eating a wider variety of ethnic cuisines now than just five years previously. A whopping 75 percent of consumers reported enjoying restaurants with typical, mainstream menus that also offered ethnic options.
- Offer sharables. These types of appetizers are meant to be shared with the entire table. It offers everyone a chance to get a taste of some of your unique cuisine while saving room for that delicious entrée.
- Advertise your specialty drinks. Since 2008, the number of customers purchasing wine has steadily declined. The number of consumers purchasing liquor, however, has been on the rise. With Millennials now surpassing Baby Boomers in consumer spending, it’s important to note that, while this group may spend less on alcohol, when they do indulge, they tend toward trying unusual and new beverages. Specific liquors that are making the popular club include vodka and flavored whiskey.
- Remove zeros. Huh? A study conducted by Cornell University Center for Hospitality found that guests spent significantly more when they ordered from a menu without zeros or dollar signs. So, from now on, your Whiskey Rebellion does not cost $9.00. It costs 9.
- Create descriptive creative names for your specialty drinks and signature cocktails. Would you rather order a Vodka and Tonic or a Georgia Peach—The Cheesecake Factory’s signature drink that includes Skyy vodka, peach liqueur and real fruit. Or how about a margarita or the Outback Steakhouse’s version: The Sauza Gold Coast Rita.
- Offer samples. While you don’t want your staff giving away your profits, a little taste tasting will actually add to the bottom line. A report in The Atlantic revealed that sales increased by 2,000 percent when consumers were given a sample of a specific item. And it’s not just the fact that they like the product that has them coming back for more. If someone gives you something, the tendency is to want to give back—use reciprocity to your favor.
- Incentivize staff. The best appetizer and drink pairings are worth little if your customers don’t know about them. Make sure your staff has tasted your offerings so that they can speak from experience. Instruct them in the technique of suggestive selling. Don’t just ask “Would you like a beverage with that?” Suggest certain pairings based on the knowledge they’ve garnered from your establishment. Make selling fun by implementing contests. One week, the winner could be the server that sells the most specialty drinks. The next week, implement a contest centered around small plates. If you have little time to develop an incentive program, consider mobile applications such as Tipzyy that educates servers and incentivizes their performance after every shift.
- Happy Hour. Our last tip probably elicited some “Duh” responses. You’d be surprised, however, how many restaurants have, for reasons unknown, bypassed this tactic that is a proven business builder. The National Restaurant Association pointed out that while 46 percent of consumers were drawn to happy hours because of good drink prices, another 41 percent were attracted by value-priced food. A perfect opportunity to increase both appetizer and drink sales.