Bolstering Lunch Sales

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Fast, Healthy, Affordable: Driving a Lunch Crowd in Tough Times

By Heather Donahoe

In her 20 years as a waitress at Casa Mia Italian restaurant in Olympia, Wash., Kathy Hurt knows what customers want for lunch, and she knows how to make sure they get it.

The eatery’s daily lunch special of soup, salad and a roll for $5.95 is ready within minutes and saves diners about $4 of what they’d pay separately for all three items, making the offering light, fast and budget-friendly.

“People don’t want to dilly dally around,” Hurt said. “Not everybody has a full hour for lunch, so with this, they’re able to sit down for a least a little while, eat and visit with their friends. Soup, salad, roll — bam, they’re out and back to work.”

Lunching smartly

With wallets slimming down, lunch breaks shrinking and dinner diners dwindling, Hurt and Casa Mia’s operators understand the necessity of satisfying mid-day patrons. In a stalled economy, evaluating how you’re handling your lunch crowd and what you can do to keep diners satisfied is a must.

According to a study by the National Restaurant Association, three out of four full-time employees eat a lunch prepared away from home at least once a week, which represents an exciting opportunity for restaurant operators.

But amid the recent financial crunch, keeping people interested in treating themselves to lunch has become a special challenge. Time and money are at a premium for most everyone right now, and people are insisting on making good use of both. Respecting both of those commodities

Conquering the brown bag, respecting health

Four out of 10 customers are dining out less often than they did six months ago, and when they do dine out, they’re doing so at less pricey places than they previously visited, according to research conducted by Booz & Co., a management consulting firm (now a part of Pricewaterhouse Coopers). The same study found that 35 percent of 1,000 adults surveyed are bringing their lunch to work from home.

With disposable income diminishing, brown bag lunching has picked up over the past year, confirms a recent NDP Group study, in which participants cited money-savings as their reason for eschewing the dining experience in favor of a homemade lunch

The existing culture of health consciousness has been an additional motivator for people to eat from home, making nutritious and economically sensible menu options all the more important. Your lunch menu should have customers questioning the actual convenience of hassling with a brown bag.

Establishing a loyal lunch base

  • Distribute fliers in neighborhood office buildings advertising your quick and tasty lunch service. Consider faxing a daily or weekly menu to office managers.
  • Break out of the box and offer a unique lunch experience.
  • Offer special discounts to frequent diners.
  • Teach your wait staff how to read their lunch customers and to be ready to recommend items that can be prepared quickly.
  • No matter how quickly customers are served, make sure the service is top-notch.
  • Have the check ready for guests promptly.
  • Develop regular clientele by keeping track of guests’ histories, including menu preferences and birthdays.
  • Consider offering high-tech service options, such as fax or online ordering.
  • If you do not currently serve lunch, consider doing so one day a week-possibly Fridays.
  • Lengthen the time that you serve lunch to attract people who take early or late lunch breaks.

—National Restaurant Association

Originally published in the December 2008 issue of The Front Burner

 


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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