walkin restaurant
Restaurant Management

5 Ways to Turn Walk-Bys Into Walk-Ins

While the bulk of marketing may be moving towards social media and internet outlets, many restaurants still heavily rely on foot traffic. This is often especially true for restaurants in mostly pedestrian areas, or restaurants located near a cluster of other restaurants or within a shopping mall.

The objective here, of course, is to convince possible customers (who may simply be strolling by) to stop and eat at your restaurant as opposed to any number of other restaurants that may also be within walking distance. Sometimes, though, this is easier said than done. As with all marketing tactics, the goal is to convince diners that your restaurant is superior to others within your area.

Here’s how to do just that.

1. Be inviting

Atmosphere and decor mean a lot in the restaurant business. While the attraction is often subtle, diners often choose a restaurant solely based on its appearance. If you’re wondering whether your establishment is inviting or not, consider these questions:

  • Are your furnishings clean and well-maintained?
  • Is your lighting warm or stark?
  • Do you have a distinctive theme (modern, rustic, etc.)?
  • Do you update your decor regularly?
  • Is your sign clearly visible and updated with a catchy logo?

Patrons will notice these elements, whether they realize it or not. If your establishment looks worn or lacks a warm ambiance, they will likely move on to the restaurant down the street.

2. Put your menu front and center

Oftentimes, restaurant names are suggestive of the cuisine they serve. (For example, “Moe’s Barbeque” obviously sells smoked meats and the typical accompanying sides.) If your restaurant falls into this category, then you already have a leg-up on your competition because your customers have an indication of what to expect.

If your restaurant’s name is vague, however, you may be losing customers simply because they don’t know your menu offerings. To remedy this situation, it’s always a good idea to provide a menu on the exterior of your building for pedestrians to peruse as they walk by. Sure, it’s easy for customers to walk inside and ask for a menu, but many people won’t take the time or effort. An exterior menu is an easy solution to this problem, and it adds just another layer of enticement to bring customers through your doors.

Bonus tip:

If possible, include some photos with your menu. Customers love to know exactly what to expect, and photos give a clear indication of your food quality and presentation style.

3. Appear busy — even if you aren’t

People naturally seem to be attracted to what other people like. Many viral trends were started by small groups of people who simply passed on this information to others who wanted to join the fun.

Experts often call this the “mob mentality.”
That’s why it’s helpful to make your establishment seem busy and popular, even when you’re struggling to fill tables.

Here’s how it works:

Fill tables near windows first. Leave sections of the dining room closed off during downtimes. And make sure waitstaff are always visibly occupied with a task. If your employees are taking a smoke break or simply lounging against the wall, it will seem like they’re lazy and inattentive to customers, even if that’s not the case.

4. Greet — but don’t seem too eager

There’s a fine line between friendly and annoying. As a restaurant owner or manager, you’ll need to make sure your host walks this line carefully. You should always make sure a greeter is available to welcome guests as they arrive. If you’d like to seem more welcoming, however, you could place the host stand just outside the front door so hosts can smile and greet potential customers and answer any questions they may have. However, make sure your greeter isn’t overly eager. They should never stare at pedestrians or make them feel uncomfortable. Overly aggressive sales tactics are also a huge “no.”

5. Offer samples

If you have a signature dish, consider offering small samples to people as they walk by. Again, employees should remember to stay friendly, not aggressive. But this can be a great sales tactic for drawing a large crowd. People generally love free stuff, especially free food when they’re hungry. While you may spend a bit of money providing the samples, this tactic often has a large ROI (return on investment).

Final Thoughts

Whichever methods you choose, remember that the main goal is to make your restaurant appealing. If you’re not sure whether you’ve succeeded or not, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Look at your sales. If your sales are dropping or remaining stagnant, it’s likely that you need to make some changes to boost your customer base.
  2. Ask your employees. They see your business day in and day out, and they probably have some ideas that may help you pinpoint problem areas.
  3. Ask your customers. You can offer a call-in or online survey via a message at the bottom of your sales receipt, or you can simply leave suggestion cards on each dining table.

With any luck, you’ll be able to spot the areas that need improvement. You’ll also be able to make the necessary changes and turn the walk-bys into walk-ins.