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3 Ways to Grow a Neighborhood Restaurant

How does a restaurant encourage new business while maintaining a tight community feel?

Expanding business: it might feel antithetical to the mission of a neighborhood restaurant. But as populations grow, the local eatery has to know how to invite new neighbors into its community.

Local hangouts like bookstores or movie theaters are on the decline. Restaurants and bars have the unique position of being one of the few remaining safe havens for socialization, a source for connection. A neighborhood restaurant can be a keystone of a close community, everywhere from a corner of a dense city to a rural town.

Capitalizing on human connection will allow restaurants to succeed and locals to have a reliable hang-out. However, bringing a close community together while pushing growth can appear to be a tricky balancing act.

Let’s look at what makes a neighborhood restaurant so special, and how to expand on that.

1. What makes a neighborhood restaurant

Creating the neighborhood feel relies on two key players: the food and the staff.

Homeyness relies on comfort, and that’s what patrons want out of their food – comfort food. Though comfort food is typically thought of as having simple preparation, going above and beyond will get customers coming back for more. A good chef will take a basic recipe to the next level.

In addition, not only is using locally sourced ingredients usually healthier, it also strengthens community ties. Representing other local brands that patrons will recognize and associate with their home takes that neighborhood feel up a notch.

If patrons are going to feel at home, then staff members have to feel like family. This starts with treating staff like family.

No, that doesn’t mean expecting employees to drop everything and put the restaurant first all the time. It means accommodating their needs and caring for them as a manager.

When employees are treated well from the get-go, they’ll be more likely to stick around. And repeat customers love nothing more than a familiar face.

Hiring (and holding onto) front of house staff that will be friendly towards customers and make an effort to remember them is vital.

2. Attracting new business

For a local restaurant, getting in touch with the community is the way to go.

Collaborating with other local businesses is mutually beneficial. It expands the customer base of both parties by pooling them together. Make sure to reap this benefit on social media, too.

The options are unlimited, so get creative with it. Some successful examples include giving away an advent calendar of prizes from other local businesses or taking guests to the market for ingredients while sipping on locally sourced beer.

But classic collaborations are popular for a reason. There’s nothing wrong with falling back on a simple food and drink or combined menu style of partnership.

Volunteering and charity will get your name out and give back to the community at the same time. Donating meals or encouraging staff to volunteer as a group can make an awesome impact. Sponsoring an event is another way to get the same effect.

3. Making new customers feel welcome

Now you’ve got an idea on how to attract the local patrons you’re looking for, but the work doesn’t stop there. A neighborhood restaurant thrives on the relationships between regulars and longtime staff. So how are newcomers to feel included?

Encouraging new customers to socialize is key, and there are many simple tricks to do so.

Seating arrangements are important to think about. One long table instead of a few four seater tables will get patrons closer to strangers just as a bar would. Lounge areas with sofa chairs will get guests talking to their neighbors, too.

Games are a great catalyst for socializing. Ping pong and pool tables are popular, and board games are fun, too.

Special events can bring out shyer folks who are looking for a place in the community but need a helping hand. Game nights and mixers are easy to plan and can garner a great turnout. Remember to advertise events on social media as well as through posters, flyers, or word of mouth.

Neighborhood restaurants might feel a conflict between increasing business and maintaining a tight community of people. Making outsiders feel unwelcome by trying to uphold a closed-off customer base will only hurt business and reputation.

Welcoming new customers with open arms enforces the friendly attitude that neighborhood restaurants are all about. Band together with the community to get noticed by new business, and keep them coming back with that special local charm.