Sunday 19 January 2020

What can I do to revive declining sales at my cafe?

Feargal Quinn

QI run a cafe on the site of a tourist visitor centre under a lease arrangement. I have not made any investment over the last 10 years and the menus have remained relatively static. My customer base is made up of local day-trippers and international tourists. However, my sales have been declining rapidly over the last two years. Any advice would be really appreciated.

AYour email seems to have set out the cause of some of the sales decline. It would appear the business is tired and lacks the visual stimulation necessary in running a good cafe.

It can be very refreshing for guests visiting a tourist attraction to end their visit with some nice local food in a pleasant environment.

First let's talk about the food. You really need to be either making your own food or buying from local sources, and you may well be doing this. What I do find, however, is that many cafes who produce really great food fail to remind the customer of where it all has come from, so one of the first things you should do is to have a look at your menu. Should it be refreshed?

I recall visiting a retailer in the USA many years ago called Ukrops and they had very skillfully used the words "our own" to describe products they were passionate about and had control over the supply chain, eg, "our own beef".

Also don't forget to link your ingredients to the producer down the road from whom you are buying; tourist visitors love these aspects.

Another key factor in the food-service business is the tighter budgets consumers have. Are you bundling products together, eg, coffee and a cake for €5?

You also need to keep the menu fresh and active by highlighting a key product each week through the use of larger signs or chalk boards. In short, you need to stimulate visitors' imagination and make it easy for them to purchase.

With regard to spending money on the facility, that really depends on how tired it looks. The good news is you don't have to spend a lot.

The most important thing is that your food display is mouth-watering. It should be bursting with colour, have tickets on each product with the price and description and the overall surroundings should have their own personality.

Your staff have a key role to play in all of this. When things are quiet are they good at walking outside to hand out menus to encourage customers to come in?

The days of sitting back and waiting for customers to walk through your door are long gone.

Q I work for a large company managing our branch and our head office doesn't seem to understand the needs of the branches. I find this extremely frustrating and wondered if you had any ideas for improvement.

AThis is actually quite a common occurrence. A company starts off with one or two branches, then grows rapidly and has to put in more resources centrally, and over time needs a whole new team to support the branches. Unfortunately, sometimes, this head office team can become isolated from the branches. Repairing the relationship doesn't have to be complex.

In Superquinn, we never used the word Head Office. It was Support Office and there was a very clear ethos that the customer of the office was the individual branch and its customers. Therefore, everything that the support office did was focused on the ultimate ethos of serving our customers well.

There also needs to be an understanding from each work area of the challenges facing the other. Many large companies now get branch managers to work at their support office on projects and it is mandatory for their support office managers to spend an agreed amount of time working at branch level.

There is a danger when relationships become strained that one can assume there are no good people in your support office, which is far from the case.

What has happened simply is that communication has broken down and focus has shifted from customer service.

Irish Independent

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