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Newsletter #853: The “Lessons from Restaurants” Issue

[Welcome back to the Damn, I Wish I’d Thought of That! newsletter. This is text of the great issue all of our email subscribers just received. Sign yourself up using the handy form on the right.]

According to the National Restaurant Association, there are 960,000 restaurant locations around the country. That’s a lot of small businesses, franchisees, and entrepreneurs to learn from. A few ideas to get you started:

1. Take reservations
2. Be available
3. Focus on the atmosphere
4. Check it out: LEGO remakes of classic photos

1. Take reservations

Add an element of exclusivity and potentially increase your efficiency by asking customers to make a reservation. Many restaurants do this, but it’s always interesting when a fast food brand tries it. That’s what Chick-fil-A did for the launch of their new breakfast menu. Through the campaign, they asked fans to take reservations to claim a time to come in and try a complimentary sampling. The result was tons of fans scheduling sessions to taste the new menu — and dragging friends with them.

The lesson: How could you use reservations to boost your product launches, special events, or customer service?

Learn more: IBTimes

2. Be available

A fundamental way of building a brand is establishing reliability. When customers can rely on you, they trust you. We often think of great customer service brands like Rackspace, Zappos, and Southwest for this. But did you know Waffle House has become legendary for always being open? They’re so reliable, FEMA actually uses them as an indicator of how bad a disaster is. If they’re closed, they know they’ve got a lot of work to do. And even when something does force Waffle House to close, they have a mobile command center they bring in to get things up and running as quickly as possible. When things go bad, everyone has learned to rely on Waffle House for a hot meal, coffee, and a sense of “normal.”

The lesson: If you can earn a sense of reliability among your fans and customers, you can be the first place they turn (and the first they talk about) when they need help.

Learn more: The Wall Street Journal

3. Focus on the atmosphere

For a restaurant, atmosphere can be everything. We all know that no matter how good the burger is, it can be hard to ignore psychedelic carpeting and questionable cleanliness. Take Boston Market for an example of how some fundamental changes to an atmosphere can make a big difference. Never really known for their ambiance, they recently tested using real plates, more staffers per shift, and even outfitting their cooks in chef whites. The result: Double-digit increases in guest counts and sales. It’s been so successful they hope to roll out the overhaul to all their restaurants this year.

The lesson: Maybe it’s not your product that’s holding you back — maybe it’s the delivery. Try a few tests and see what gets your customers excited.

Learn more: QSR

4. Check it out: LEGO remakes of classic photos

Photographer Mike Stimpson does great work with toys and lighting, and it’s perhaps best demonstrated in his recreations of classic images into LEGO scenes.

Check it out: Mike Stimpson

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