By Nick Fosberg   |   July 18, 2012

Every city has a major chain restaurant—in most cases, more than one.
When a new chain restaurant pops up in the neighborhood, it often draws in big crowds. As a local bar and restaurant owner, this can leave you with some fierce competition. You may find yourself scrambling, wondering what you can do to grab their customers. It’s a big challenge, but far from impossible. What you need is to a little creativity to beat the competition at their own game.

Beating the Chains at their Own Game

Chain restaurants have an advantage over local restaurant and bar owners; being corporations, they have a lot more money to spread their message. They also have a successful formula for drawing in their clientele, whether it’s appealing food or appealing prices or (in many cases) both.

If you own a bar and restaurant, you may feel the odds are frighteningly stacked against you, but think again. Where there’s a lot that chains do offer, there’s also a lot they don’t. The key is making their weaknesses work for you.

A Chain’s Biggest Weakness Can Be Your Greatest Strength

Something that’s lacking in practically all chain restaurants is an ability to develop a personal rapport with their customers. As chains are very much like cafeterias—customers come in, buy their food and drinks, pay what they think are reasonable prices and then leave—there’s not a whole lot of draw keeping customers coming in besides the decent food and good prices.
Nor can chain restaurants and bars customize their establishment to meet their customer’s needs. Remember that customers like to feel wanted and appreciated, and listened to, which is something that chains strive to do, but often fall short of, since they report to a corporate bureaucracy, and their main goal is to churn out food and create revenue.

Promotions and Personalizing the Dining Experience

Marketing is crucial in order to compete with chains, regardless of how they promote the place. Though affording expensive television advertising may be difficult, you’ll want to make sure you’re getting your bar or restaurant’s name out there anyway you can.
Don’t worry if you don’t look like a chain. That’s a good thing. Give your establishment a unique character that will set it apart from other bars and restaurants, and your customers will enjoy coming even more…Just be sure to promote it as well.

Many people go to chains thinking they’re a safe bet—you know the menu, you know what you’re getting, and there’s no surprises. This is a good and bad thing. You can give your customers more incentive to come to you by giving them the best, most consistent and memorable dining experience you can provide. Remember, satisfied customers equal better profits. And be sure to offer reasonable prices; when a new chain moves in it’s not the best time to jack up costs.
Special offers will also help you compete with the chains. Consider offering your customers things like a free glass of wine or a free meal if it’s their birthday. And then there are drink specials, such as two for the price of one—an excellent and well-proven way to increase customer interest.
If you’re located in proximity to a chain, use it to your advantage. A chain will actually give new customers an opportunity to try you out, especially if the chain is filled to capacity and potential customers are craving dinner or drinks. Put a sign or board outside your establishment, featuring your special offers. Some customers will be a bit more daring and decide to skip the chain to see what your place is all about. It’s a great way to use those big advertising bucks the chains are spending to your advantage as well.

Nick Fosberg

Nick Fosberg is known as one of the highest paid, marketing and promotional consultants in the bar & restaurant industry and he owns 2 bar / restaurants in the Chicagoland area. He's famous for creating some of the highest grossing digital marketing promotions in the history of the bar & restaurant business..... without spending a penny on marketing. All done through e-mail & Facebook posts. 

Click here to get a free copy of my latest book.

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