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Running a Restaurant/Getting a higher customer base


We have a small casual restaurant  with about 80 seats including a patio area and full bar and  been in business for about a year and a half in a very small community of about 100 people with another 200-300 people 20 min drive a way and potentially another 60,000 - 70,000 people 45 minutes away. We are located in the middle of no where on the way up the the mountains and small ski area, a lot of lakes and hunting and hiking areas. So far we have relied on word of mouth from our guests, some social media sites, and partnered with the ski area. The owners do not live locally and are used to big city restaurants, with themselves not having any restaurant operating background. They have poured a lot of money remodeling existing restaurant and doing up grades. We have competitive menu pricing with the larger city near by, and run about an avg. 30% food cost and avg. labor cost of 30 -40% using typically 1 - 2 servers, 1 dishwasher/ prep cook, and 2 cooks myself included per shift.  Staff makes just over current minimum wage. Our average sales the Thurs. - sun. we are open are about 650 and customer count is averaging about 50-60. The feed back we have received has all been outstanding, and food quality is better than 90% of restaurants out there.

I was wondering how we can attract more guests, in the larger city, without advertising, the owners would like to put the money towards paying labor. I know its a loaded question. But if you had any other ideas, that would be great. Also if the background I gave you sounds about right for a restaurant of its size in other areas. Sales seem low. Even on busy days with 100 plus guests, sales are only 1,100. If we increase prices like they were in the beginning it will scare the locals off. Any info you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Oh and to top it off, there is no business plan, or market research, and very part time book keeper. I feel in a larger community we would be doing much better. Thanks.

Your description of your business doesn't state what meal segment you service - I will guess it is lunch and dinner. Your operating margins are in line. Your average check per person must only be about 11 or 12 dollars.

One of the things I preach consistently is the need for a location that gives you the ability to prosper and grow. It appears you have limited your opportunities. Even with a strong advertising campaign, the results may not be worth the dollars you must spend to draw customers.

Perhaps the best method to draw guests at a very low cost is to begin an email marketing program. Start collecting emails of all your guests. Keep an email database of everyone that you and your employees come in contact with. Friends, relatives, suppliers and even email addresses of people and businesses you see in newspapers, advertisements and flyers from the town that is up to 45 minutes away. Email marketing is cheap, done internally and grows slowly but consistently.

You can run all kinds of promotions through email - free dinner on birthday, bring a friend and get half off, refer a guest for a free dessert - be creative. The goal is to build that database and expand your marketing area through emails.

There are a few email marketing companies that can assist you at a very low cost. Constant Contact and Fishbowl are two that I recommend. They have online training and programs to show you how to start an email program. Neither company will break you budget and they have predesigned emails that will make your company look very good.

You are correct about doing better in a larger community, but if that is not on the owners mind, build what you have slowly and make the best out of your limitations.  

Running a Restaurant

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Larry Edger


Multi concept restaurant owner. Just finished fourth restaurant. Can answer questions on all aspects of running, owning and starting a restaurant, cafe or hospitality operation. Enjoy helping other restaurant owners. Most "consultants" have no idea what a restaurant operator needs to be successful. Let me know if I can assist you finding answers to your operating and marketing questions. Accomplished chef and menu development a particular talent for upscale casual restaurants.


Owner and operator of several multi-concept restaurants. Successful entrepreneur, started businesses from scratch on many occasions. Know the problems with planning and running a restaurant. Always independent operations and not the product of chain restaurants.

As an author of The Restaurant Ebook, A Guide to Keeping Your Dream Off the Chopping Block, I have helped hundreds of restaurateurs to market and run a better restaurant.For more information visit or

Attended Ohio State University and have gone through many extended classes relating to marketing and management. Written many courses and training manuals.
Currently building fourth restaurant and created a blog to keep track of daily activities. Readers can see the various steps from leasing to opening. Visit

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