How to Market Your Restaurant’s Space for Events

Turning your restaurant into an event venue for a night can seem daunting. But there are huge benefits to snagging regular large parties and full-venue buyouts.

First, the food will all be pre-ordered for the evening, so you can plan ahead to minimize waste. Second, you’ll have the chance to pack the house on what could otherwise be a slow day. A big party on a Tuesday night? Yes, please!

And finally, there are those beautiful rental fees. Event professionals understand that to reserve all or part of your venue for their party, they’ll have to pay a rental fee. It’s the price they have to pay for disrupting your normal flow of business. And that’s all profit. 

But it can be hard to get your restaurant’s name out there as a great option for an event. If you’re not being proactive, it’s unlikely that events business will just fall in your lap.

So here are the steps you should be taking to market your restaurant’s space for events.

Design a professional event deck 

The first thing you’ll need is an event deck. An event deck is simply a brochure that explains the features and benefits of your space. 

These days, they can be either digital or printed. It can be nice to have a glossy, physical brochure to hand out to event coordinators. But digital can also be a good option so you can save on printing costs and make easy changes. In a perfect world, you’d have both digital and printed versions.

For starters, you’ll need great pictures. Splurge for a photographer here. A professional photographer will be able to make your space shine. When they come, you want the space to look event-ready — table and chairs set just how they would be for a nice event. And the space should be empty of customers. The event planners and their clients need to be able to imagine their party in the room. That’s harder to do when there are people and dirty plates in the picture. 

You’re trying to paint the most complete picture possible. So include images of the dining room, bar, any lounge areas, decks or patios — all of the customer-facing spaces.

Next, you need to put together your content. This is where you’ll give all the important specs of the space. These should include:

  • Square footage
  • Max capacity seated
  • Max capacity standing
  • Any audio/visual equipment you have
  • Furniture details. How many tables and chairs do you have in-house? Do you have any satellite bars or buffet tables? This will help the event planners to figure out what they’ll need to rent.
  • Service styles. Do you have limits for how many guests can get a seated, plated dinner vs. family-style or buffet service? Do you offer passed appetizers?
  • Include a list of preferred vendors, if you have one. This could be DJs, florists, rental companies, and tent-providers (for outdoor spaces). 

Once you have your photos back and your specs compiled, it’s time to put your deck together. If you or someone on staff are skilled with a program like Adobe InDesign, you may be able to do it yourself. But you may get a better result if you hire a graphic designer. Remember, if you spend $500 between a photographer and graphic designer, you could make it all back with one event rental fee.

Reach out to local event companies

The next step is to reach out to the local event companies to make sure they’re aware of your restaurant. 

The event companies are the gatekeepers to all the local event business. If there’s a conference, trade show, seminar, or festival coming to town, the organizers will reach out to an event company to plan welcome parties or VIP dinners. 

So it’s vital to have these folks on your side. Invite them to tour the space. Make sure the owner, general manager, or onsite event coordinator is the one doing the tour. You want to be able to answer their questions in real-time, instead of asking someone else. 

After the tour, treat them like VIPs. Provide samples of some of the best appetizers and snacks that you would provide for events, and make sure to give them a glass of wine or a cocktail. If you get on the event planner’s good side, your job is halfway done.

Skip the middle man

Not all events will go through event planning companies. Some will come directly from the end client. So it’s always a good idea to do a little outreach on your end as well. 

To start, establish your max capacity for an event. There’s no point in reaching out to companies of 400 people if you can only fit 150. So use your capacity to weed out companies that are too large. 

Then, start looking for lists of “best small companies” in your areas. The companies that are on “best places to work” lists are often generous with their celebrations. Start calling these companies, and try to reach the person who handles events. Many small companies won’t have a designated “event coordinator”, so the job will fall to someone in HR or a competent administrator. 

You’re not trying to be pushy. Just let them know that you have a great space not far from their office and you think it might be a good fit for their next company party. Invite them out for a tour and some snacks. 

This is an especially good method around September/October. The holiday party is looming, but the planner may not have thought much about it yet. How fortuitous if the perfect venue just happens to reach out at the perfect time?

Peerspace

Peerspace is an online event rental marketplace. Like Airbnb, venues can create a listing for their space, which users can book for available days.

Now, Peerspace is not restaurant-specific, so it doesn’t account for menus or drinks. The rental is strictly for the space. But if you have a side room that sits vacant often, getting it up on Peerspace may be a great way to get occasional rentals. It could be used for seminars, lectures, or meetings instead of sitting empty.

Social media 

You knew it was coming, right?

These days, every marketing plan has to include social media. There are three big areas to focus on for promoting events on social media. 

1. Reminders

Every now and then, make sure to do a post on your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter about the fact that your space is available for private parties. Post one of those beautiful event deck photos, and include the email address that they should reach out to with questions.

Or, you could take followers on a virtual tour of the space in your Instagram or Facebook stories. Regular reminders that your space is available for events will help to position your restaurant as an event venue in the minds of your followers. 

2. Events in progress

When you have an event-in-progress, make sure to share it! Photos and short videos of your events as they happen will show your followers how fun your space can be! 

Make sure to use event-focused hashtags, like:

  • #[town]events
  • #[town]party
  • #partytime
  • #partyplanner

The idea is to get your pictures in front of other event professionals around town.

3. Facebook ads

Facebook ads let you get very specific with your targeting. You can narrow down your ad audience by age, location, gender, income level, family size, interests, and job titles. 

For event-focused Facebook ads, try targeting executive assistants, HR professionals, administrators, and event planners in your area. Use one of those professional photos and make sure your ad links directly to your online event deck. 
This kind of focused targeting will get your ad in front of the event decision-makers that you need to reach in order to book their parties.

Let’s Party!

If you spend a little time focusing on each one of these steps, you’ll be sure to see an increase in event rentals. Once the events are booked, make sure all hands are on deck to throw the best event possible. There’s no business like repeat business! You want your event clients to get on next year’s calendar before this year’s party has even ended!

Peekaboo Promotions: What They Are and How to Pull One Off in Your Restaurant

When you start to look for promotion ideas for your restaurant, it can sometimes seem that you’ll need a marketing degree to pull them off. Re-targeting, segmenting audiences, and tracking pixels are the stuff of advertising firms, not independent restaurants! 

While there is certainly value in those more technical methods, there are still some good old-fashioned analog techniques that you can use to increase your sales and get more return business. 

One of those methods is the Peekaboo Promotion, aka the “No Peeking” or “Red Envelope” promotion. We’re going to break down what it is, and how you can use it to get big results for a small investment. 

What Is It?

The Peekaboo Promotion is a method of marketing to your existing customers, turning them into repeat customers. 

Here’s how it works. When your customers finish their meal, their server will hand them a sealed envelope. Inside, there will be a gift certificate or coupon for their next visit. But the coupon comes with a couple of conditions. 

  • The envelope must stay sealed until the customers complete their next meal. And it must be opened by their server. The customer can’t open the envelope at home and then bring it to the restaurant.
  • The envelope must be opened within a certain month. The idea is to bring customers back during a slow time. So it has to be opened and used during the time that you specify.
  • The envelope will only be opened at the end of the customer’s meal. So they can’t order their meal based on their coupon. They have to order without knowing what they’re going to win.

Why Does it Work?

So many promotions are aimed at finding new customers. But getting a new customer costs 5x as much as retaining an existing one. Plus, your chances of selling to an existing customer are high, at 60-70%. Compare that to only 5-20% for new customers.

So focusing on your existing customers is not only less expensive, but it’s also more effective. 

As for this specific promotion, it’s fun! There’s a small prize inside every envelope, meaning everyone is a winner. The curiosity of what is in their envelope will draw customers back to your restaurant at a time when they may have stayed home instead. One restaurant reported an increase in sales of $25,000 from this method — a 22% increase from their previous year. 

How Does it Work?

The first thing you’ll need to decide is when to run your promotion. A logical choice would be to hand out envelopes during the busy holiday season for redemption in January. But that may not make the most sense for your restaurant. For example, if you’re located in a ski town, it would make more sense to hand out your envelopes at the end of the ski season for use in the summer. The tourists won’t be in town, but the locals will, helping you to boost your sales during your quietest month.

Next, you’ll need to figure out how many prizes and envelopes to put together. Look at the number of tables or checks you had in your giveaway month last year. If your sales are on track to be the same, you could just use that number. But if you’re experiencing growth of say, 10%, add an extra 10 to 15% more envelopes to account for the increased business.

The next step is to decide on your prizes. Include a wide variety. Your smallest (most affordable) prizes, like a free soft drink or side of fries, will be in the largest number of envelopes. Then you can add some coupons for free appetizers or desserts, a few free entrees, and maybe some merchandise. Finally, you’ll add a gift certificate or coupon for just one or two of your grand prize. This could be 100% off their bill or tickets to a local sporting event or food festival. Make sure your grand prize is something really attractive to provide an incentive for guests to come back during your slow time. 

When figuring out your prize distribution, you’ll need to think about what the cost would be if 100% of the people who receive an envelope come back to use their coupon. Keep in mind that all of these people will be generating sales for your restaurant. But you’ll want to know what the total cost of the promotion could be, from the cost of creating your coupons to the costs of the prizes. 

The Coupons and Envelopes 

When designing your physical coupons and envelopes, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

First, these don’t have to be fancy. There are companies that can print your envelopes and certificates for you, but you could also do it yourself with a local printer. 

First, make sure your envelope isn’t see-through. The whole point is that customers have to come back in and have a meal in order to find out what they won. If they can hold the envelope up to a light and read their coupon, it defeats the purpose.  You can prevent this by either using a colorful envelope or by folding the coupon inside to make sure it can’t be read. 

You’ll also need to make sure your envelope is branded to your restaurant. If you use a plain white envelope, customers could open it, check the coupon, and then re-stuff it into another white envelope. You don’t want the customer to know they’re getting a free meal before their meal, or they could order everything on the menu and you’d be on the hook for the bill!

It’s also a good idea to print the instructions on the outside of the envelope. This will help prevent the customer from opening it on accident, or forgetting when the promotion is taking place. Add a simple note reminding customers NOT to open the envelope, but to bring it back with them to the restaurant during the appropriate month. 

If you decide to print out your coupons and envelopes yourself, you can enlist the help of host and service staff to stuff them during their downtime. 

And train your staff to explain the promotion before handing over the envelope. If the customer tears into it before they understand how it works, they’ll void their coupon!

Tracking Your Success

During your promotion, you’ll want to track the outcome. If you don’t monitor the cost of your coupon redemptions along with sales accompanying an envelope, you won’t know if your promotion was a success or not.

Depending on your POS system, you may be able to set up a system allowing servers to flag checks where an envelope was present. Another simple way to keep track is to train your staff to print out a copy of each customer’s check and staple it to their coupon upon redemption. At the end of the night, they can hand it in when they do their checkout. This will let you track coupon redemptions, as well as the sales associated with those envelopes. 

At the end of the promotion, first figure out your total expenses by adding up the following: 

  • Cost of printing envelopes and coupons
  • Any labor costs involved in putting them together
  • Costs of all redeemed coupons including free drinks, appetizers, meals, and any external gifts that were purchased to include in the envelopes

Then subtract those total expenses from the total of all sales that accompanied an envelope. Now you’ll know the total net sales that were brought in by the promotion. 

Compare that to your sales from the same month in the previous year to get an idea of your success!

Conclusion

Marketers are always talking about “gamifying” the customer experience, and this is an easy way to do just that. The Peekaboo Promotion is one of simplest, most affordable ways you can boost your sales in a slow month. And yet, not many restaurants do this promotion. 

With such a low upfront cost, this is a great way to improve what is usually your slowest sales month. If it’s a success, you could bring it back year after year, or even run it twice per year. No marketing degree required!

How to Pair Booths and Tables in Your Restaurant

Selecting booths and tables for your restaurant can be a big decision. They need to look right together, but they also need to function well. Choosing the wrong pairing can result in an uncomfortable dining experience for the guest, and lost revenue for you!

So we’re breaking down some factors for you to consider, from size to design, to help you pair the right booths with the right tables.

Dimensions

The first thing to consider when selecting booths and tables is their respective sizes. The dimensions of your restaurant will, to some extent, dictate the size of the tables and booths that you can install. Use the following size guidelines as you determine how many and what size tables and booths you’ll need.

Length

You’ll want to make sure that your table length is approximately the same as your booth length. There are a variety of “standard” booth lengths, from a 24” single-seater all the way up to 60” for 3 or even 4 people per side. If you were to pair a 36” table with a 48” booth, you’d have a foot of extra booth space making your table look undersized. So make sure to match your booth and table length.

Depth

Since booths aren’t pulled under the table like a chair, it’s important to consider your table width and booth depth. You want to make sure that guests can reach their food, but aren’t knocking their knees together under the booth.

If you have a standard 30” table, you’ll want to leave about 72” between each booth top cap. The top cap is the piece of the booth that “caps” the back of the seat at the top. For a more narrow 24” table, 66” between each top cap will be enough. Make sure you have enough room for at least 16” between the seat back and the edge of the table. You don’t want guests to feel wedged between the booth and the table! 

Height

You will also need to consider seat height and back height. A good rule of thumb for seat height is to allow about 12” between the seat and the tabletop. So a booth with a seat 18” off the ground would go well with a 30” tall table. 

Finally, there is the back height. The back of the booth doesn’t affect functionality, but it does affect the flow of your space. If you have a small restaurant, a tall seat back can make it feel smaller and more enclosed. But if your restaurant is very large and you want it to feel cozier, tall seat backs might be a good option.

Style

Once you have a basic idea of dimensions, you can start considering the style of your tables and booths. They should work together, but they also need to fit into your restaurant as a whole. 

Booths come in a variety of sizes and designs. The most common is the single or double booth. A single is just that — one booth. The back is flat and can be placed against a wall or at the end of a row of booths. The double booth is two booth seats that share the same back. These booths are designed to work with a rectangular table, which provides a lot of options.

Booths that are designed to be against a wall will have only one “finished end” — the part of the booth that faces out to the restaurant. The other end will be unfinished since it will not be visible. Make sure to have your floor plan laid out in advance, so you know how many booths to order with finished vs. unfinished ends.

There are also ½ circle or ¾ circle booths. These can often seat more people than the single or double booth. They’ll also require a larger table since the diners will be sitting on three sides instead of two. To figure out the best table size for these round or square booths, first measure the width of the open space in the middle. You want your table to slightly overhang the bench seat. So if the open space is 44”, a 48” table would be perfect.

Banquette booths are usually long, built-in benches that go along one wall. They’ll be faced by a table and a chair on the other side. These can be a great space saver, and don’t enclose your seating the way a traditional booth does. But keep in mind that instead of only matching a table to your booth, you’ll have to match a table and chair to your booth. 

Do you want to open up your space and create a flow? Banquettes are great for this, since they effectively remove the barrier between tables. A banquette provides a lighter booth option that can be paired with a wide variety of tables. 

On the other hand, a heavy, dark booth will encourage guests to hunker down and get intimate. Don’t let your table get overpowered. A substantial booth requires a substantial table to balance it out. 

Fabric and Finishes

Your table and booth finishes will create a lot of visual interest in your space. So it’s important to get them right. 

But they don’t have to match. In fact, a matchy-matchy set of booths and tables may look a little dated. That can be great if you’re going for a retro look. A brightly colored vinyl booth with a matching laminate table would look right at home in a 50s-style diner.

For a more modern look, consider adding some contrast. A booth in a bright color, like turquoise or orange, contrasted with a rustic wood table will look current and casual. Or you could pair a light ivory booth with a rich mahogany table for an upscale look. 

You can also add multiple colors to your booth, or a splashy fabric. Keep fabric patterns on the larger side to keep them from looking too busy. 

You can even use two entirely different colored booths in different parts of your restaurant. For example, you could have a golden yellow banquette on one side of the space, and a row of deep red double booths on the other. But when the booths are eye-catching, keep the tables simple. You could choose a warm wood tone that works well with both booth colors to help tie the space together. Or pick a neutral granite tabletop that has flecks of each color in the stone variations.

For banquettes, you can get a matching set of booths and chairs to keep the look consistent. Or use the chair as an opportunity to pull in something new. A brown leather tufted banquette bench, reclaimed wood table, and vibrant red industrial chair will create a unique modern space.

To tie your booths and tables together, look for a single element to repeat on both. For example, you could use gold or bronze accents on both your booth and table to make them appear more cohesive.

Keep wear and tear in mind. A family-friendly restaurant may want to consider vinyl or an unupholstered booth, rather than one finished in a costly fabric.

Conclusion

Pairing booths and tables requires some planning ahead and homing in on your restaurant style. Once you’ve figured out layout and furniture size, you can start to consider design and finishes.

Remember that if you can’t find the perfect booth for your restaurant, there’s always the option to have something custom built.

How Your Restaurant Can Increase Business with a Delivery Service

Online food delivery is a big market, and it’s on track to get much bigger. This $22 billion industry is expected to reach $28.4 billion by 2023. In fact, the online ordering and delivery sector has grown 300% faster than dine-in sales since 2014!

Call it the Amazon effect, but our increasing reliance on ecommerce is spilling over into the way people choose to order food. In fact, one survey showed that 45% of people would be more likely to order from a restaurant that has a mobile ordering service. 

The increased popularity of these services has led to an explosion of options, from national to local versions. We’re going to explore some of the most popular services, how they work, and some ways to make the most out of them. 

National Delivery Services

There are a number of nationwide delivery services that have gained huge popularity in the past 5 to 10 years. 

When selecting a service, make sure to consider its convenience for your staff, costs to you, and costs to the consumer. If fees are too high for the customer at your restaurant’s price point, you may not see the boost in sales you’re hoping for. 

UberEats

With a well-established fleet of contracted drivers, Uber decided to expand into the food delivery world in 2014 with UberEats

How it Works

To use UberEats, customers place an order through the app on their smartphone or tablet. Restaurants are supplied with their own UberEats tablet, which will display the customer’s order. When the restaurant accepts the order, a driver is pinged and told when to pick it up based on the restaurant’s pre-selected prep time.

The payment is all done by the customer through the app, so no money exchanges hands when the driver arrives to pick up the food. UberEats also has a “closed bag” policy, meaning that orders are not inspected by drivers. They just pick it up and leave. So restaurants have to be very careful to get the order right.

Restaurant Costs

Restaurants have to pay a 30% fee on each sale to UberEats. If a dish costs the customer $10, $3 will go to UberEats. Some restaurants increase their costs on the platform to help cover these fees (although UberEats doesn’t encourage the practice).

Customer Costs

Customers pay a sliding scale delivery fee based on how close they are to the restaurant. Fees range from about $2 to $8. This could be great news if your restaurant is in a highly-populated area. But it could result in high fees if your restaurant is far from residential neighborhoods. UberEats can also implement surge pricing during particularly busy times. 

Customers must also pay a 15% service fee on their total orders, and a “small order fee” on orders less than $10. If you think many orders would be less than $10 total, you may want to consider a different delivery service to avoid the small order fee for your customers.

GrubHub

GrubHub was the first company to really disrupt the restaurant delivery service. They work with over 125,000 restaurants in the U.S. and London.

How it Works

Customers can place orders through the GrubHub app, or on www.grubhub.com. Restaurants can also add a GrubHub button to their websites, directing their web traffic to the online ordering platform. 

When the order comes through, the restaurant must accept it. Then a driver will be notified and will come to pick up the order and deliver it to the customer. 

Unlike most other delivery platforms that don’t work with any POS systems, GrubHub integrates with Breadcrumbs POS. If you’re already on that platform, it can provide a really simple, seamless way to manage your delivery orders.

Restaurant costs

Grubhub’s fees depend on your market and if you choose a sponsored or unsponsored listing. 

An “unsponsored listing” will not be prioritized in searches on the app. If you’re trying to get new business, this may not be the best choice for your restaurant, as you’ll be harder to find. But if your restaurant is already very popular and you anticipate people to search for it by name rather than cuisine, unsponsored may work for you. Fees range from 5-15% for this type of listing. 

A “sponsored listing” will be prioritized in search results. But you’ll still have to compete with all of the other sponsored restaurants. The fees range from 20 – 30% for a sponsored listing. 

There’s also a 10% delivery charge on top if you use GrubHub’s delivery drivers rather than your own. And there is a 3.05% + $0.30 credit card processing fee for each transaction.

Customer costs

GrubHub doesn’t charge anything directly to consumers, which is why the restaurant costs are higher.

Restaurants have some leeway on additional charges that they can asses to customers. They can set their own order minimums (usually around $10), small order fees, and delivery fees of $1 to $10. 

DoorDash

DoorDash is the leader in market share for third-party delivery. So the volume of orders that restaurants receive may be higher than on competing services.

How it Works

Customers place their orders through DoorDash.com or their app. Restaurants will receive orders either on a tablet or by email/fax. For fast food restaurants, the driver will place the order in person. Customers pay through the DoorDash app, and payments (minus fees) are provided to restaurants weekly.

Restaurant Costs

Total restaurant commissions range from 20-30%, depending on the market.

Customer Costs

Customers pay a $0.99 to $7.99 delivery fee, as well as a 7% to 15% service fee. 

Postmates

Unlike the rest of the services on this list, Postmates isn’t limited to restaurant orders. You can get just about anything via Postmates couriers, from lunch to a pair of socks to cough syrup.

How it Works

Postmates users place their orders through the app. But some orders are pre-paid, and others will be paid by the courier upon arrival with a corporate debit card. 

This method provides some flexibility. For example, if the restaurant has to make a substitution, the Postmates driver can confirm the change with the customer before finalizing payment. This way, Postmates won’t have to issue a refund to the customer. 

Restaurant costs

Postmates charges a 15 – 30% commission and discourages increasing prices to cover the fee.

Customer costs 

Customers can order from just about anywhere, whether the restaurant partners with Postmates or not. Delivery fees range from $0.99 – $3.99 for partners and $5.99 – $9.99 for non-partners.

There is also a “variable percentage-based service fee,” but details about that fee range proved elusive. The platform also has a small cart fee for orders under $12.00.

Postmates offers a monthly subscription plan for $9.99 per month or $83.99 annually.  Subscribers don’t have to pay the delivery fee if their order is more than $20.

Niche Delivery Services

Beyond these large delivery services, there are plenty of niche programs as well. Some focus on location. For example, Favor operates all across Texas. And Vroom services parts of Connecticut and New York.

Other services focus on a specific food category.

For example, Slice is a pizza delivery service that keeps restaurant rates very low — only $1.95 per order. Restaurants can set their own order minimums and delivery fees, which will go directly to the restaurant. There are no fees set by Slice that must be paid by the customer.

Caviar is another delivery service that focuses on higher-end restaurants. Restaurants must be accepted into the platform. This could be a great option for restaurants at a higher price point.

When selecting a delivery service, make sure to look at your smaller local providers. You may find an option with more favorable rates that can integrate with your website. 

Provide Commission-Free Takeout Ordering

Most of the delivery services offer a takeout option as well. But you should also provide a commission-free takeout platform. 

See if you can integrate your POS with your website for takeout orders. Or try a service like ChowNow, which charges a flat monthly fee instead of a commission. 

Make sure the online ordering system is easy to find with a clear, prominent “Order Online” button. This will encourage customers to order directly from you when they’re planning on picking up, saving you the fees associated with delivery services.

Use Delivery as a Marketing Tool

Due to the fees that these delivery services charge, you may consider them more of a marketing tool than an actual money maker for your restaurant. Take advantage of the marketing aspect by trying to earn your delivery recipient’s repeat business.

Put a coupon into the bag before it gets sealed for pickup, offering a 10% discount for dine-in only. This will encourage customers to visit in person.

Or put a card in the bag thanking the customer for their order, and encouraging them to follow your restaurant on social media. You could also ask them to leave you a review on Yelp or Google.

Another option – include a card in the bag telling customers to sign up for your email list or for text messages. Let them know that if they sign up for your list, they’ll get exclusive access to special events and even occasional discounts. 

Conclusion

Not all of these services will be the best fit for each restaurant. You’ll have to consider your profit margins and customer base before you can decide if one of these services is a good choice for you. 

Most services aren’t tied to contracts, so you should be able to try one out without making a commitment. But with the huge anticipated growth in the online ordering sector, it’s an option that customers are beginning to expect. 

Should I Buy Metal or Wood Chairs for My Restaurant?

Selecting restaurant furniture requires a lot of considerations — cost, durability, type of restaurant, and more. How do you know which is the best option for you?

Here we’ve broken down some of the most important factors to consider when selecting chair material for your restaurant.

Is metal or wood more durable?

Wood restaurant chairs are durable — usually. Make sure that you’re buying a solid wood product, rather than particle board which won’t hold up to commercial use. 

You’ll want to look for tongue and groove construction. In this type of joinery, the chair components are interlocked with tight-fitting slots and ridges to hold it all together. It’s also a good idea to look for construction with added metal supports. This extra stability will help prevent the loosening of legs and backs over time.

But although well-made wood chairs can certainly hold up, metal restaurant chairs are still the winners when it comes to durability. You’ll want to look for a heavy-gauge steel construction with fully welded joints. A metal restaurant chair of 16 gauge steel or lower will last as long as your restaurant does.

Is metal or wood more comfortable? 

Both metal and wood are hard materials, so neither will feel like lying on a feather bed. Still, there are some comfort issues to consider. 

Both metal and wood chairs are available with upholstered seats, which can add some cushion. There are also options in both materials with curved backs, which can be easier on the spine.

Is metal or wood more versatile?

There are so many different styles of both metal and wood restaurant chairs that it’s hard to say! 

Both materials can be carved or formed into just about any shape you can think of. Styles like window pane, ladder back, and cross back can all be made in both metal and wood. Either option can be made in both modern and classic styles.

If you’re looking for bright colors, metal is the winner. Metal can be powder coated in a wide variety of colors to match your decor. But wood also comes in plenty of finishes like mahogany, walnut, oak, cherry, and beech.

To look through some of the many options, check out our metal restaurant chairs and wood restaurant chairs!

Does metal or wood require more maintenance?

Wood furniture will require cleaning and occasional polishing to keep it looking its best. And if you have painted wood furniture, it will need to be repainted from time to time, as chips are inevitable.

Conversely, metal furniture is practically maintenance-free, except for keeping it clean. 

Are metal or wood chairs more expensive?

In general, wood furniture is more expensive than metal. But you can find options in either material to fit most price points. 

Wood often has a higher-end look, so it can appear very expensive even if you get a good price!

So which one is the winner?

Both options are durable, come in a variety of styles and finishes, and require at least regular cleaning. So which is better?

While metal provides higher durability and lower maintenance, it all comes down to what makes the most sense for your space. 

Wood is a timeless material that will look beautiful in a warm, classic space. Pubs, steakhouses, quiet coffee shops, and rustic BBQ joints are all prime locations for wood chairs. “Old world” restaurants, like French and Italian, would also be a great fit.

Modern spaces like cafes, bars, and New American restaurants could be great places for metal furniture. It can bring an updated or industrial atmosphere to your restaurant. Metal furniture often has a more casual feel, but a high-end modern space could look stunning with a brightly powder-coated metal chair.

In the end, it all depends on the needs of your space! 


Go Fish: How to Introduce Seafood to Your Restaurant

There are a lot of good reasons why you should have at least one seafood option on your menu. But the most logical reason is probably this — there are a lot of people out there who are concerned about their health. 

Seafood is high in protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. And it’s low in fat and cholesterol. Including a seafood option on your menu will encourage visitors who may not be interested in a heavy beef or pork dish. It’s a flavorful and filling alternative to chicken — the most consumed protein in America. 

If you’re interested in adding some seafood to your menu, here are some tips on how to go about it.

Safety first

Seafood has some special considerations that must be taken into account when adding it to your kitchen. 

Freshness

Order your fish as fresh as possible. If you’re bringing in a special variety for a Saturday special, don’t order it for Monday delivery. Fish should be frozen or packed tightly on ice when it’s delivered to your restaurant. Make sure to store non-frozen seafood in your walk-in or refrigerator below 41°F. 

Tools

If you’re adding a shellfish that requires shucking like oysters or clams, make sure you have the proper equipment. You’ll need a clam knife or oyster knife, to start. Get the right tool for your particular mollusk. Using the wrong tool can result in injuries. 

You’ll also want a metal shucking glove. These are basically a glove of chain mail, meant to protect your cook’s hand if they slip with the knife. They are a bit cumbersome, but driving a chef to the emergency room during the dinner rush will be much more inconvenient!

You may also want a fish scaler. This tool looks like a serrated spatula, and you can use it to descale a fish. It’s probably only necessary if you plan on cooking and serving whole fish with the skin on.

Allergies

Over 2% of American adults have some kind of seafood allergy. In fact, fish and shellfish are two of the “big 8” of the allergy world, along with milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. 

So it’s vital that your kitchen prevent cross-contamination. That means using separate knives, cutting boards, pots, and pans for all fish and shellfish dishes. And make sure kitchen staff knows to change their gloves after handling seafood. 

Before bringing seafood into your kitchen, make sure to check with your local health department for any storage or handling regulations.

Fresh vs. frozen

Contrary to what some people think, it’s possible to get excellent quality frozen seafood. In fact, if you live inland, frozen seafood will probably be a better choice for your restaurant. 

Consider the logistics of the fishing trade. The boat is out on the water for several days, pulling in fish from the line. The fish has to stay on the vessel until it comes back into port. So a fish could be three days old before it even reaches land. And then the fish has to be put on a truck or airplane, before finally making its way to your walk-in.

If you live on the coast, you’ll have that fish in a day or two. But if you’re in Lincoln, Nebraska, that fish could be almost a week old by the time it gets to you.

But some fishing vessels flash freeze the fish they catch straight off the line. The freezing process will arrest the aging of the fish after it’s been caught. If it’s handled well, frozen properly, and thawed slowly in a refrigerator, the flavor and texture of that frozen fish might just outshine the “fresh” version.

Take advantage of seafood’s versatility

Seafood is far more versatile than many of us imagine. No matter what kind of cuisine you serve, there is room for some kind of seafood dish on the menu.

A brunch-focused restaurant could add cured Nova lox to the menu, served in an omelet or with a bagel and cream cheese. If you serve New American or gastropub fare, cured fish and seafood pâté on a charcuterie board will do very well! 

Seafood is very popular in much Central and South American cuisine. Traditional dishes like ceviche, tapado (Guatemalan seafood stew), and whole grilled fish will impress diners. And seafood curries, like Thai choo chee fish or South Indian Rasam soup bring a little spice to the sea.

People love to experiment with new flavors. So try to present a seafood dish in a new and unusual way. 

If you’re concerned about sales volume, there’s no need to go over the top adding several kinds of seafood at once. A single dish will do until you establish how it’s received. Or see if you can add two different dishes based on one kind of seafood. A shrimp cocktail appetizer and a shrimp stew entree will let you buy once and cook twice.

Promote health

There are few things tastier than a delicious fish fry. Beer battered and golden brown, served with a side of fries and tartar sauce? Yes please. 

But don’t limit seafood options to the deep-fried variety. Since seafood has so many health benefits, include some lighter options. 

Including fish or shrimp as an add-on to the salad menu lets guests create a filling meal (plus it’s a great upcharge.) And grilled fish is a delicious treat that most people don’t tackle at home. If you grill and serve it whole, you’ll have a unique plate to present to your guests.

Consider sustainability

The environment is a hot button issue right now. But whatever your opinion on climate change, one thing is for sure — overfishing is a big problem. 

Fish species like bluefin tuna, Atlantic cod, and Chilean sea bass have been overfished almost to the point of extinction. And even abundant species like some salmon and albacore can be unsustainable when fished with destructive methods. 

Bottom trawls and dredges scrape the ocean floor to catch bottom-dwellers like shrimp and lobster, but they damage the seafloor habitat in the process. Large walls of gillnets catch plenty of salmon and perch, but they can also entangle vulnerable sea turtles and sharks.

Even farmed fish aren’t problem-free. Net pens concentrate pollution from the fish raised in them, which then damages the local ecosystem. And this can contribute to widespread disease through the fish colonies.

But none of this means that you shouldn’t add seafood to your menu. 

Sustainable fishing methods like trolling lines, handlines, and pole-and-lines all minimize the accidental capture of vulnerable species. Plus they don’t damage the seafloor. 

Farming methods like recirculating tanks or flow through raceways allow for fresh, clean water to reach the fish. They also allow for wastewater treatment before contaminants affect surrounding areas.

Even sushi restaurants can fill their menus with sustainable and responsible fish. Austin, Texas restaurant Lucky Robot has managed to create a sushi menu with no bluefin tuna, no eel, and no hamachi — three items that are ubiquitous on sushi menus. 

Instead of bluefin, they serve Hawaiian line-caught bigeye tuna. Eel has been replaced with a clever unagi-style BBQ catfish. And instead of hamachi, they serve Hawaiian amberjack. They’ve found that people will try new things if given the opportunity. And they’ll appreciate your conscientiousness as well.

To learn about the least at-risk seafood and the best fishing and farming methods, go to  https://www.seafoodwatch.org/. This website by the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a goldmine of education. 

Educate your staff

The menu is set, the ordering is done, and you’re ready to go! Now it’s time to talk to the front lines.

Make sure your FOH staff is well-versed in your seafood dishes. Give them some good comparisons that they can use for guests who might not be familiar with the new menu options.

For example, Arctic char is a fish that many people may not have heard of. Give your servers a couple talking points that guests can relate to. “It’s moderately firm, not flakey like cod. It tastes a bit like a cross between a trout and salmon. And it has a peachy pink color.” Now the guest has an idea of flavor, color, and texture. 

Make sure staff also knows where the fish came from. Is it farmed or wild? Fresh or frozen? People may want to know. If it’s farmed, they should know the name of the farm, as some are more reputable than others. 

Conclusion

Seafood will be a welcome addition to the menu for many of your guests. Whether they’re looking for a lighter option or just something different, seafood can be the answer. Have fun with it, and get creative!

How to Transition Your Menu for Fall

The weather is just beginning to cool, and already people are yearning for cozy sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes, and that crisp nip in the air. While we still have a few weeks before the weather turns, it’s time to start thinking about revamping your menu for the fall. 

The general theme? Heartier dishes. When people are cold, their bodies have to burn more calories to keep their temperature up. As a result, many people feel hungrier during the fall and winter than spring and summer. 

Plus, without trips to the beach on the horizon, people tend to be a little more lax with their meal choices. 

So bid a fond farewell to perfect peaches and crispy asparagus, and say hello to gourds and squash, fall apples, and the wonderful world of root vegetables. 

Appetizers

Let go of the cool, light apps like spring rolls, gazpacho, and hummus. Instead, set the stage with a warm, cozy starter. Gulf oysters are in season year ‘round, so a grilled oyster app is a good option. Or gooey baked brie with a warm baguette. If you do want to keep a cold starter on the menu, try to stick to seasonal fall ingredients. Eggplant is available all year, so baba ganoush might be a hearty dip to consider.

And the soups! Who doesn’t love a warm bowl of soup or chowder on a cool day, served with a warm slice of crusty, homemade bread? French onion with savory beef broth, thick baked potato soup, and classic minestrone all make wonderful starters. Just keep portions small, or no one will want to order entrees. 

Salads

Just because the summer salad season is coming to a close, that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for salads on your menu throughout the colder months. Just bring a heartier approach. 

Swap out the watery greens for more fibrous options, like kale or spinach. These greens will hold up well to heavier toppings and dressings. 

Instead of only raw veggies, add some warming roasted root vegetables to your salads. Roasted beets, butternut squash, and sweet potato will add a filling bulk. You can also beef up your fall salads with hearty grains like farro, quinoa, and couscous. Pearl couscous does particularly well in salads, because of the larger grains. 

For sweetness, look for fruits that are in season in the cooler months, like Asian pears. Certain apple varieties like Braeburn, Fuji or Pink Lady are also at their peak in the fall. Dried cranberries are another popular fall fruit that will provide little pops of sugar. And they all go well with some crunchy fall nuts, like walnuts, pecans and pine nuts.

Sides

With so many delicious root vegetables in season, fall sides are abundant. Half of a roasted acorn squash drizzled with maple butter is hard to beat. Pan-roasted Brussels sprouts with crispy, salty pancetta are another favorite. Or you can sauté fall greens like Swiss chard or spinach for a light side option.

Any roasted root vegetable will create a good base for a fall side, from basic potatoes and carrots to parsnips, turnips, beets, and squash. 

But fall sides aren’t limited to veggies. A gooey pasta side-dish will stick to the ribs as well. Bring a fall flavor into the mix by making a pumpkin sauce. Or update gnocchi for the season by substituting sweet potatoes for regular potatoes. 

Entrees

Any protein can be turned into a fall dish with the right preparation and accouterments. 

When cooking, think long slow-roasting and braising for the richness of flavor that we’re craving in cooler weather. Duck confit, roast chicken, lamb shanks braised in red wine — all great fall options. 

Pork stuffed with apple and walnuts is a classic fall combination that you can play with. Mushrooms are most plentiful in the fall, and they are a great addition to pan sauces for steak and pork. 

For seafood, cioppino (a warm and hearty seafood stew) is a lighter option that guests may appreciate. Cod, salmon, grouper, and flounder are all fish that are widely available in the fall as well. Fish is a great addition to your menu all year, as it can easily be tweaked to fit the season with the right sides and herbs.

Warming spices and flavors

Pumpkin, cinnamon, and nutmeg aren’t the only fall flavors out there. Mint, parsley, and rosemary are all fall herbs that you can work with on your menu.

And there’s no need to stay away from citrus on your fall menu. While we often think of citrus as a summer fruit, some varieties are actually best in the fall. Valencia oranges are in season from April to December, while Navel oranges don’t ripen until November. Lemons are in season year-round, and Mexican limes ripen between August and December. 

Spicy food may be a good addition to your fall menu. It can be too much to eat a spicy dish on a hot day, but when the weather is chilly that capsaicin can provide a welcome flush. And consider warming spice blends from around the world. Curries and Indian spices like garam masala have a little heat that will warm your guests up from the inside out.

Desserts

It’s time to retire the ice creams and sorbets and instead get baking. Fall is the perfect time for pies, cakes, and crumbles. 

Apple, sweet potato, pumpkin, pecan and buttermilk pie are all fall pie staples. Other fall flavors like cranberry, ginger, and carrot can be used in desserts like cookies and cakes. 

You can also skip the fruits and veggies and go heavy on the chocolate. Cakes, bars, and trifles with chocolate, caramel, and peanut butter are the kind of dense fare that does well in the fall.

If you do want a cold option, you could try to incorporate a fall flavor. Orange or lemon sorbets are light but include fall-appropriate citrus.

Cocktails and Coffee

While some wine drinkers are purists following strict rules about what to drink based on their food selections, many others are seasonal drinkers. These types tend to prefer chilled whites and rosés in the summer, and room temperature reds in the winter — regardless of what they’re eating. So make sure the red wine selection is up to snuff. You’ll want plenty of merlots, cabernets, and pinot noirs to keep the chill off. 

If you have the space for it, consider adding some warm drinks to your cocktail menu. Irish coffees are simple, and just require a coffee pot within easy reach of the bar. If you want to get a little more involved, you can make hot spiked cider, or mulled wine. These can be put in an air pot for easy service. 

Bourbon and whiskey are also popular when the weather gets cold. So consider adding fall-inspired whiskey drinks like a Cranberry Old-Fashioned or an Apple Cider Manhattan.

Experiment with fall spices in your drinks like nutmeg and cinnamon. There are even pumpkin-flavored liqueurs that you could use for a boozy take on the famous coffee drink. 

For non-alcoholic options, try to add some herbal teas, hot cider, and even hot chocolate to the menu. 

Descriptions

Since you’re updating the menu anyway, spend a little time thinking about your descriptions. Menu seasonality is important to a lot of people. So if you’re using lots of seasonal fall ingredients, play that up on your menu. Even better if you are able to use some local ingredients! 

People are looking for comfort and coziness when the weather gets cool. Can you bring that feeling to your menu? Emphasize rich and creamy textures. Try peppering in snuggly words like “warm” and “toasty”. Try to position your food as the perfect cap to a chilly day. 

Conclusion

Since fall is the most popular season with Americans, it’s worth it to try to capitalize on these short-term flavors!

Transitioning your menu from summer to fall is a shift, but it doesn’t have to mean you start from scratch. With the editing of some of your sides and flavor profiles, you should be able to pivot much of your menu to one more appropriate for cool weather. 

Swap out some apps and desserts, and you’ll be all set for fall!

The Windsor Style Throughout History

There are no styles of furniture more associated with Colonial America than the Windsor style —  specifically, Windsor chairs. 

Airy yet sturdy, Windsor furniture is characterized by its delicately turned spindle backs and sculpted wooden seats. These pieces have straight legs that splay out at an angle, usually connected by an H-shaped stretcher for stability. And the back of Windsor chairs usually reclines.

Of course, like most things that America popularized during the 1700s, the Windsor chair has its origins somewhere else. 

The Windsor’s Origins

The chair’s roots trace back to the English town of Windsor, as long ago as the early 18th century. According to legend, King George II was out fox hunting when he was surprised by a downpour. He took refuge in a nearby cottage, where he found a crude chair with a spindle back. The king liked it so much that he had his royal furniture makers create his own for Windsor Castle. And thus, the trend was born. The truth of this story is debated, but it’s a good one nonetheless.

By the 1730s, Windsor chairs had come to Philadelphia, where they quickly spread to the rest of the colonies. Windsor furniture exploded into a booming industry. But as usual, American craftsmen weren’t content to simply adopt the English way of doing things. Instead, they made the chair their own.

To start, American builders removed the central “splat” that was common in the English version. This splat was a flat decorative piece of wood arranged in the center of the chair back, with spindles on either side. 

The Americans preferred a simpler look, with spindles making up the entirety of the chair back. They also made the legs narrower, and introduced the continuous arm, which was made of one solid piece of bent wood that curved along the back of the chair. 

Nails were generally unneccessary for the construction of Windsor furniture. Rather, the unseasoned wood components were all fitted together, and as they dried, the holes shrunk to create a tight fit. 

Types of Windsor Chairs

The American Windsor evolved into several basic styles, with hundreds of variations.

Bow Back

The bow back is framed by a single piece of curved wood that connects directly to the seat. Spindles of different heights follow the seat perimeter and connect to the bow at the top.

Low Back

The low back chair ends at about mid-back height, instead of extending up to head height.

Comb Back

The spindles on a comb back Windsor chair are all the same height. They connect about half-way up the spindle to a “center rail”, and at the top to a broad “handle”. This termination point gives the back the look of a hair comb

Hoop Back

The hoop back Windsor has a center rail that divides the spindles horizontally. This center rail curves past the spindles to form arms. 

Fan Back

Like the comb back, the fan back chair has spindles of a uniform height that meet a handle piece at the top. But the fan back has no center rail. Instead, there are two heavier turned stiles on the outside of the spindles to create stability. 

Writing Arm

The writing arm Windsor has a small desk piece attached to the right arm of the chair. This convenient addition made a comfortable place to write letters without requiring a large desk. Some writing arm chairs also had a small drawer beneath the desk where people could keep paper, pen, and ink stand. 

American Windsor furniture was usually made of several cheaper types of wood instead of one expensive hardwood. So they were painted to hide this mismatch. Common colors were red, yellow, blue, and especially green and black. They were sometimes decorated more extensively, with flowers, vines, and pastoral scenes. 

Windsor Chairs in History

The hoop back Windor chair in particular is practically synonymous with the American Revolution. This style shows up in paintings of the Second Continental Congress, as they were the chairs used in the Philadelphia State House in 1770s. They were made by Philadelphia furniture maker Francis Trumble, one of the era’s most prolific chair makers.

And they were popular at home too. Records show that Windsor chairs were owned by the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. 

But they weren’t limited to indoor use. Some of the early American uses of Windsor chairs were in gardens and patios. 

In fact, the Washingtons were such fans that George Washington had 27 of them on the portico at Mount Vernon. And Martha Washington even had a Windsor high chair for her grandchildren, whom she raised

Thomas Jefferson also wrote the Declaration of Independence while sitting in a Windsor chair. He had a special revolving version that let him spin in his seat — the first example of a swivel chair!

The style was popular beyond just chairs. Settees for two or three people, rockers, high-backed or low-backed bar stools, and small side tables were all made in the Windsor style. Small tables would have three legs instead of three, and would be just large enough for a candle or cup of tea.

Part of what made these pieces so popular was the interchangeability of their components. Starting in the 1800s, manufacturers made spindles, legs, and seats, and shipped them to furniture makers for assembly. This partial mass-production made them affordable. 

Farmers and tradespeople could also make their own Windsor chairs, using turned spindles and legs that they could buy pre-made, and fashioning their own seats at home.

They were also a popular export particularly to Canada, Nova Scotia, and England.

The Golden Age of Windsor chairs lasted until about 1860, when they fell out of fashion during the Civil War and Restoration period. But the Colonial Revival of the 1910s brought them back into vogue. Another resurgence occurred in the 1980s, and they’re still popular today. 

Windsor Furniture Today

The general design of Windsor furniture makes them a comfortable classic. Collectors pine after Colonial Windsors in original condition. Unfortunately, many were stripped of their paint in the mid-1900s, when bare pine was in vogue. And many more were painted over, as their original finishes chipped and cracked. But a chair with its original paint could be worth $5,000 to $12,000 today! 

There are new versions as well, built both on a mass scale and hand-made by artisans. The art of the hand-made Windsor is still alive, with prices for a new custom piece ranging from $500 to thousands of dollars.

Windsor bar stools in particular are having a moment, with the current popularity of the large kitchen island. They provide a comfortable backrest, while their delicate spindles don’t hinder sightlines between kitchen and living space. 

And there are variations on the style, too. There are metal versions, brightly colored options, and sleek mid-century-inspired styles on the market as well. Check out our steel Windsor chairs and bar stools in powder-coated black or weathered iron!

Conclusion

The Windsor style has been a mainstay of American furniture since before there was an America. It’s hard to think of any other style of furniture that has been popular for so long. After enduring for nearly 300 years, it could easily be around for 300 more!

What is Tavern-Style Furniture?

Although the tavern was once a mainstay of American social life, it gave way over time to the cocktail bar, the restaurant, and for a while, the speakeasy.

But there are still some watering holes throughout the country that stick to the traditional tavern style. Some have been in business since the 1780s like Massachusetts’ Warren Tavern, while some are brand new! 

If you want to bring the tavern vibe to your town, here’s what you need to know.

A little history

Although the terms are used somewhat loosely these days, a tavern is not the same as a bar. A bar traditionally sells alcohol only, but a tavern sells both alcohol and food. 

Of course, we may think that sounds a lot like a restaurant. But the classic tavern was more of a waystation — a place for weary travelers to get some rest. In fact, they often had rooms to let as well. The food was not generally the reason that people went to taverns.

Taverns were often the social hub of rural America in the 1700s and 1800s. It was where neighbors met to share news, conduct business, and unwind after a day on the farm or in the office. So the American “tavern-style” has become connected with the furniture of the time. 

Although electricity and central heating are now commonplace, the modern tavern still emulates the taverns of the Colonial days. Lots of dark wood, low lighting, and heavy furniture make for a cozy gathering place!

Tavern-style tables

Since taverns were the local meeting place, tables were generally long and rectangular, with room for groups to congregate and dine together. 

American settlers and farmers had little time for delicate wood carving. So the furniture in the local tavern was generally simple, sturdy, and practical. And it was made with the most abundant resource of the time — wood.

For the modern tavern, rough sawn or distressed wood can create the appearance of age, or reclaimed barn wood can be used for an authentic patina. Pine and oak are common wood species for tavern-style furniture, although you could use a wide variety of hardwoods. 

Tavern-style tables have a simple rectangular plank top, usually sitting on four individual legs. Legs may be connected by two braces, which are then attached to a “stretcher” that runs the length of the table. 

While the more high-end taverns may have had turned table legs, the rural taverns would often be more rustic. Square post legs, like those on this hardwood table, would have been more common out on the frontier. 

Tables may also sit on an X-shaped base connected by a stretcher where the “x” crosses. This provides extra stability for those raucous tavern nights! 

Tavern-style seating

To add to the cozy feel of the tavern, look no further than the wood booth. Sliding into a booth, customers can settle in for a long evening of cold beer, hearty food, and good stories. 

The tavern booth, like the table, is usually made of simple wood planks. The seat may rest on four legs, like our single tavern wood booth. Or, it could have a rectangular box as the base, like our urban distressed wood booth.

Booths can be made of rich hardwoods, polished to a high shine. Or for a rustic tavern, they can be made of distressed or reclaimed wood. 

One common feature of just about all tavern-style booths is their high back. This creates an enclosure where guests can have some privacy while they’re enjoying their meal or drink. After all, important events can occur in taverns. The Boston Tea Party was planned at the Green Dragon Tavern in 1773!

The tavern bar

In most taverns, if the proprietor was going to splurge somewhere, it would be on the bar itself. Tavern back bars can be works of art, made of gleaming hardwood and carved with intricate designs.  Shelves need to be robust in order to hold heavy liquor bottles. And some are backed by mirrors, to make small spaces feel bigger.

Of course, not all tavern bars are so complex. A sturdy wood shelving unit, loaded up with whisky and spirits is all a tavern really needs.

To sit at that bar, you’d have to pull up a stool. Tavern-style bar stools would traditionally be backless — a simple square seat atop four legs. For a little more comfort, you could get a stool with a cushioned and upholstered seat, like this version from Regal Seating.

The tavern is all about the community. It’s a place for people to gather, whether they live down the road, or are just passing through. So keep it snug and intimate. You never know when someone will need to plan their next rebellion against those redcoats.

How to Turn Upset Customers Into Friends

It’s a typical Wednesday night at your restaurant, and everything is chugging along smoothly. Ticket times are good, there’s a small wait at the host stand, and that new busser is working out really well.

Then, a server comes to you and says, “The guy at 403 is really mad.”

Oh dear.

There is no company in the world that has happy customers 100% of the time. It’s impossible. But what separates the good from the great is how they deal with unhappy guests when problems arise.

Making it right isn’t just a good PR move — it makes sense financially too. Word-of-mouth is a big factor in your sales. 81% of consumers trust their friends’ and families’ recommendations over anything else. 

Plus, it costs up to 25x more to get a new customer than to retain an existing one. So it’s important to know how to turn an unhappy customer into an advocate instead of an enemy. Here are some tips you can use to do just that!

Introduce Yourself by Name

When you first walk up to the table of an unhappy customer, all they know is that you represent the place that messed up.

So start off by humanizing yourself with a proper introduction.

“Hi, I’m Jim, the manager. I heard there was some trouble, and I wanted to see what I can do to help.”

When we know someone’s name, it makes them more of an individual and less of a cog in a machine. Instead of seeing you as a representative of the business, they’ll see you as a person who may be able to help.

It’s amazing how often managers forget this step! 

It’s also a good idea to ask the customer’s name. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” 

But don’t overuse it. Maybe address them by name once during your initial conversation, and once more when they’re leaving. Overusing someone’s name can come across as insincere and patronizing — the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!

Really Listen

When an upset customer tells you their story, don’t be thinking about how you’re going to respond. Just listen. 

You may think the main issue is that their steak was cold. But the issue may actually be that they told their server about it, and she didn’t seem to care. One is a simple matter of reheating or firing a new steak, while the other is an issue of bad customer service. Those are two very different problems.

So let the customer tell their story, and really listen so you can get to the root of the issue. 

Occasionally, it happens that the meal went wrong from the very beginning. The host was rude. Then the menu was dirty. Then the drinks took forever to come out. You can’t go back and fix all these things, but you can listen with sympathy. 

Sometimes, people just need to vent. So let them get it all out before you start offering solutions.

See Things Through Their Eyes

Your POS system went down, and no one realized it for 15 minutes. Now you have missing tickets and a seriously angry mom whose hungry toddler is having a meltdown. Plus, now she’s going to be late picking up her older child from ballet practice.

Put yourself in her shoes, and try to empathize. She’s not upset because she has to wait. She’s upset because the delay is causing a chain reaction that is going to affect her whole day. 

The POS system going down is obviously not your fault. But try explaining that to an 8-year-old who has been waiting by herself in ballet shoes after all the other parents have come and gone.

What would you want in that situation? Probably anything edible and portable that you could give the toddler, so he would calm down and they could get going. What you certainly wouldn’t want is to hear a bunch of excuses as to why the wait would be another 15 minutes.

Everyone is fighting their own battles, and we only see a little piece of it. So keep that in mind next time someone seems to be overreacting to a problem at your restaurant. A little empathy goes a long way!

Project Confidence

Throughout your interaction with the upset customer, you want them to feel like you have things under control. You are the person who can solve their problem and make everything right. So take control of the situation and assure them that they’re in good hands.

This means taking decisive, quick action. If something came out cold, you snap up that dish and get it to the kitchen lickety-split. If the server was rude, you go chat with them right away. 

Take control! Instead of asking what they would like you to do to fix the problem, offer solutions. If something was too salty, tell them you’d be happy to have it re-made, or you can get them a different dish right away. Don’t put the onus on the customer to come up with a fix. 

Get on Their Side

It can be tempting to see an angry customer as the enemy. Is an undercooked burger really something to fly off the handle about? This lady is being totally unreasonable!

That may be true, but it’s also the wrong attitude to take. Remember, we’re trying to see things through their eyes! 

Once you understand the problem, get on their side. Help the customer to see you as their advocate. This undercooked burger affects them, but it also affects you. While you may not appreciate being shouted at, you should appreciate an opportunity to improve. 

You don’t want to throw your kitchen or their server under the bus, but you can still create a little team of two. Try something like, “Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention! I’m going to go get a new burger started for you, and chat with the kitchen about keeping an eye on temperatures. I really appreciate you letting me know, so I can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Now you’re a dynamic duo. You have a mutual understanding about the unpleasantness of undercooked burgers, and together, you’re solving the problem.

Always Apologize

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the goal of “making it right” that we miss a crucial step — apologizing. 

It’s a simple acknowledgement that something went wrong and the company fell short. Even if it wasn’t really your fault, apologize anyway. 

If Appropriate, Take Something Off the Bill

Some restaurant owners and managers discourage comping food. They may be afraid that customers will abuse the policy. Or they may worry that managers won’t be able to judge when a comp is appropriate.

But look at it this way — what’s worth more to you? The cost of that appetizer, or not getting reamed on Yelp? 

Losing one star on Yelp or Google can result in a 5% reduction in revenue. So it may be worth the expense to take something off the bill if that’s the best way to make someone happy. 

In general, you’ll have a good idea of when someone is genuinely unhappy, and when someone is just trying to score free stuff. If they eat the whole meal before complaining, raise a fuss but don’t allow you to bring out a replacement dish, or show you a hair on the plate (which looks suspiciously similar to the customer’s own hair), you’ll know their game.

But in a normal circumstance where the restaurant really did make a mistake, a simple comp can be enough to show a customer that you take their complaint seriously and want to make it right.

Follow Up

Once you’ve listened, taken quick action, and given them a discount if appropriate, circle around one more time.

Thank the customer again for giving you the chance to fix the problem. And if they seem happy, ask if they’d be willing to share their email address. A nice note from the owner the next day, again apologizing for the error and welcoming them back to the restaurant, will leave a great impression. That “above and beyond” attention is the kind of care that people remember.

Conclusion

Your customers are your greatest marketing tool. They tend to remember either really good or really bad experiences, and share them in person or on review sites. So it’s up to you to turn each mistake into an opportunity. 

Make sure when your restaurant’s name comes up, the story isn’t about the error, but about  how you went to extraordinary lengths to make it right. That’s the kind of service that will earn you a customer’s loyalty and friendship.