Four creative ways for indies to boost business this summer

How do you attract new customers and surprise and delight your loyal fans? Here are a few ideas for boosting business this summer, with some fascinating real-world examples.

1. Hold quirky events
You don’t generally need to give people an excuse to get out of the house during summer, but you do need to give them a reason to visit. A good way to do this is to take advantage of outside space (if you have it) and hold events. Patios, gardens, rooftops and even nearby spaces such as parks (pending council approval) can be used to your advantage.

Canbury Secret, a café in Kingston upon Thames, has started running a series of Riverside Yoga & Brunch events this summer. The ticketed events invite the public to a yoga session followed by brunch, giving customers new and old a chance to interact with like-minded people, get out and enjoy the weather.

Lesley Muir, who runs the yoga, said: “There was a lovely atmosphere because it was such a spectacular setting, with such a lot of community activity taking place all around – tennis, rowing, kayaking, people enjoying the area with their children and, of course, the café itself is a fantastic reason to visit the space.

“Yoga is for everyone and there was a real mixture of people at the class of all ages. Quite a few were runners who enjoy yoga to build up strength and flexibility. Others were seasoned yogis looking for a chance to practice outside in a beautiful setting. After the class, we all enjoyed a delicious brunch together; it’s very sociable and a fantastic way to make new friends and start the weekend in a relaxed way.”

Events give you the opportunity to showcase your food and venue, build your brand in the local community and generate revenue, all at the same time.

The benefits of ticketing
By ticketing events you can trial the popularity of the idea: there is no need to invest more marketing budget into a concept that is only attracting a couple of patrons. Offer the tickets and if it doesn’t prove popular you’ll know a new idea is needed next time.

Ticketing also means you can prepare the right amount of food and allocate an appropriate amount of space.

Limiting the tickets means the experience won’t be saturated and also inspires urgency. If a person wants to attend and the tickets are limited, they are likelier to buy there and then.

2. Come up with a way to stand out
A tip for all year round is to find a way for your establishment to stand out. It is not enough to offer great Italian food, for example, if nine other restaurants within a mile do the same thing. People need a reason to visit your business above others.

The Courtesan in Brixton is a modern dim-sum restaurant that turns into a late-night cocktail bar. They have recently started hosting free weekly burlesque shows, along with a monthly Sunday Supper Club ‘House of Meihua’ event, which is ticketed. These events draw burlesque fans to a potentially undiscovered venue, which may turn them into regular customers, while also treating dim-sum fans to something a little different with their wontons.
There is no denying there are quite a few burlesque events in London, and similarly more Chinese restaurants than you can count. But by bringing the two together the restaurant has found a unique point of difference.

So, how do you find your angle?
– Look at popular trends. Are there any big films/TV shows coming out soon? You could hold themed evenings that serve food and drinks based on the film/show.
– Is there a gap in the entertainment market near you? Sure, there is a rock venue down the road but is there a jazz club? Could you hold a monthly jazz night and transform the venue into a prohibition-style speak-easy for the night, for instance?
– Think of something completely original, eyeing key trends. For example, if you’re a dog-friendly pub, why not create a secret dog-lovers’ menu that customers can specially request when they walk in with their four-legged friend? Dare to be different and creative.

3. Fill in the blanks
What do you do if you don’t have an outside space and it is 29°C? It is likely you are going to suffer from empty seats outside peak times anyway but particularly while the sun is shining. How can you secure customers during the summer and compete with beer gardens? The answer is to repurpose unused space.

WorkClub partners cafés and restaurants to offer a co-working space for mobile workers, such as freelancers. The mobile workers turn up to a venue during off-peak hours and work. This gives the venue a flood of new customers in what would otherwise be a quiet part of the day.

The establishment offers the workers a space with electrical outlets, wi-fi, perhaps air-conditioning, and toilet facilities without the risk of being told to move on. The community of workers helps the establishment by buying food and drink during their time there, helping cash flow.

Nick Donnelly, managing director at WorkClub, said: “Our community spends on average 3-4 hours working from a WorkClub venue – which means in most cases our members will buy food or drink. This creates a new revenue stream.

“We have also negotiated some incredible deals with our venues. Free hot drinks, 2-4-1 on the menu, 30% off breakfast – we do this to encourage our members to spend money while they are in a WorkClub.”

With the rise of the freelancer economy, repurposing your venue is a way to bring in new people and make some money from a space that would otherwise be empty, offering an alternative to busy coffee-shop chains.

4. Go mobile
If you can’t get people to come to your restaurant, perhaps it is time to bring your restaurant to them! Over the summer months there are hundreds of festivals held around the country. These attract thousands of people away from the high streets, but these people will still be looking for food.

A food truck or a stall will open doors to new business during the summer. While your bricks-and-mortar establishment stays open, you can follow the crowds and grow your business on the road, increasing the size of your customer base.

Steak & Honour, an indie burger joint in Cambridge, have their own vibrant food trucks that they send out to festivals around the UK, but also park around popular areas in Cambridge. Not only do these vans give access to delicious food in multiple locations without asking the public to sacrifice their time in the sun, but they also increase brand awareness, perhaps collecting a few fans along the way.

Alternatively, if you do not have the means to run a food truck, or the idea isn’t for you, you could consider partnering another brand to hold a pop-up event at their venue.

An example of this in action is Honest Burgers, who teamed up with The Robin Hood pub in Bristol and served their burgers in the venue. This widens the reach of their products to customers that may not have visited their eatery, but without the additional costs that go with attending events with a pop-up stall or food truck.

This article was supplied by small-business finance company Liberis. Liberis may be able to offer loans for ideas such as food trucks or redevelopment projects. For example, their ‘Business Cash Advance’ scheme is repaid based on a percentage of card takings rather than a fixed monthly amount, making it easier during off-peak months.

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