Local: A popular neighborhood pub, coffee shop or restaurant; a place to unwind after work with friends or colleagues; a stomping ground that provides space to facilitate community.
Almost everyone has one: Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine met over coffee and pie at their favorite joint. A popular group of Friends found comfort in Gunther’s quirky personality at Central Perk. Even Homer Simpson had a neighborhood pub where he would meet the guys after a long day at the plant.
So how do you make sure your restaurant is the go-to spot in your neighborhood? Here are the top five characteristics of a modern local.
1. Think Local
To be in with the locals, it’s a must to show your support for your fellow locals.
Cool new micro-brewery opened up down the street? Throw some on tap. Funky little cheese shop been around the ‘hood forever? Offer a simple cheese tray as an appetizer. Found a wicked local butcher a block over? Take advantage and give your patrons the opportunity to try out their cuts at your venue.
Nothing gives a cozier feeling to customers than the knowledge that they’re contributing to the success of other businesses in their community.
And let’s be real. Everyone wants to be in the know about the trendy new shop in town.
The stronger the community vibe, the better for all of the businesses in your borough. Including yours.
2. Do a Couple of Things Really, Really Well
When we walk into a neighborhood joint and the menu is as long as the Chicago Cubs’ championship drought, we immediately wonder: “What’s fresh here? What’s good here?”
Keep it simple for yourself and your clients by focusing on what you’re good at. This means a small menu.
Think about it. What sounds better to you? “Let’s go to this place down the road with a massive menu with tons of options and different kinds of cuisine?” or, “Let’s go to this place down the road. They have awesome fish and chips.”
Make it easy for them.
Providing a select number of really well done dishes helps to do just that. Capitalize on the skills and background that you and your staff bring to the table. Literally.
If you want to ensure that things don’t get boring, a daily special can offer the curious cat of the group a chance to explore a new taste. Again, know what you’re working with.
This goes for drinks, too. Patrons trust spots where they can reliably get a good bourbon, espresso, or wine. Give them high quality, because quantity can be distracting.
3. Extend the Living Room
As more 20 to 40-somethings are living in 800 square feet or less, businesses wanting to become a successful Local need to be a cool extension of the patrons’ living room.
Think comfort. Think home-away-from-home. And most of all, think a no-rush atmosphere. In other words, make your customers want to pull up a chair and stay awhile.
With no need to clean up or worry about your noise level at home, Locals provide a central meeting spot with zero strings attached.
Living rooms represent a casual space for entertaining, chatting and relaxing. At the Local - like your living room - entertainment is self-provided. Nothing fancy. A few board games and maybe darts or shuffleboard will do the trick.
Just make sure that your patrons feel comfortable enough to make themselves at home. Find ways to make them feel that they can stay as long as they need to. Last call should be the only time they feel pressured to go.
Have just enough TVs. You're not the sports bar down the street. But hey, if there’s a huge game on, you want your regulars to trust that their Local will have it on.
4. Be There for Them
We all know the saying: “Location! Location! Location!”
And this is certainly true for local establishments. If one drink becomes three, or a coffee becomes a meal, the easier it is for your customers to get home, the less hesitation they will have to come back.
By ensuring that your door is a hop, skip and a jump to their homes, or at the very least a form of public transit, you’re setting yourself up for some regulars in the ‘hood.
Last minute sleepover plans for the kids? Date night or girls night is a no-brainer when it’s a short walk or ride to the Local. And being able to get home in a moment’s notice is definitely helpful if little Sally peed the bed again at her friend’s place.
5. Embrace Familiarity
Picture this: you walk into your favorite restaurant, pub, or coffee shop and are greeted with a smile and a “Hey (insert your name here)!” The server asks if you want your usual. Or, they know that you are the spontaneous patron that likes to switch things up. You see your closest friends at your favorite table and they wave excitedly to see you have arrived.
In a world that is frequently lacking in meaningful connections and fast-finger swipes through Instagram, Tinder and Twitter, you know you’re right where you belong in this building.
Attracting and retaining quality staff who are interested in their customers, and treating them as if they are friends, is the key piece to this equation.
A local with a low staff turnover rate is great for the customer’s soul too. An establishment with seasoned staff leaves the impression that the owners treat their employees well. Who wouldn't like supporting a place like that?
Creating a sense of community in your establishment can have a massive impact. Not just for the atmosphere, but also for your bottom line.
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