Keeping an eye on your competitors is valuable, but it’s something you should definitely be prepared for in advance. Blundering into a competitor’s restaurant and ordering a meal with no preparation is going to lead to little in the way of insight and is very likely to be a waste of time and money. And if you’re sending someone else to do it, you need to be sure that they are equally prepared. Here’s how to get started
Start with a digital stakeout
Examining their web presence and digital marketing materials is an easy way to start off from a safe distance, and it will help you to develop ideas about what to focus in on when you actually go in for a visit.
Check out their website. Put yourself in the shoes of the target customer, or better yet, get the feedback of a few other people who are close matches. Try to determine whether the structure and presentation of the site are enticing and welcoming. Does it provide enough information about the menu? And how well does it work on a variety of devices, from the office desktop to a smartphone?
Put yourself in the shoes of the target customer, or better yet, get the feedback of a few other people who are close matches.
Stalk on social media. Keep in mind that this type of traffic can be faked by services who are hired out for this purpose – a sure sign of fraud is a lot of followers and upvoters who have a very limited posting history and aren’t very active. How are they doing for likes, shares and comments? Is there a consistent theme or style to the posts that are most upvoted and shared?
Google them. Start with just their name, then search for their primary food category in conjunction with their location. Also, look into a few of the results like Yelp and TripAdvisor to see what their customers think. Where do they rank in terms of results? What are customers saying on review sites?
Get some face time
An in-person visit is mostly going to be centered on gauging the staff, the atmosphere and the internal marketing materials. You can get some sense for the quality of their food and beverages, but obviously, this is something that can vary greatly from day to day and from dish to dish. So, here are a few items to take note of.
Eyeball the overall layout. Think about what is appealing to the customer, and what could be interfering with their dining experience. Take note of which aspects of the atmosphere are working well and if this is something you could imitate or create your own variant of. Are the customers enjoying themselves? Does the staff have to waste time with inefficient movement to get supplies? Is it easy for customers to move around or is it a hassle?
Make specific note of what’s going wrong with competitors as well as what they’re doing right – these are the areas you can directly emphasize to customers.
Put the staff to the test. Get a rough head count of the staff, and how it compares to your numbers to provide similar service with the similar atmosphere. Take note of how long everything takes to get done, from initial contact to offering to bring the bill to the table. Is the waitstaff pro-active about refills and checking on customer needs? How do they handle unexpected questions, requests and complaints? What is their general demeanor and attitude?
Look into amenities. Make a trip to the restroom just to see how they’re keeping it up. While there’s no scientific correlation between a dirty restroom and a dirty kitchen, customers certainly get a negative impression of the establishment from the condition of the restroom, to the point that a nasty restroom can cause up to 30% of business to never return.
In some cases, several different visits will be appropriate to gather all of this data. It can also be helpful to have your staff pick up a variety of meals to get a better sense of the food quality. During all visits, most critically, make specific note of what’s going wrong with competitors as well as what they’re doing right — these are the areas you can directly capitalize on and emphasize to customers.
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