By Dan Simons, principal and co-founder of Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG)
Ah, spring break. If you're a 21-year-old college student, those words signify the perfect time to step away from the books and enjoy the fun and freedom that comes along with spring break.
On the other hand, if you're an owner/operator of a quick-service restaurant that lies anywhere near a destination for college-age kids from around the country to congregate, spring break could mean a chance to cash in.
So, how do you do that? Here are some tips from our restaurant consultants on getting the spring break crowd into your establishment.
Plan Ahead. Find out when spring breakers will be heading your way. Ask local hotel owners to give your menu/promotional mailer to each guest upon check in and offer to cross-promote their hotel at your establishment. Take out an ad in the local newspaper/s and/or talk up your franchise/s on your Facebook and Twitter accounts for extra mileage. Note: If you don't have a Facebook or Twitter account, create them as soon as possible. In today's market, it is all about engaging, connecting and piquing the interest of guests, and social media is the way to go, particularly among high school and college age consumers.
Great Giveaways. Find out where the spring break crowds congregate (local beaches, boardwalk, main street, local events aimed at spring breakers) and team with a business or organizer to host a day of great giveaways. Whether it's food samples, or custom promotional items (like t-shirts or can cozies) created especially for the event, the goal is to get out and be seen, create buzz and have your food and brand speak for itself. Note: You many need to check with the local community board or police department to get permission to set up shop/put up signage in a particular area.
Menu Development. Now is your chance to get creative and see what sells. If burgers and/or sandwiches are your bag, try a few new combinations, sides and toppings or if you are in the beverage biz, experiment with new ingredients, flavors and textures that appeal to the student set. The aim here is not to revamp your existing menu, but to expand upon your brand with a few new, limited edition items with a special 'spring break' appeal.
Value Vantage. As many of us who have gone to college know, there are two tried and true facts about spring breakers: 1) they travel in packs and 2) they love a good deal! Introducing value options such as a Buy One, Get One (BOGO) or cost-effective meal plan incentives is good business. Value added incentives will help you reach your financial goals and the students will appreciate the bargain and will be more likely to return during their stay.
Extended Hours. So, what else can you count on from spring breakers? They will be staying up late. Therefore, keeping your doors open later (or even all night) is something to seriously consider. Sure, it might cost you more in food and labor costs, which you can offset by limiting the menu to only a few offerings, but extending your hours to accommodate their late-night cravings should prove worth it, especially if it's for a limited timeframe during the year.
No idea is too crazy or off the wall if you know your operations and systems can manage it. Students have high expectations and because they're always connected, they're always looking for something cool, new, different or exciting that will capture their attention. For a restaurant or café, it could mean capturing those extra dollars for your bottom line.
Dan Simons, principal and co-founder of Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group (VSAG), an international hotel and restaurant consulting firm, is also the managing partner of The Farm, a restaurant management company that has developed and operates Founding Farmers and Farmers Fishers Bakers restaurants in Washington, D.C.
Photo provided by wikimedia.