For most working people, lunch is something to look forward to — a chance to take a breather in the middle of the workday. But restaurants that serve lunch can end up competing over the same few customers. Sometimes it pays to think creatively.
Let's start with the good news: restaurant sales are booming. Consumers are eager to treat themselves to new things, and a restaurant lunch can play a key role. People who work together, but may not have spent time with one another in person for a long time, are eager to get back to the workplace and to their favorite lunch spots.
Attracting people to your restaurant at lunchtime can also have significant impact on revenue. American consumers are notorious for paying attention to what everyone else is doing. If they start to see increased activity at your restaurant, they're sure to be curious about what they're missing.
So, the real question is: how can your restaurant build a lunch fan base? We've compiled a list of tips to help you boost your lunch sales.
1. Get to know the lunchtime crowd
In an effort to grow business, IHOP recently rolled out burritos and bowls. That's just the latest in their ongoing strategy to capture customers' share of mind beyond breakfast.
If you want to build up your lunch sales, the first step is to get to know your lunchtime customers so you can effectively meet their needs. Do they mostly live outside the neighborhood and visit only during the week for work? If that's the case, you may need to make extra efforts to appeal to them — sprucing up your outside appearance from the sidewalk and posting your menu where they can easily read it.
Do your lunch customers tend to eat in groups or are they mostly solo? That can affect how you set up your seating. For example, you can create spaces where customers dining alone won't feel self-conscious. Or you can make sure a pair of co-workers have enough room to fit their laptops if they want to get some work done while they nosh.
Do your customers dress in business clothing or are they more casual? This can influence what you serve and how it's presented. For example, a roast beef sandwich dripping with melted cheese and au jus might be fine for a construction worker, but could be a nightmare for a receptionist at a law firm.
However possible, we recommend tailoring your lunchtime offerings to your typical customer.
2. Get creative with your lunch specials
One surefire way to appeal to the mid-day crowd is by creating discounts or money-saving promotions. A buy-one-get-one free offer is often effective at getting a regular customer to bring in a new prospective customer. Also, group specials — such as a boxed lunch for six to go — can pique interest and increase sales.
A prix fixe menu (meaning "fixed price" in French) makes a good lunch special because of its convenience and simplicity. Offering streamlined options for customers allows your kitchen staff to focus their attention on preparing fewer items during the lunch service.
Many customers have become aware of the importance of consuming nutritional foods mid-day for maximum productivity. If your restaurant is located near a gym or yoga studio, you could offer "power hour" lunch specials, with extra protein or vitamin boosters, for example.
Plan your lunch specials around food holidays that work well with your restaurant's menu and cuisine, like World Pasta Day or National Cheesecake Day. Our 2023 Restaurant Marketing Calendar & Toolkit includes 270 food holidays for you to choose from.
Lastly, as you think about how to package and promote your lunch specials, try titles that are memorable, rather than merely descriptive. The Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse comes to mind as a dish whose name makes all the difference. Speaking of naming, we bet you won't find anyone who hasn't heard of Taco Tuesday by now!
3. Get the word out
It doesn't matter how many clever ideas and lunch specials your restaurant comes up with if nobody knows about them. If you are in a position to invest in some advertising, a mobile campaign targeted locally can help get the word out to prospective customers.
But you don't actually need to spend money to get the word out about your lunch specials. Luckily, platforms like Instagram and Facebook make it easy to post photos of your tastiest dishes. Show off your food, your specials, your restaurant, and your happy customers on all of your social channels. For more info, read our blog post on boosting your social media following, which includes tips on Snapchat and Pinterest as well.
And there are other ways to get the word out about your lunch specials. You can include information about them on the bottom of each check. You can announce them on your outgoing phone message when customers call. You can post signs in the window and include inserts in to-go orders. You never know which channel will work with a particular customer, so it's good to cover all the bases and make an impression everywhere.
4. Offer outdoor dining if possible
Especially during warmer summer months, the chance to eat outside can give restaurant dining added appeal — and can help ease any post-COVID concerns for customers as well. Fresh air and sunshine add another layer of fun to the entire dining experience.
Consider setting tables up on the sidewalk if you don't have an outdoor patio area already. Outdoor dining makes for great people-watching and is a smart way to add to your bottom line. The additional seating increases your restaurant capacity, allowing you to serve more customers and sell more food.
For tips on best practices, consult our Mastering Outdoor Dining & Pickup guide.
5. Offer pickup or delivery
No matter how enticing you make lunch at your restaurant, there are always those people who just don't want to leave the office — whether they're stuck in a meeting or they're just trying to get their work done as quickly as possible.
To maximize your lunch sales no matter where your customers choose to eat, make sure to offer pickup or delivery services — through either DoorDash App or Storefront, which allows you to add online delivery and pickup on your own website. For smoother operations and more predictable workflows, encourage your customers to schedule their orders and to order ahead for pickup. That way, you can avoid backups and long lines.
If you're concerned about sustainability and the increased waste of to-go containers, we offer a number of high-quality eco-friendly to-go containers at doordashstore.com that anyone can buy.
Ready to capitalize on the lunch crowd?
With your new strategies for building a lunch crowd, it's easy to get started with DoorDash. We'll help you grow lunch sales by opening up a new revenue channel for your restaurant. For more information on best practices in growing your business with lunch, read Mastering Outdoor Dining & Curbside Pickup.