They say location is everything, and to a certain degree it certainly is true. Roughly 60% of restaurants will fail in their first year and 80% within five will close their doors. The biggest factor often attributed is location.
Location is a fairly generalized term. If someone tells you to find a better location, is it even obvious what a “better” location would be? I urge you to also take into account perception.
Perception is what customers think about your business in a specific space and context. The best location can be a lemon if the space is run down or business is perceived the wrong way in that location. It can also mean a customer will think one thing when in fact it may be the opposite.
A new coat of paint and general repair can change perception just the same a new look and logo design can change the perception of the business’ offering. The deeper ingrained the perception is, the greater the effort it is to change it.
To explain this, it’s best to give an example. On our street for the last 2 years, one location has had at least 3 different sushi restaurants come in and out. There are four or five other sushi joints on the street and they all seem to be doing reasonably well. Some of them opening more recently.
One of the places that came and went was our preferred spot, so we can attest that food was not the issue. Saturation was also not the issue because they were there before many others. Beside it is a pasta place that is lined up half a block nearly every night.
Geographic location on its own is not the issue. Success is being had by others everywhere around it. It is a popular area to dine out and yet every sushi restaurant iteration in this location has had very few patrons inside.
At least, from the outside it looks like there are very few patrons inside. I would estimate the capacity for the space is upwards of 100 people. The other Japanese restaurants on the street can serve 20 people maximum.
The difference between them is that when the large failing location has 10 people, it looks like it is only 10% full. When the more successful smaller places have 10 people, they look like they are at half capacity. They look more successful.
Our natural tendency to follow social cues would tell us the more successful and popular looking place, must in fact be the better choice. It’s what we call social proof. It’s the same reason we laugh along with terrible laugh tracks.
The pasta place next door that is lined up down the block looks very enticing. Droves of people waiting for a table is a nightly occurrence. It must be very good. It’s the same perception we have when a club has an enormous queue. Just because everyone watches “The Big Bang Theory” does not make it good. It doesn’t mean it is bad either. It is just perception.
Perception, like first impressions (The Low-down on First Impressions that Last), is often based on incomplete information. Modern day life for us consists of thousands of decisions and opinions being formed daily. Whatever advantage we can use to shortcut that process we use.
Why not pave that shortcut to the conclusion you want customers to come to?
If your menu is too long, or the design of the menu makes it appear too long, that also changes the perception of food quality. Where more people in a smaller place changes perception for the better, fewer items on a larger menu can convince the most critical of foodies.
Many Chinese restaurants in Vancouver have over 100 menu items. While this can make for a fun dim sum dining experience, what does it allude to in terms of food quality? We touched on this in “Who Can Use Focus to Improve Sales?”
When you’ve got a funny mole on your neck would you prefer to go to the walk-in clinic, or a dermatologist? We prefer the specialists because this is all they focus on. They are perceived as experts because they have specialized.
When a menu has over 100 items the perception is that they do not specialize. The chef has not spent the time to master one dish but instead has chosen to do many of them adequately. It is the cliché “Jack of all trades, master of none”. It’s why we would prefer Bao Down to a buffet, any day.
Perception takes into account what your customers are thinking. It involves stepping out of your own shoes and viewing your business in someone else’s. From my experience, it may seem impossible to separate yourself and form the perception of someone new.
Find the outsiders with different points of view. Try surveys with giveaways or engaging more with your existing audience on social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. There are gaggles of foodies out there snapping pictures of food that could have the perspective you need. It will be up to you to analyze their perception and realign it with your brand promise.
Tweet Sharon and I for an outsider’s perspective.