Tapping into Tourist Traffic

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the summer travel season, during which millions of Americans will hit the road to continue family traditions and forge new ones, or head into new parts of the country in search of adventure. Though each trip is unique, nearly all of those travelers have one thing in common: they need places to eat. Restaurant tourism is a growing industry thanks to customers’ increasing willingness to go out of their way to visit restaurants they’ve seen on TV or heard their friends and family speak highly of. Take advantage of these tips to encourage tourists to make your eatery an entry on their itineraries.

1. Know your demographic. Is your eatery located in a resort town for wealthy retirees or near a theme park popular with young families? Understanding the types of tourists that pass through your town will help you make your spot an appealing destination for the largest number of potential guests. Alternatively, selling yourself as a quiet retreat for couples in a market that’s filled with restaurants catering to families can help your restaurant stand apart and capture the business of customers who feel like their needs are underrepresented in a bustling tourist town. Even family hotspots like Disney World understand the importance of serving couples who need a quiet date night without the kids.

2. Market your business wisely. You have the choice of dozens of marketing methods aimed at tourists. Older patrons might respond best to highway billboards and those books you find on the dressers in motels, while you’ll likely have better luck targeting younger customers with online campaigns. Getting the word out across the channels that target your potential customers can help you stand out from the landscape of seemingly endless signs that line the highway.

3. Understand and accommodate guests’ needs. Travelers and tourists have a particular set of needs, and meeting those can earn you some good will among them. One thing you can offer is access to clean, well-stocked restrooms that can accommodate several guests at a time. Comfortable seating that gives weary travelers a break from the cooped-up conditions of their cars can go a long way, too. One lucrative need you can fulfill is to help tourists find souvenirs of their trips. After your guests fill up with a memorable meal, give them the opportunity to share their experiences with friends and family back home with a T-shirt or coffee mug emblazoned with your logo, which can help build your reputation as a tourist restaurant. Take a cue from Cracker Barrel, who were named best family-dining restaurant chain in American by their Consumer Picks report for a fourth time this year, thanks in part to their commitment to providing travelling guests with a comfortable, consistent dining experience.

4. Offer an experience. Vacationers dining out are unlikely to be satisfied with the same old restaurant experience they can get back home. They’ll be much more likely to choose your eatery over the competition if they know they can have an experience only your destination restaurant can offer. Setting yourself apart can be as simple as curating unique decor that makes guests feel like they’re traveling to an exotic locale or putting a theatrical spin on service.

5. Build a social media presence… The first thing many tourists do when they’re looking for a bite to eat is break out their smartphones. Travel apps like TripAdvisor and Yelp have made it easy for travelers to discover local eateries that have been vetted by travelers before them. Keeping your restaurant’s information accurate and up-to-date on those platforms and sites like Facebook can help maximize your chances that travelers will choose your restaurant when they need a place to dine out. Business owners shouldn’t shy away from encouraging customers to leave reviews.

6. …and work hard to maintain it. The downside to having a social media presence is the negative criticism that inevitably pops up from time to time. Guests who have a negative experience, for whatever reason, show no reservations in sounding their complaints. It’s true that you can’t do much to remove negative reviews of your eatery once they’ve been posted, but those less-than-glowing appraisals can make the positive ones more believable. Most platforms do provide a way for business owners to reply to disgruntled guests with an opportunity to make amends and prove that customer satisfaction is your No.1 priority.

7. Work with your local tourism departments. Don’t forget that there are whole organizations devoted to bolstering business in your area. Get in touch with your local department of tourism and/or chamber of commerce to see how they can help promote your business through guidebooks, coupon packages, and digital marketing channels. Leverage their experience in promoting other local businesses to get the word out about your destination restaurant and to learn how you can better capitalize on tourist traffic.

Tanner West
Tanner West

A dedicated festival-goer, Tanner West has seen more bands perform live in the middle of hay fields and city parks than most people have probably heard of. Raised on beans and taters, he recently renovated a home and three vintage sheds in the back woods of East Tennessee that serves as a quiet retreat for reading and ready base for hiking and camping trips. Despite being able to craft 500-word descriptions of restaurant equipment, Tanner is a man of few words who described the best meal he ever ate in one word: Coffee.

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