You’ve heard the story: Two hikers encounter an angry bear in the forest. One of them opens his backpack, pulls out his running shoes, and begins putting them on as fast as he can. The other watches and says incredulously, “You don’t think you’re going to outrun that bear, do you?”

“I don’t have to outrun the bear,” the first hiker replies. “I only have to outrun you.”

We have news for you: you’re one of the hikers, the bear is right behind you, and your competition just put on its running shoes. Sound familiar? While competition in the restaurant business is nothing new, it is changing in ways we’ve never seen before.

Competition in the Restaurant Industry

Restaurant sales are poised to grow for the sixth consecutive year, reaching a record high of $709.2 billion in 2015. Restaurant finance outlooks are also positive. Combine those trends with lower unemployment, and it paints a pretty picture for restaurant owners. It’s a cautionary tale, though. Consumers are more value-conscious than ever (thank you, Groupon), and new establishments will be opening up at a pace we haven’t seen in about a decade. It’s true that your customers will have more money to spend, but they’ll also have more choices as to where to spend it.

Competition from Outside the Industry

A improving job market means your customers not only have more disposable income, they also have an increased need for quick and convenient meal options. Enter your latest competitor: convenience stores. More and more convenience stores are adding food service to their product line. And we’re not just talking about hot dogs and donuts here. Many stores are grabbing customers’ attention (and dollars) with high-quality deli items, healthy salads and wraps, and even gourmet meal replacement options that customers can grab quickly and heat up when they get home.

How to Outrun Your Competition (And the Bear)

Maybe the trick isn’t to run faster, but to run smarter. You can stay ahead of your competition by following these strategies:

  • Train every day. Before you invest your marketing dollars on the next big promotion, train your staff to deliver service based on excellent product knowledge, caring behavior, and personalized attention.
  • Training is the handle, sales is the pump. Train servers to not just take orders and deliver food, but to make sales. Through active listening and suggestive selling, servers can increase their per person check average by over a dollar on every shift.
  • Build repeat visits. It’s okay — and maybe even imperative — to offer a sweet deal to customers to get them in the door. The key is to capitalize on those visits and wow guests with service and food that they can’t wait to experience again.
  • Go where your customers are. You know customers are looking for convenience, so offer it. You don’t have to be a quick-serve, fast-casual, or convenience store concept to offer meals on the go. Take another look at your take-out offering and step up your game.

You can out-train your competition. Our suite of restaurant training for employees improves service, increases sales, and strengthens teamwork. Series include Service & Sales Excellence, Cycle of Service, Operations, Back-of-House, and Human Resources. Click here to learn more.