Chain restaurants appear to have some pretty solid advantages over local eateries including name recognition, purchasing power, national advertising, professional menu developers and expert interior designers. However, local restaurants can win out over the big chains by partnering with local charities and community events, showcasing local foods and cultural color, interacting with diners in a highly personal way and using the latest technology to deliver a superior customer experience.

Owners Have Better Control

Restaurateurs can use technology to provide an equal or better experience than chain operations deliver to each customer. Software tools for inventory control, loyalty programs, seating management and delivery tracking allow even small, neighborhood diners and pizzerias to provide the kind of high-tech service that only the big restaurant chains could offer in past decades. Mobile ordering before arriving at a restaurant or at the table allows customers to order their meals conversationally in a relaxed atmosphere. Other technology benefits that put local restaurants on an even level with national chains include:

  • Mobile alerts and in-depth customer tracking allows local restaurants to deliver a personalized experience.
  • Owners can maintain control and monitor operations while off duty to ensure the best possible staff performance at all times.
  • Restaurants can connect with customers on social media, mobile apps, online blogs and local media outlets.
  • Technology-driven management lowers prices and improves restaurant efficiency to match the quality and price that the big corporations deliver.

National chains may have the upper hand in online marketing but independent restaurant can outmaneuver them. Now with content management systems, you can easily have it that your website can reflect your latest photos and promotions. You can collect emails and send out a newsletter. More importantly, through giving your business a voice and featuring individual staff members and customers, an independent restaurant owner can connect with the community in a way a big chain cannot.

Hometown Pride: Local Marketing

Loyalty programs can foster pride in a hometown, style of cuisine and restaurant concept. Restaurants can use communications and interactive websites to educate customers about why their cooking style and concept is better than cookie-cutter chain stores that often lack a distinctive character. Local restaurants can get to know their regular clients intimately and build lasting relationships through community events, special celebrations and private events for birthdays, weddings, parties and business meetings. The most basic gestures make a difference such as you or your chef talking to diners on busy nights to ask about customers’ experiences and introduce yourself. Put a face to your restaurant, because chains cannot.

Learn from Big Chain’s Mistakes

Competition from chain restaurants can inspire local food service establishments to excel in unique ways. With special knowledge of the community, you are able to identify where the chain does not meet the character of the community. Local restaurants can adopt the following practices to beat the chain stores:

  1. Local eateries often make diners feel like members of an extended family by remembering important occasions, food preferences and other personal details.
  2. Nearby brand-name restaurants can generate greater traffic that local eateries can target aggressively.
  3. A neighborhood restaurant generally shares many of its diners’ attitudes, tastes and sports preferences and should be not afraid to show it.
  4. Local restaurants can prepare custom menus and dishes for special diets that franchises can’t or won’t offer.

Community Involvement

Diners spend more money in restaurants that support communities. Local eateries often give students their first jobs, cater school and civic events and promote local industries and sustainable farms throughout the region. Local businesses have greater flexibility than chains to take part in community festivals, local landmark events and community charitable initiatives. Large corporations tend to support big national charities instead of community programs, and smaller restaurants can trump national campaigns by supporting local shelters, community theater, alternative education programs and cooperative promotional efforts with other neighborhood merchants.

  • Restaurants can tie charities to causes that management supports and generate free publicity and community support.
  • Connecting with customers at broader social functions generates opportunities to attract new customers, business meetings, catering jobs and social bookings for a restaurant.
  • Charitable causes boost staff morale and encourage workers to become a restaurant’s biggest cheerleaders.
  • Sponsoring a local spaghetti dinner, bake-off, cooking class or charity wins customers and strengthens brand recognition throughout the community.

Independent restaurants have powerful weapons in their battles against conformity, homogeneity and bland cuisines that most big restaurant corporations promote. Use technology, community involvement and interactions with customers to build high levels of restaurant loyalty, stronger sales, repeat business and larger profits.