Six ways to make merchandising work for your restaurant

By Diane Chiasson

Effective merchandising is key to building success and boosting profits in your restaurant

I’ve been in the restaurant, foodservice and retail merchandising business for nearly 30 years, and I’ve seen the many changes the industry has undergone during that time. Most noticeably, merchandising is no longer considered an afterthought, or something to think about in the future. It has emerged as something that restaurant and foodservice owners now consider a must – something as important as the kitchen design and the menu.

Merchandising has become such a key to success in the restaurant and foodservice industry that culinary schools and foodservice programs now all offer food merchandising courses. But whether or not you already have a merchandising program in place, or have thought about starting one, the following six tips will help you boost your profit.

1. Incorporate merchandising from the start

Most new restaurant and foodservice concepts consider and incorporate merchandising displays and areas right from the get go. Smart owners have their restaurant interior designers work alongside a merchandising consultant when initial design plans are started, so there is no need to backtrack or redesign your restaurant when you decide to put a merchandising program in place.

2. Activate all senses at the door

As soon as customers walk onto your restaurant’s property, you have to stimulate all five senses to heighten the experience. Take into consideration not only what your restaurant looks like, but also the smell coming from the kitchen, the type of music and volume you choose to play, and the different textures to touch. By activating these senses, you help build enthusiasm for what your customers are about to taste.

3. Use your menu as a merchandising power tool

Your menu is your greatest marketing tool and should be used beyond simply listing the dishes you serve and their prices. The average customer will spend around three minutes looking at your menu, so it needs to entice them to not only order your most profitable items but want to order more than just one. Better, your menu should entice your customers to want to come back to try other dishes.

4. Provide demonstrations and food samples

Sure, food samples make sense in grocery stores or bakeries, but in a restaurant? Why not? Pass out small food samples of your signature dishes to customers waiting for tables, or to customers sitting at the bar. Demonstrations are one of the most cost effective ways to show customers your food tastes great and they should order it.

5. Cross-merchandise menu items and products

Always try to pair relevant items together. Customers often enter a dining area with no idea of what they want to eat, so by selling incremental add-ons, you’re also increasing your average cheque, and enhancing your customer’s dining experience. For example, if you’re a dine-in restaurant, pair soups with half-sandwiches, salads or garlic bread. If you’re a self-serve restaurant, cross-merchandise fresh fruit with yogurt, granola, whipped cream or biscuits, or bags of potato chips with sandwiches. The possibilities are endless. Customers only need a bit of prompting before they start buying.

6. Educate your staff

A merchandising program isn’t going to run itself, nor are your products going to sell themselves. You need to educate and inspire your staff to get onboard. Make sure staff keeps merchandising display areas (and the rest of the restaurant) clean, fresh and relevant. Make sure they up-sell and suggest new products and menu items. Make sure they are knowledgeable in all facets of your restaurant or foodservice operation and are able to answer any questions a customer might have.

About the author:

Diane Chiasson, FCSI, President of Chiasson Consultants Inc., has been helping foodservice, hospitality and retail operators increase sales for over 25 years. She provides innovative food and retail merchandising programs, interior design, marketing and promotional campaigns, and much more. Contact her at 416.926.1338, toll-free at 1.888.926.6655 or at

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