Bigger Fish to Fry: How to Compete with Large Restaurant Chains

Every industry poses a unique set of challenges. Restaurant owners have to compete with chain brands, which could feel like a constant uphill battle.

Anyone can learn new strategies to compete with large restaurant chains without losing customers. These ideas will help small business owners learn to survive and thrive with the competition.

Create a Personalized Brand Online

Chain restaurants have to appeal to national or international audiences. They create a singular brand voice that applies to every post but does not foster personal connections with online followers. The voice only has to be recognizable. Small restaurant owners can use that to their advantage.

Research shows 72% of Americans are on at least one social media platform. If a small restaurant gains an online following, the social media manager or team can wield the brand’s voice while creating personal connections.


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They might wish regular customers a happy birthday or respond to comments just for fun. When consumers feel a personal relationship with a brand’s identity, they will appreciate that brand more than chain companies and their polished posts.

Provide Compassionate Customer Service

Large brands funnel customer service inquiries to massive teams. The McDonald’s CEO does not have time to answer every concern or question from each global location. It is the optimal way for big chain brands to handle these issues, but it also creates opportunities for customers to feel unheard.

Consumers also understand small restaurant owners are integral to business operations. When nine in 10 American restaurants have less than 50 employees, it may seem strange if customers never interact with the restaurant owner. Not responding personally to customer service requests could give the appearance the owner does not care about good or bad experiences happening at their restaurant.


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Restaurant owners have a simple solution — they can provide customer service themselves whenever possible. After a positive customer experience, 89% of customers are more likely to return for future purchases. Small restaurant owners can maximize that chance by responding personally to any issues, questions or positive feedback. Demonstrating personal,

compassionate care builds trust. Consumers will return for future meals because they feel valued as people, not as potential profit.

Change Healthy Menu Items Frequently

Restaurants of all sizes eventually make changes to their menus. Big chain venues often add seasonal items or revamp their menus if they undergo rebranding. However, those changes are not always in the consumer’s best interest.

Researchers found that while top burger chains have reduced their calorie count for menu items, most changes did not affect the nutritional value and left chain menus vastly unhealthy. Small business owners can serve the 50% of consumers seeking healthy food by regularly changing their healthy menu options.

When consumers see healthier options at small restaurants, they will likely purchase meals and snacks at venues that match their dietary preferences. Changing the items frequently will keep those customers returning so they do not get bored and buy food elsewhere.

Small restaurant owners also have the advantage of smaller marketing teams. They can offer near-instant menu additions that match consumer food trends while still relevant. Meanwhile, big corporations must spend weeks or months creating marketing materials and running options through test groups before launching updated menus at select locations.

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Offer Exclusive Promotions

When consumers choose to dine at restaurants, they want to know they are spending their money wisely. Promotions are an effective way to draw in customers — especially if they are discounts or giveaways unavailable at large restaurant chains.

If a steakhouse owner notices an excess of steaks on their inventory sheet and needs to get rid of them before the next restock truck arrives, they could use a promotion to their advantage. They might offer a free box of two raw steaks for every group purchase of eight steaks or more. Consumers would get a reward that is not available at other brands and more food for the same price.

Promotions like giveaways or returning coupons also keep the small restaurant brand in consumers’ minds. While they grill the free steaks to feed people at summer parties or see their coupon in the car every day, they will subconsciously remember the venue when they get hungry again.

Schedule Independent Restaurant Events

A small restaurant fighting against the marketing and development resources at global chains like Domino’s Pizza might not survive the competition. When local restaurant owners come together with independent restaurant events, they pool resources while amplifying their voices.

Team up with restaurant owners who share the same industry sectors or city. Customers could get an event punch card from any location and gain a punched symbol for each purchase at participating restaurants. Then, they receive a final prize after completing the cards. Consumers could also get special discounts for showing receipts from the participating brands.

A collective event would unite the independent business owners and create a team atmosphere with customers. While the large chains remain isolated in their marketing campaigns, consumers will enjoy building relationships with the smaller venues offering special discounts.

Start Competing with Large Restaurant Chains

Corporations do not have to retain an everlasting grip on hungry customers. Small restaurant owners can use these strategies to make their brand more well-known and competitive in their local market.

Connecting with consumers, providing personalized care and offering exclusive deals can make small venues more popular. Give the strategies time to gain speed and consumers will build more brand loyalty.

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