Knowing your competition and what they offer is just good business. However, “shopping” the competition is not necessarily about copying them. While it is said that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” this is not necessarily true with a direct competitor. Instead, you should visit competitors to understand what they offer, and how they offer it. This will allow you to learn from them, and to differentiate yourself from them. In turn, this helps you better understand both your similarities and differences so that you can find your niche.
Shopping the competition is a common practice in almost every industry out there. It is important to know what your desired customer base is experiencing elsewhere. Here is how to shop your competition effectively:
Look at their website. How do they position themselves? What kind of feedback do they get from customers? Do they have a blog? How about a newsletter? If so, subscribe to their newsletter to keep on top of their ongoing marketing efforts.
Observe their customers. Are the customers similar to yours, or the type of demographic you pictured when you opened your doors? If so, can you pinpoint where you are missing the mark of getting these folks through your doors? If not, identify what makes your restaurant interesting to a different demographic, and play it up!
Watch how their employees behave. Are they friendly and engaged? Are they working as a team and helping each other out? Are they running each other’s food and filling drinks? These behaviors play into the overall dining experience of your guests.
Note their menu offerings and pricing structure. How is it different from yours? Price is typically not a deal breaker if there is perceived value in the product. Customers appreciate value, and are willing to pay for it; but if you are offering a similar product and your prices are not in line, it will be noticed. If you can’t match their pricing, then focus on value.
Check out the technology are they using. This applies only if it is in plain sight. Are you familiar with the systems? Get online and compare it to what you use, and see if the technology is giving them any type of competitive advantage.
Stay on top of changes. Make sure to shop your competition approximately every six months. It is important to know if they update their décor, menu, pricing, technology, etc., and how often. Observe whether these changes are helping or hurting their business to know which of these may or may not work for your own.
Lastly, keep in mind that even if they are your greatest competitor, they deserve to be treated with respect. The intention of shopping your competitors is not snooping or trying to dig up dirt. The goal is to understand your similarities and differences in order to improve your performance, not diminish theirs.