There’s a reason the iconic Cheers theme says “Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name” – the sense of community that comes with a neighborhood bar and grill is tough to beat.
But building a community goes beyond being friendly with anyone who walks through the door. It’s a vital part of opening a successful restaurant, and something we work on extensively with franchisees of the Barrel House brand.
Building community connections helps create popular, beloved, well-known, and resilient restaurants – wherever they may be. It’s not always an obvious part of the new business owner’s playbook. But over the years, we’ve developed some tried-and-true methods of connecting with each new community that’s welcomed a Barrel House location.
Why New Restaurants Need Community Connections
The answer to this question could be as simple as “restaurants are for humans, and humans need connections.” But there are some very specific benefits to building a community that go beyond the sense of belonging and goodwill it brings.
When working with a new Barrel House franchisee, we always emphasize the importance of belonging to a broader community. It’s part of the overall strategy that makes our locations a lasting success in an industry that can be tough on newcomers.
Becoming a member of your restaurant’s local community can bring the traffic, loyalty, brand awareness, and resiliency a new location needs to succeed.
Increasing Restaurant Traffic Through Community Connections
There are a broad range of actual events and activities you can take on to get involved in your new location’s community, from weekly events to fundraisers to sponsorships and more.
Regardless of the method, the upshot is the same, very simple premise: people will come to the restaurant. In some cases, these may be people who had never considered visiting a Barrel House before! But community involvement can expand your audience and give you a chance to impress new guests.
This is particularly helpful if you’re regularly planning an event, sponsoring teams, or hosting fundraisers. The repeated exposure keeps you top-of-mind, making Barrel House easier to remember even when there’s no event to invite guests to.
Community Connections Increase Loyalty
All restaurant owners know that loyal guests who return again and again are the holy grail of customers. If your community events increase your foot traffic, you have even more chances to earn guest loyalty.
But it’s not just about the chances. By supporting causes near and dear to your guests’ hearts, or hosting regular events that they enjoy attending, you can build that sense of connection with each individual visitor over time.
That’s why consistency is so important when building relationships in your restaurant’s local community. A handful of one-off fundraisers or a single season sponsoring a sports team will rarely make a difference. But a consistent culture of supporting and inviting the community can have an immeasurable impact on a location’s success.
Build Brand Awareness in Your Restaurant’s Community
When the Barrel House name appears on kids’ tee-ball jerseys, in local parades, on the sponsor lists for local organization’s fundraisers, and on social media promotion for events, it may not directly translate to visiting the restaurant. How many times have you seen a restaurant’s name on a jersey and immediately thought “We should go there!” We’re willing to be it’s not very often.
But we’re also willing to bet that you remembered that restaurant’s name a lot more easily. If you heard someone else mention it, that instant connection – thinking “Oh, I saw that name last week” – is more valuable than you know!
The goal of good advertising is that a brand should, seemingly, be everywhere. And if the places your brand can be are connected to feel-good events for future guests, all the better!
Community Connections are the Key to Resilience
The pandemic taught our industry a lot about which restaurants will survive in times of crisis. Enormous franchises like the McDonald’s of the world had the capital to stay open, but faced equally huge staffing challenges. A lot of smaller, locally-owned restaurants simply didn’t make it.
When it comes to anything smaller than a global mega-brand, community was often the deciding factor on which restaurants were able to weather the storm, and which had to close. Communities turned up to support the businesses that had supported them in the past.
While we all hope that we won’t face another crisis like the pandemic any time soon, it’s created a culture of shopping smaller, more locally, and more loyally to businesses that are part of their communities. And you never know when a bad storm or water main break may mean that your business could rely on that loyalty.
How to Build Community Connections as a Restaurant Owner
At Barrel House, we’ve found a few key ways to make connections in new and existing communities, especially as our franchise has expanded. Whether we’re a familiar face, or new in town, we know the value of getting to know the area around our locations. As a result, our plan for franchisees includes a few of our favorite community-oriented events and plans, and we’re always on the lookout for new ideas!
Joining the Chamber of Commerce as a Restaurant
This may seem like a straightforward step, but in our various locations, we’ve found that the Chamber of Commerce is a great way to meet other business owners and get involved in our area. Being active in the Chamber community makes that dreaded task – networking – easier than ever.
Barrel House owners are also in the great position of having a gathering place on hand, so hosting Chamber events is always a great option! We encourage our franchisees to host when possible, it’s a great way to build relationships and open up the potential for new opportunities.
Those Chamber connections could be key to your success down the line… Or, they could be the key to your ability to help someone else in the future.
They’re also just a great way to meet other business owners and chat with the folks who understand the trials and triumphs of running a business. Don’t underestimate the power of a friend who ‘gets it’ when the going gets tough. Our franchise team is always here for support, but we won’t always be on location to talk it out over a beer the way local friends are.
Sponsoring Schools & Sports Teams
Some business owners dread the “Will you sponsor my son’s t-ball team?” question, but honestly, we’re big fans of supporting local schools and sports teams.
Part of this is the benefit of brand awareness. Having your name on a banner, jersey, or high school theater program is a great way to reach families and expand your audience.
But it goes beyond just advertising. By sponsoring schools and sports teams, our franchisees put their money where their mouth is, and measurably improve the lives of people in their communities – which is right in line with our We Care culture!
Especially impactful are Dine & Donate Nights, where you invite guests to come to Barrel House for a cause, and donate part of proceeds back. This is a great chance to impress guests who may not have visited otherwise, but it’s also just rewarding to know you’re giving back to the community that supports your business!
Hosting Special Event Nights
Most of our locations have special events, like trivia or bingo, scheduled weekly. These special nights can bring in a new crowd, or earn your restaurant regulars, as guests come to compete.
Especially in the summer, having a patio allows you to host in one area of the restaurant, and seat guests who aren’t playing in another. That’s one of the many reasons we include a patio in every location!
Regular events are a key part of our franchisees’ strategies, but one-off events like live music are also a surefire way to draw a crowd, and a chance to impress new guests and earn their loyalty.
Integrating Local Brews Into a Restaurant
Each and every Barrel House, regardless of location, works with local breweries to bring unique beers to tap.
Coordinating with local breweries to bring new beers to tap each week takes a little time, but the dividends are worth it. Having a new beer on tap gives you social media fodder, and gives supporters of local breweries a reason to stop by.
Craft beer’s rapid and ongoing growth is undeniable. Beer sales continue to rise, and independent breweries now make up 13% of the market. We suspect we’ll see that growth continue in years to come!
In addition to being a savvy business practice, this strategy is just plain fun. Our franchisees tend to love the atmosphere of Barrel House, which combines your favorite local pub with the efficiencies of a larger company. So bringing in craft brews, and tapping a new keg of something creative? It’s satisfying!
Unique Local Events
Every community is different, which is part of what makes connecting in new places so rewarding. Your community likely has a few fundraisers every year that you know about, and dozens that you don’t. Making community connections as a business owner will be a chance to get involved in the causes that make your area unique.
Earlier this month, our Uptown Davenport team was able to participate in the Unity Point Health Cup, a golf tournament supporting cancer treatment around our home base. It was a great day of golfing together for staff members, but it was also a chance for us to put our money where our mouth is and support people who really need it.
Whatever causes or events you’re passionate about, your community connections are a chance to support them in a meaningful way, all while building your business.
Community Connections are Key to Restaurant Success
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to get involved in your business’s local community. For us, one of the best parts of helping Barrel House open in a new community is getting to know the unique opportunities to connect that come with a new place. Maybe your community loves bingo over trivia, maybe your local craft beer scene is the best we’ve ever seen, or maybe your community has a unique fundraiser every year that Barrel House could support.
There’s only one way to find out how a Barrel House would fit into your community – and that’s to reach out to our franchise team and learn more! We’d love to chat with you about your business goals, and how we might be able to help.