Business diners can be a strong, loyal guest base, but only if you understand them.

Sponsored by Dinova.

Business diners make up a large segment of restaurant traffic. In fact, Ted Laymon, vice president of sales and marketing for Il Fornaio—an Italian chain with 22 units—says that business diners make up a significant portion of the brand’s revenue.

“The majority of our restaurants are located in combination demographic areas that have both residential and corporate sectors within a three-mile radius of the restaurant,” Laymon says. “Business dining represents the majority of our mid-week lunches and dinners on Monday-Thursday evenings. Without the business diners, mid-week, we would not be able to operate many of our locations.”

Laymon is not alone. According to a study conducted by Dinova, a business dining marketplace that connects restaurants with business diners, 53 percent of restaurant owners and operators believe that business dining accounts for more than a quarter of their sales. Yet 76 percent of restaurant owners and operators are not actively promoting to business diners, costing them potential sales.

Largely, this is due to misconceptions about these guests. Many restaurant leaders are not aware of how valuable this consumer base is, while others may have misunderstandings about the diners themselves. Among many of the most prevalent misconceptions, Laymon says, is the idea that these diners can be rude or rushed. Additionally, there are misunderstandings about the way they pay.

“Lavish expense accounts for Senior Executives are a misconception, as well as the perception that a group of business diners has to ‘get in and out in 45 minutes,’” Laymon says. “However, we see our business diners at tables from two guests to 20 guests that are looking to have a nice meal for lunch, a quick business meeting that includes lunch or dinner, or a large group event.”

The Dinova study also found that 70 percent of business diners are traveling employees who use all mealtimes to conduct business—crushing the myth that business dining only happens at lunchtime. Additionally, these diners tend to pay with their corporate credit cards, a practice that typically results in a larger total check: more food, dessert and alcohol, all charged back to their company.

Though these are just a few of the widespread misconceptions about these diners, they paint a clear picture: restaurateurs need better information about this valuable guest demographic to attract them to their establishments.

To help draw in these diners, Il Fornaio uses Dinova to learn what diners really want and draw them inside the front door. “The Dinova marketplace has enabled us to consistently increase our mid-week business dining segments, which has led to increased margins and profitability for us over the past several years,” Laymon says. “Targeting business diners who bring in a higher average check than our typical residential diner is key, so knowing more about these diners via Dinova has definitely helped our efforts.”

Once these diners are in the door, however, it’s up to the brand to create a lasting impression. Laymon says that draws them back for more depends on great service and food and by building relationships, both inside the restaurant and out. “Our business dining segment at Il Fornaio continues to grow and can only succeed by operating a strong program from both inside the restaurant and outside the 4 walls by working the neighborhood, as well as by creating strategic partnerships and platforms with companies like Dinova that drive those business diners to the front door.”

By Peggy Carouthers

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