Want to keep customers happy? Keep them fed!
A stale bagel. A lukewarm k-cup coffee. The universe of dealership food is neither wide nor enticing. Which is strange since the best way to get people to return to anywhere is to give them something delicious. However, there are outposts of edible out there — and we can learn from them.
In Honda of Fort Worth, Texas, Twin Creeks Cafe serves a fresh menu of lunch favourites and Mexican food to counter the fast food options that dominate the area. Inside Galpin Ford in North Hills California, the Horseless Carriage Cafe has been serving Smoked Brisket, Prime Rib and their signature Horseless Carriage Cobb salad since 1966. Galpin also has an on-site Starbucks location. Perhaps not coincidentally, Galpin has been the #1 volume Ford dealership in the world for 26 years running.
The experience in Europe too has been expanded to include espresso bars, fresh baked goods and enough fruit and veggies to rival any first class departure lounge. In South America, it is common for inner city dealerships to operate as cafes with tables placed on the showroom floor.
The name of the game here is offering customers more, bringing in people from the local area who may not already be customers, and turning your facility into a “third place” outside work and home. A place your customers and future customers feel comfortable spending time in. After all, the mark of a great host is one who serves great food.
Is there anything more satisfying than the snap of a crisp apple? No. They’re cheap, plentiful, available year around and do not need to be refrigerated. Place them next to the coffee maker, keep the bowl full.
Every parent has been there. Trapped with a hungry child with nothing to offer. Imagine the relief when your service manager emerges with a basket of snacks (nut and gluten free makes it easier) to feed the beast. Trust me, your other customers will be thankful too.
Pure and simple, your coffee defines you. The best case scenario is a showroom barista pulling lattes. Sounds expensive. It is expensive. Well, there are any number of automated choices on the market that do it almost as well starting at about a thousand bucks. Sure, you could go with the k-cup machine for a lot less, but given the choice would you drink that?
Many facilities offer white labeled bottles of water to brand with your dealership. Keeping them in the showroom chilled is a nice touch. Of course, being mindful of the environment is also nice — so consider a glass cooler filled with water, ice and enough fresh fruit like cucumber or lemon to give the water a subtle flavour.
So, you want a restaurant to service your customers. But you don’t actually want, you know, a restaurant. How about bringing in a franchise or an independent outside operator to run your lunch counter, coffee bar or restaurant? There are obvious pros and cons to this approach. First, you won’t control quality or the thousands of other little details that go into making a meal. Second, there may be some liability issues should someone get sick when eating from a contractor. Many of these concerns also apply to our next option.
Own your own place
Obviously, this is the furthest you can go into the food universe. However, as any of the operators mentioned at the start of this piece will no doubt tell you, operating a restaurant is expensive, time consuming and ultimately pulls your attention away from where your primary focus should be — operating your business. Of course, you can control most of what happens in your own facility, hire your own staff, and set the menu according to your tastes and regional preferences. You also have to consider whether your facility can handle commercial food prep or whether your local coding allows food service in your facility. In short — unless you should have a large facility, some extra cash lying around and most importantly, a long-time, secret desire to open a restaurant -— seriously consider the first few options.
Food and drink are central to our lives, and in the dealership context, a little goes a long way — if you are aware of something your customers would like, have some around, and be sure they know it.