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Get Gap-itis

Retailers like The Gap, Banana Republic, and Crate & Barrel are master merchandisers. Store layout, shelving height and spacing, lighting, color schemes, and music are part of the carefully choreographed art of merchandising. The net result? You buy. Lots of people buy. Lots.

I call it GAP-itis. This is a disease worth catching. If you come down with the bug, you may find yourself merchandising your way to higher sales and better profit margins. But how does merchandising work in the foodservice arena?

Webster's Dictionary defines merchandising as "That part of marketing involved with promoting sales of merchandise, (using) the most effective means of selecting, pricing, displaying, and advertising items for sale in a retail store."

Merchandising is both an art and a science. The art is in the subtlety of design: the use of color, texture, shape, scale and proportionality. The science of merchandising is in the arrangement, layout, and placement of items in a retail environment.

In his book Why We Buy , author Paco Underhill describes successful merchandising as allowing the guest to become a sensual shopper, "experiencing" the selling environment using all of the senses — sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. This selling environment should "reach out" and stimulate the senses.

The foodservice selling environment is no exception. Restaurant guests are experienced "shoppers." And unlike most retail environments, 100% of the people who come into your operation will make a purchase. Careful merchandising and selling to the senses is your opportunity to control that buying decision and make it a more profitable one.

Despite the proven power of tabletop messaging, suggestive selling and product packaging, merchandising in foodservice is usually a random afterthought. As master merchandisers, you must target every step in your restaurant's Sequence of Service with specific-yet-subtle marketing messages about the food and beverages you offer. Walk through these points of guest interaction and see how many offer an opportunity to merchandise.

You might be surprised at how numerous, and how varied, the opportunities are. The use of colorful signage of signature menu items, sampling platters passed to waiting guests, carefully scripted upselling scripts , dazzling menu item descriptions , and sharp tabletop merchandising are just a few of the merchandising "nudges" that result in add-on sales, increased value perception, and a richer dining experience and bigger tips.

If you're prepared to come down with GAP-itis, download our 15 Tips for Merchandising Flair.

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