How to Build a Restaurant Community Around Your Business

By Debra Weinryb

Elenee Young

Spiro’s isn’t just a regular fine dining venue – it’s also a restaurant community hub located in the city of Lloydminister on the Saskatchewan-Alberta border. 

Elenee Young, Marketing Manager for Spiro’s, is a third-generation restaurateur. Her grandparents started the restaurant in the 1980s after they lost their first restaurant when interest rates skyrocketed during the recession. Thankfully, a local banker personally reached out to her grandparents and generously offered them $22,000 to open a new restaurant – the restaurant that is now called Spiro’s. 

Up until today, Elenee’s family has taken every opportunity to make Spiro’s a place to serve the community – from hosting free Thanksgiving dinners to restaurant fundraising and more.

You might wonder why is community building important for Spiro’s. Much of it stems from Elenee’s grandparents wanting to repay the generosity that was given to them during difficult times, in addition to helping out lonely individuals in the community. After all Spiro, Elenee’s grandfather, was an immigrant from Greece, and knew how challenging it was to build relationships as a newcomer.

In the seventh episode of the TouchBistro Podcast, ‘Being at the Heart of Your Community,’ Elenee Young, Marketing Manager for Spiro’s, shares tips for how to build lasting connections with the people in your restaurant community to grow connections, trust, and loyalty. Keep reading to:

  • Discover how to set personal boundaries to avoid burnout
  • Learn tips for welcoming guests into your restaurant family
  • Find new ways to give back to the community with charitable events and fundraising initiatives
Restaurant Chilling Out Classy Lifestyle Reserved Concept

Tips for Growing a Successful Restaurant Community

So why is community building important? Building a restaurant community is essential for fostering positive and long-lasting relationships with your guests that encourage repeat visits and attract new customers through word-of-mouth. 

The impact of building a community restaurant space is something Elenee and her family understand firsthand. Based on that experience, here are Elenee’s top tips for growing a successful restaurant community:

1. Set Boundaries to Avoid Burnout

Starting a family-run business, like Spiro’s, can come with its own set of challenges as a result of unique family dynamics. For Elenee, her Greek family adheres to a strict mentality that you need to drop everything to come to work.

“We’re Greek. We’re made to live together. I knew right up front there were no boundaries in a family business,” Elenee comments. 

However, this lifestyle of living, breathing, eating, and sleeping at the restaurant was difficult for Elenee to accept. She knew it didn’t leave time for her to spend with her husband, and her two children who depended on her being home. That’s when she had to learn to set boundaries.

While her grandparents were opposed to hiring outside the family, it was something that needed to be done. Elenee went forth to hire a kitchen manager and a front staff manager. “Setting boundaries I think is where it really starts. That’s how to be successful with having a family under one roof,” Elenee suggests to all restaurant owners who may face similar challenges.

By hiring staff for Spiro’s, Elenee ensured that the restaurant’s operations could run smoothly on a day-to-day basis. And by creating a distinct separation between work and her personal life, Elenee empowered herself to be more happy, productive, and relaxed at work – an ideal mindset for building long-lasting connections with visitors from the local community.

2. Welcome Everyone Into Your Family

Once you have learned how to navigate complex family dynamics, the next step to community building is welcoming guests into your family. 

For Elenee, using social media restaurant marketing to share her family quirks helped the family express their warm and genuine personalities. This also helped the community to get to know them better on a personal level. 

“We took songs like Electric Avenue and just changed the words to it. We sang it on Instagram with a video and had these props, like singing into our brooms, and people loved it so much. It was like people felt they were part of the family and they were getting to experience these weird family quirks.” Elenee recalls. 

Furthermore, the family’s quirky social media posts made watchers feel welcome to come to the restaurant to actually meet the family. And if they did visit, they would be greeted by the family in-person to create a smooth transition between Spiro’s online presence and real-life.

“When you come to the restaurant, you’re going to get visited at least once by somebody,” Elenee explains. “Whether it’s my grandfather Spiro, whether it’s Tina bringing out your food, whether it’s my mom that’s just trying to get out of doing work, whether it’s myself, or my kids that are running around the restaurant barefoot.” It’s this family atmosphere that helps center the restaurant as a welcoming space for other members of the community.

Group of friends enjoying a meal in a restaurant.

3. Find Ways to Give Back to the Community 

In addition to inviting guests into your family, giving back to the community is a great way to support meaningful initiatives while also growing your business’ reputation and credibility as a brand.

Giving back is at the heart of Spiro’s and Elenee has seen first-hand how impactful these kinds of charitable initiatives can be. Here are two ways that Elenee suggests restaurants can give back.

Run Charitable Events

One easy way to make sure your restaurant is participating in community building initiatives is to run charitable events. 

When asked how can a restaurant positively affect a community, Elenee suggests offering a free, or discounted meal on special occasions, like holidays, to bring community members together. 

For example, Spiro’s has offered free Thanksgiving meals for anybody that was alone on the holiday or didn’t have money to provide a meal for their family. 

“Maybe you don’t have any family here. Maybe you moved here as a transitional place while your husband is working. Maybe you’re just here by yourself or you don’t have family in the area. Come and enjoy a seat at our table and be part of our family,” Elenee explains. 

On top of helping bring the community together for a warm meal, these types of charitable events also drive brand awareness and solidify the restaurant’s reputation for having a welcoming atmosphere. As a result of such awareness and growth, Spiro’s attracts a wide variety of customers that call the restaurant their second home, so much so that it has been the site of first dates, hockey team outings, weddings, and even funerals.

Spearhead Fundraising Initiatives

So how can a restaurant positively affect a community while still making money? Another easy and simple way to make a positive impact in your restaurant community is to raise money for a good cause by donating a percentage or a certain amount of income.

For example, Elenee started an initiative with her mother to sell ready-to-bake pizzas with a two-for-one deal to raise money for charities and foundations. After doing a cost analysis breakdown, they decided they would donate $5 for every pizza sold.

And this initiative proved to be wildly successful. “To this day, we’ve given almost $20,000 back to our community,” Elenee states proudly. 

The money raised has been put into breakfast programs when the government took funding away and used to cover the costs of building a school playground. 

And this remarkable restaurant fundraising initiative didn’t just help with community building. It has also established the Spiro’s restaurant brand as the first to bring two-for-one pizzas to Lloydminister, providing even more opportunities for growth. 

“We have a longstanding relationship with our customers and pizza. We are the pizza people of Lloydminister, regardless of whether or not there are a million pizza shops here now. We’re the originals,” Elenee notes.

On top of other essential restaurant management skills, Elenee explains that building a community restaurant space also involves taking time to practice innovative thinking.

“People are attracted to people that are innovative. If you’re not growing, then you’re stagnant. If you’re stagnant, you’re not going to be here five years from now,” Elenee cautions restaurateurs.

To be at the heart of your community, Elenee instead suggests keeping your eyes open to new possibilities and maintaining a soft personality that makes people want to be your friend and have a seat at your table.  

Debra Weinryb author photo
by Debra Weinryb

Debra was a Content Marketing Specialist at TouchBistro, writing about the latest food and restaurant industry trends. In her spare time, Debra enjoys baking and eating together with family and friends.

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