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National Restaurant Association - Roll out the welcome mat for international tourists

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Roll out the welcome mat for international tourists

More than 74 million international travelers visited the United States in 2014, according to the International Travel Administration. International arrivals are expected to rise in the coming years. 

Attract these guests' business to your restaurant. Here are eight ideas to win international tourists:

  • Be a good sport. Nothing makes sports fans feel at home like being able to watch their local teams. New York City’s Crab City and Seafood Company reels in tourists from around the globe by showing international soccer matches. Likewise, Courtyard Hooligans, a sports bar in Charlotte, N.C., attracts business travelers who want to catch an international soccer or rugby match. The pub’s décor features international flags, setting the welcoming tone.
  • Don’t get lost in translation. Find out what languages your team members speak, and put their skills to use when needed. At San Francisco’s Café Majestic, managers plug into the language skills of restaurant staff, as well as bellboys and other employees at the Hotel Majestic, which houses the restaurant. The staff also relies on Google Translate to help communications, manager A.J. Patel says.
  • Create a welcoming committee. Keep track of your staff’s travels, recommends Julie Zucker, director of marketing and promotions for Branded Restaurants USA, which operates City Crab, Big Daddy’s and Duke’s restaurant in New York City. Have staffers greet customers whose home countries they’ve visited. For example, if a team member recently traveled to Australia, the manager might send him or her over to say "g’day" to a table of Aussies and strike up a short conversation.   
  • Be respectful of cultural differences. Train your staff to be sensitive to cultural differences. For example, free refills are uncommon in England, so your British guests might bristle when a server automatically brings a fresh soda. Mark Krehbiel, co-owner of Courtyard Hooligans, has found that Brits typically won’t sit in the bar area. “We’ll wave them forward to let them know it’s OK. We might say, ‘You can get a better view of the TV here.’” When customers choose to hang back anyway, team members are careful not to make them feel uncomfortable. Another big difference is tipping, which isn’t customary in many countries. “Often guests will realize it’s the custom here. But we never mention it,” says Krehbiel. “For every person who doesn’t know to tip, there’s someone who gives generously and makes up for it.”
  • Be guests' “home” for the holidays. Far from home, international travelers often have nowhere to go for a July 4 barbecue or Christmas dinner. Make your restaurant their “home” for the day. “We’re open on all the holidays,” says Zucker. “We know tourists still need places to dine out.”
  • Keep calm and carry on. Language barriers, thick accents and cultural differences can test a server’s patience. “We’re always training our staff to have some extra patience in these situations,” Zucker says.
  • Offer a taste of home. Café Majestic welcomes international travelers by offering their hometown specialties, including Austrian Wiener schnitzel and Spanish paella. The restaurant launched the international menu two summers ago to attract foreign travelers, but it’s proven so popular that Café Majestic now offers it year-round in addition to the regular menu. More adventurous travelers will want to try your regional dishes, so keep those on your menu also. Prepare your servers to explain dishes foreigners might not be familiar with.
  • A smile means friendship to everyone. A universal smile and a warm greeting are the simplest way to welcome international travelers – or any guest for that matter. “A lot of people skip it because they get too busy,” Krehbiel says. “But it’s the easiest thing to do.”

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