As a restaurant owner, you’re probably already aware that repeat customers are the backbone of your business. You can count on repeat diners for a steady stream of revenue that only grows as you attract new customers.
Oftentimes the reason for a new customer’s visit is because of one of your loyal diner’s comments or recommendations. They serve as brand ambassadors.
So, what’s the trick to growing your base of loyal restaurant customers?
What do you need to do to turn a one-time guest into a repeat customer?
You’d probably say, great food and great service. Duh. But that’s not enough to keep them coming back in a sea of a million options. Places with “mediocre” food and/or service might have a huge base of loyal customers. Look at what restaurants with a loyal fan base are doing to engage in some of the activities we’ll talk about here.
It doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a strategy and requires some effort as the restaurant owner. You have to really understand what your target customers want when they dine at a restaurant like yours and what you offer that makes you different. Not what you think they want, but actually know what makes them come back. What’s the secret sauce (not literally)?
Whether your restaurant is primed for business breakfasts, ladies who lunch, family dinners, or late night eats, here are six keys to increase loyalty to your restaurant.
1. Who ARE these people, anyway?
We hate to break it to you, but people don’t go to your restaurant just for the food. People choose to dine at a restaurant, in part, for the social aspect of the experience, even if they’re solo. Restaurant-goers like to frequent places where they feel comfortable; like the restaurant really “gets them”, not just in terms of the type of food they serve and how much it costs, but in how the restaurant looks, the music you play, the overall feeling you get by being inside. Let’s imagine two different restaurants in the same genre. Let’s say American Bistro. Which one would you pick?
Restaurant A. When you go to Restaurant A, they recognize you as a regular, say hi (using your actual name) and make you feel like they’re happy to see you. The waiter you had last time remembers that you have a food allergy and mentions the new menu items that are good for people who can’t eat the food you’re allergic to. “How do they remember my name AND my food allergy?”, you wonder. They weren’t Facebook stalking you. They just took the time to chat and personalize their service so that you’re not another number. You’re a person with likes, dislikes, a dog whose birthday is tomorrow (so you better take him the leftovers), and even allergies. And when something is important, you remember it. Your conclusion: You are important to that restaurant.
Restaurant B. They’re polite to all of their customers, they have good food and a good wine list — just like Restaurant A. They say “hi,” and they make a few jokes. They may even remember that you were in last week. But in your usual, funny way of talking about your dog, there’s no extra effort to take home the leftovers for Fluffy. Or there’s no talk about how you’re doing in your Sweet Sixteen bracket (or maybe even who you picked to win it all). It’s just not as personal. It doesn’t make them a bad restaurant and you might even give them a good rating on social media.
But when given a choice on where to go back again, assuming the food is of comparable quality at both places, most people will choose the place that is more personal and comfortable, even if they’re headed out alone. Restaurant A.
Check out our Ultimate Guide to Restaurant Marketing that walks you through creating a marketing strategy to bring in new customers.
2. Reward Programs That Don’t Suck
When it comes to reward (or loyalty) programs, you can go old school or get techy. Either way can work, but the more techy you are the more options you’ll have for follow up. Whatever you do, make it easy to understand without a hundred extra rules, how to get something as a result of being a loyal, repeat customer.
- Go simple if you need to just get it done. Use a punch or stamped card–something like “One free entree after you purchase 10 entrees.”
- Set up a loyalty program that offers discounts and specials when you return that you can also manage through your POS system. Be sure you are identifying your return customers when they take advantage of the special offer so you can use data in the future to know what draws people back.
- If you’re a franchise, a loyalty program may be available for your use and ready to rock ‘n roll as soon as you enable it for your store.
3. Go Shake Hands, Kiss Babies, and Do Some Good
Nothing gets your business name out in the community quite like participating in local events. People really do support organizations that support others. Plus, you’ll get your name in front of people who already know you and those who haven’t heard of you yet. You could sponsor events for the high school athletic teams, cook holiday meals for a local non-profit, or donate a percentage of profits to the animal shelter. By doing good within your community, you’ll build a positive reputation AND get people coming in to show support for your business. The more you do to support your local community, the more likely it is that your current customers will come back to support you and recommend your restaurant to others.
4. You’ve Got to Communicate
When you offer discounts to existing customers through a text or email system, you’re going to be more likely to have repeat customers. Offer some sort of incentive to sign up, like a free appetizer or $5 off their next meal. Make it worthwhile for someone to give you their digits (or email address).
Now that you have a way to reach them… do it! Send offers and specials that will have your restaurant fresh in their minds and eager to return to use the discount you offered in the email. Just be sure you don’t kill ’em with kindness. Weekly messages should be good enough to stay on your customers’ radar without causing the “eye roll” when you start texting too much. Don’t let them regret their decision to give you their info.
5. The Fear of Missing Out: It’s Real
Creating events that you can have at your restaurant that keep people coming back week after week is a great way to increase loyalty. After all, no one likes FOMO. Hosting something fun like a bingo or trivia night each week, or a wine tasting with various types of wines from week to week can help bring people back for a specific reason. Take pictures and videos at your events – lots of them. And make sure they make it onto your Facebook page. This is a great way to show off what a fun time was had by everyone there and it’s a great way to get more people to like your page. Who doesn’t like seeing pictures of themselves on someone else’s Facebook page? (Right!?)
6. Surprise! We Listened!
Who doesn’t love to feel like they’re being heard? When your customers give feedback, take it to heart. It can be a little hard to hear about things that guests didn’t like or wish were different, but remember for every 1 person who said something, there are others who feel the same way. It doesn’t mean run out and do anything and everything that people say. But if you start to see a few trends, or you have someone suggest an idea that sounds right up your alley, try it out. And then tell the customers that you listened to them, made changes, and would like them to come back. Use email or texting for this, but social media can work too! Use this as an ongoing way to show customers that they are important and that they made an impact on one of their favorite places to eat.
Creating customer loyalty is more than just offering one of these 6 tips, it’s about creating a connection to your customers that literally has them ready to come back for more. Taking the time to get to know your customers and offering new and exciting things in your restaurant can show your customers that you care about them. It’s a win-win for you and your customers!
You get to learn about your customers which can help you improve aspects of your restaurant’s menu, service, events, etc. and your customers feel like they are being heard and valued.
Finding the best ways to advertise in your local area is key to driving new customers through the door every single day. Learn more about some of the top restaurant marketing campaigns and how to apply them to your restaurant.
We updated this post on April 23, 2019.