As a restaurant owner, it’s always exciting to see new customers coming through your doors. But over time, it’s not new customers that keep the restaurant afloat–it’s the regulars, those repeat customers who keep the business going along, slow but steady.
But this bears a question: how do you get customers to cross over into the longtime regular category? How do you make new customers come back to your restaurant rather than moving on to the next establishment?
Here, we’ll offer some tips for helping you convert newcomers into regulars at your restaurant.
Provide awesome service. Maybe you have amazing food, and your decor can’t be beat. But if your service is sub-par, then chances are, you’re not going to experience a high retention rate with customers. They might not make a return visit at all.
Customers are spending their time and their hard-earned money at your establishment. Respect this fact by showing them respect. Greet them as they come in the door; make them feel welcome all through the dining process, from cocktails to dessert. Thank them for coming.
This doesn’t have to be an obsequious manner on part of your staff. But it does require carefully hiring good staff, and training them properly. So take the time to train your staff, and treat them well. This will make them far more likely to provide great customer service, which will serve your restaurant in the long run.
Cultivate consistency in your kitchen. Just as you need to train the front of the house staff to sell, you need to train the back of the house staff to consistently create delicious cuisine.
If the salads arrive and look perfect but the entrees look slipshod, your customers aren’t going to be enticed. However, if everything arrives looking polished and professional, this consistency and attention to detail is going to urge them to return. If they really enjoyed their meal, then they’re going to want to return for a similar experience. Maintain a level of quality control and consistency in your restaurant to help keep customers coming back!
Let customers know about upcoming events and specials. When customers come to dine at your restaurant, do you simply take their order, deliver their food, and then bring the check? Chances are, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. By taking the time to let customers know about upcoming events and specials, you can increase the chances of them making a return visit.
For example, say a couple has come to dine at your restaurant for the first time. After establishing that they are local, a server might mention that on Thursday nights, the establishment offers free swing dancing lessons and half price appetizers. Or, they can tout an upcoming chili taste-off coming up at the restaurant, or new seasonal specials. Obviously the specials or events will vary depending on the establishment, but this can provide not only a marketing opportunity but a reason for the customer to return soon.
Offer an incentive for returning. Sometimes, a small gesture is all that is needed to convert a customer from a one time visitor to a repeat visitor. A powerful gesture is some sort of monetary or freebie incentive to come back.
For instance, with the customer check, you could deliver a coupon for buy one get one drinks or appetizers if the customer makes a return visit in the next 30 days. Or, you could leave an open ended ticket promising free dessert on their birthday. Small gestures like this give the customer an incentive to return, and set your restaurant apart. Everyone loves a free or reduced price special; this is a powerful way to make people return!
Have them join your mailing list. Your chances of enticing customers to make a return visit will be far higher if they join your mailing list.
Customers have a short attention span. A few days, if not a few hours, after they leave your establishment, chances are, the experience is out of their mind. Your mailing list updates can serve as a reminder that your restaurant is ready and waiting for them.
Your mailing list offers a chance to update customers virtually about upcoming specials, updates, and goings-on. You never know when you’ll hit their inbox at just the right time and they might think of you for their next night out.
Let them know how to follow you on social media. Many customers don’t like to join mailing lists: it seems like too much commitment, or their inbox is just so flowing that they can’t keep up. For these customers, social media is the way to engage.
Urge customers to follow you on social media by making your username prominent. You can print your various usernames for different platforms on your menus, on table cards, on the bottom of the customer bills, or even on a sign in your dining room, depending on the style of your restaurant.
Appreciate your customers. Customers respond to great service, but even more so, to genuine kindness and friendliness. Show your customers that you appreciate them–and the fact that they are keeping your restaurant in business–in small ways. It might be an amuse-buche as they are seated, or maybe cookies or candies delivered along with their check. It could be as simple as a friendly and earnest “thank you for visiting” when they leave after dining. Showing appreciation in small ways like this can have a big impact on your customer retention.
Conclusion: In order to attain long-term success at your restaurant, you need to make sure that customers aren’t just visiting once and never coming back. By following these tips, your chances of retaining customers for a return visit will go up dramatically. And over weeks, months and years, it’s the regulars who will keep your business in the black. So be sure to spend the time to cultivate them!
How do you entice customers to come back to your restaurant?