Every restaurant craves a loyal and devoted clientele. But how do you build customer loyalty in a sustainable and sincere way?
Customer loyalty is all about creating meaningful personal connections with your customers. As such, it’s not really something that you can “buy”–it’s more something that you have to invest time and personal effort to build. Happily, this also means that building customer loyalty isn’t going to take a lot of money; it’s more a matter of time and concerted effort. Here are ten easy and affordable ways for your restaurant to improve customer loyalty in your restaurant.
- Notice your customers. Sometimes, increasing customer loyalty is as easy as this: pay attention to your customers. Greet them, inquire how they are doing, and thank them for coming (or returning) to your establishment.
A little attention goes a long way when it comes to improving the customer experience. A brief pleasant conversation with a customer can be the difference between them coming back and choosing another restaurant next time.
- Show customers that you appreciate them. To take customer loyalty to the next level, really show customers that you appreciate them. In particular, reward regulars for frequenting your establishment. This can be achieved in a number of different ways, including remembering the customer’s name and key details about them like how they like their fish cooked or whether they prefer their cocktails up or on the rocks.
Also, consider offering the occasional freebie. An unexpected free drink or appetizer offered to a customer, just for being a regular, is bound to keep them coming back frequently.
- Offer a loyalty program. To help encourage customers to become regulars, you can establish a loyalty program. This is any program that rewards customers for frequenting your restaurant. Usually, it rewards customers for repeated visits.
There are a myriad of different options for loyalty programs, so they are suited for all types of restaurants. For an informal restaurant, the “punch card” model has proven effective: a punch card where a customer will get a free item after a certain amount of purchases. But that’s not the only option. For higher end establishments, offering a discount for their next meal when delivering the check for this meal can be its own loyalty program of sorts.
- Make a commitment to great service. This might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s one of the most important–and easiest–ways to instill customer loyalty. Make a commitment to offering great service to your customers.
This means making sure that you and your employees are all on the same page about what constitutes good service. When everyone is on the same page, the overall atmosphere is more positive for customers. When it feels good to be in a restaurant, people will gravitate toward it more readily.
- Show your employees your appreciation. This tip relates directly to the one above. In order to provide the best possible service to your customers, you’ve got to make sure that your staff is committed to that mission. The best way to make sure your staff is on board? Treat them well, and show them your appreciation.
There are many ways to show employees your appreciation, but ultimately, it boils down to treating your employees with respect. A well-paid, respected staff will equal better service, which yields more content, and ultimately more loyal, customers.
- Take part in your community. No restaurant is an island. To create customer loyalty, you’ve got to connect. A great way to connect with your customers on a deeper level is to really be proactive in being part of your community. There are endless ways in which you can do this. You could host a local writer’s group at your restaurant; you could take part in a street-cleaning effort, or donate food to a local food bank.
Giving back to your community is truly an act that gives back to your restaurant. Not only does it make your neighborhood a more positive place, but like-minded people will gravitate toward your restaurant as a community-centered establishment.
- Listen to customer suggestions. Be receptive to customer suggestions. Whether it’s gleaned from online reviews or via a customer comment box in the restaurant, customers often have great ideas which can improve your business and the customer experience.
It’s important to be receptive to these comments, and to recognize how you can improve your restaurant to make the experience more enjoyable for customers. WHile you won’t be able to incorporate every single suggestion, do keep note of frequent requests. For instance, if person after person is complaining about your noise levels, chances are, it’s a good time to look into making some improvements.
- Crowdsource. As previously mentioned, connection is one of the key ways to increase customer relationships, which can lead to customer loyalty. So include your customers on your decisions! If you are debating between adding an applesauce-seared pork loin or pumpkin ravioli to add to your fall specials menu, do a little crowdsourcing with your customers, either in person, via a tasting event, or on social media, to involve them. Crowdsourcing like this is engaging, fun, and makes your customers feel included.
- Don’t just connect, but engage on social media. You probably already know that social media is a hugely important way to promote your restaurant. But what many restaurants don’t get is that the key to being effective on social media doesn’t just lie in making frequent updates. It’s a matter of being, well, social.
Respond to customer comments on your posts, and when they tag you. Converse with them, being respectful when it’s called for, playful when appropriate. This is an incredible opportunity to form community with your customers in a way that will keep them thinking of you when it’s time to dine out.
- Keep customers in the loop. Remember to keep your customers posted! Even the most loyal of customers can get tired of the same old thing every time. Keep it fresh by offering seasonal specials, hosting events, and taking part in your community. And keep your customers updated! Every new thing that you do is a new opportunity for them to give you a visit.
Conclusion: Customer loyalty is the result of cultivating great relationships. By taking the time to build and strengthen relationships with your customers, you’ll be well on your way to creating a thriving customer base. It’s your loyal customers who will keep your restaurant going for the long haul, and that’s one of the true secrets to success.
How do you improve customer loyalty?