6 Best Restaurant Customer Retention Strategies
Your restaurant could be great. You serve good food. You have a nice overall concept. There’s something missing though. You don’t notice as much repeat business as you would like. In fact, there’s not much buzz around your restaurant at all. What gives?
It takes a lot more than just serving good food and having a cool venue. Diners want to have a connection with your restaurant. They want to be heard, feel special, and get to know your brand. If you can do these things, you are likely to see an increase in repeat customers. And, believe me, repeat customers are your backbone. They become brand evangelist that spread the word about your restaurant like wildfire.
So, what does it take to build a solid restaurant customer retention strategy that keeps people coming and talking about your restaurant? We came up with 6 surefire ways to help make a difference.
1. Happy Staff, Better Service
We all know this. The more valued your employees feel, the better they will perform. Some might not think about this when building a restaurant retention strategy but it is probably one of the most essential factors to creating a better guest experience. Happy staff will provide better service to your customers; staff can make or break the customer’s experience. Unhappy and/or unenthusiastic staff is easy to read by customers. It’s uncomfortable for guests and can be a deterrent from returning to your restaurant.
Think of ways that you can make your employees feel more valued. Some ideas could be in the form of benefits – health insurance, paid time off, sick time, tuition reimbursement, maternity leave, etc. Other ways could focus more on the company culture. Employee birthday parties, holiday parties, bridal and baby showers, and occasional “just because” get-togethers to bond the group are great ways to build the culture.
Always acknowledge employee achievement too. This includes accolades your restaurant receives as well. These achievements should always be celebrated and your staff should feel like they had a major part in any awards or acknowledgments the restaurant receives.
Customers also prefer restaurants that have a reputation for treating employees fairly. Show everyone your appreciation for your staff by posting employee of the month, employee achievements, and team gatherings on social media.
In order for your staff to provide better service, you’ll need clear guidelines and training for your team. This should include customer’s needs, properly spoken interaction, eye contact, body language, remembering regular’s names, etc. Having these guidelines will also help during the interview process. You’ll be able to observe to make sure you are bringing in people with personalities that mesh with the experience you want to provide. Having clear guidelines about the service and experience you want to provide guests is key to know before hiring staff.
2. Be transparent
Customers appreciate restaurants that are open and honest about the ingredients in their food. Food transparency is more than a trend and guests will want to know the following: ingredients, nutrition facts, food origin, and allergy concerns. The overall quality of your food is important to guests. A recent Fooddive study found that almost all respondents said they would pay more for more transparent products — 99% for fresh food and 98% for packaged food. The same study found that more than nine out of 10 said they want to see transparency in ingredients and their sources, as well as more in-depth information on them.
If you are on a path of offering ‘cleaner food’, bring customers along on the journey. Take Panera for example. In 2013, they promised to offer only “clean” ingredients by 2016. Along the way, they updated customers on their progress and stayed committed to their promise. Diners appreciate the transparency and will usually understand that offering cleaner ingredients doesn’t happen overnight. Being honest about your process should be very well perceived by your customers.
3. Reward them for their loyalty
According to the National Restaurant Association, there are now over a million restaurants in the U.S. With so much competition out there, your repeat customers deserve to be rewarded for their loyalty. Loyalty programs help build a database of customers and help improve relationships. Your loyalty program could offer exclusive coupons for favorite meal items, a free item on the guest’s birthday, invites to special events, etc. You could even allow guests to refer a friend to help ramp up loyalty program users. A free or discounted meal item would be a nice reward in return for a friend referral.
Here are some of our favorite restaurant loyalty programs to give you a little inspiration:
- Chick-fil-A – Frequently receive free treats when you purchase Chick-fil-A, “just because” treats, and exclusive invites to Chick-fil-A events in your area.
- Starbucks – You’ll receive 2 reward stars for every dollar spent, free beverage on your birthday, and free refills on any coffee beverage (as long as you stay at the location).
- Domino’s – Spend $10 and earn 10 points. When you earn 60 points, you’ll receive a free, medium two-topping pizza.
A restaurant reservation system that integrates to your loyalty program holds all your customer information and provides useful guests analytics. You will be able to store important guest information such as allergies, anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
4. Listen to What They Have to Say
Always respond to customer reviews on social media and other review websites in a timely and professional manner. You’ll want to set up a Google Alert so that you’ll be emailed anytime your restaurant is mentioned.
It’s inevitable that you will receive the occasional negative feedback. Always remember to keep cool and avoid a negative reaction to ‘squeaky wheels’. There are all types of negative restaurant reviews and you should have a strategy for responding to each of them.
If you aren’t getting much feedback, try offering a survey on your loyalty app (if you have one) to help get a gauge on how your restaurant’s doing. You could offer a small incentive in return. Consistently ask the same questions so that you get a better picture of how you are progressing.
5. Make it Convenient
Mobile ordering and delivery are conveniences that consumers are demanding in a tech savvy world. The founder of Olo, Noah Glass, found that 62 percent of food purchased inside a restaurant is consumed outside.
There are several factors you’ll have to consider before implementing off-premise dining in your restaurant but it will ultimately improve the customer experience. Technology is essential to offer off-premise dining. It’ll help communicate between the customer and your kitchen about delivery and carryout orders, providing your customers with real-time quotes and order status updates. It will also consider in-store restaurant activity and how many off-premise orders you currently have before quoting a wait time to ensure that quote times are accurate and food is fresh for the customer.
6. Show Off Your Promotions
National Restaurant Association found that 83-percent of Americans look up dining locations, directions and hours of operation on their smartphones or tablets. Make sure that when customers are on your website or social media pages, your current promotions are easy to find. Let customers know why they should come to your restaurant during special events and holidays (i.e., if you have 20 TVs in your restaurant, you could be go-to destination for March Madness fans). Signage throughout the restaurant and outside could also help drive traffic. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you always keep your customers up-to-date.
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About the Author
Emily Wimpsett was a Content & Social Media Specialist at QSR Automations. Emily was born and raised in Louisville but considers herself a die-hard University of Kentucky fan. For college, Emily attended Indiana University Southeast and obtained a degree in Communications with a track in Advertising. In her free time, Emily enjoys just about every water related activity but she is partial to kayaking and whitewater rafting.