Attracting new customers and retaining existing ones is a constant challenge in an environment as competitive as the restaurant industry.
Offering discounts or special promotions, such as half-price bottles of wine or $5 appetizers, can be winning strategies for attracting more diners, but the benefits also carry an element of risk. For instance, customers may come to expect a discount at every visit and move on to another restaurant once the savings end. Restaurants also risk devaluing their brand by offering promotions too frequently.
Instead of relying too heavily on discounts, restaurant owners would be better served by focusing on building a loyal customer base. Delivering personalized dining experiences, offering customers the chance to weigh in on new menu offerings and implementing a loyalty program can help transform your restaurant into a go-to destination for guests.
Make it Personal
One way to stand out from the competition is by offering a personalized experience that customers can’t find anywhere else, something 80 percent of consumers say would make them more likely to do business with a particular company. The more you cater to a guest’s unique tastes and preferences, the better chance you have of winning their loyalty.
Delivering personalized dining experiences, offering customers the chance to weigh in on new menu offerings and implementing a loyalty program can help transform your restaurant into a go-to destination for guests.
Encourage staff to make each guest feel like your most valued customer. Simple steps – such as asking if a reservation is being placed in honor of a special occasion, or tracking the birthdays and wedding anniversaries of your regulars – can create the emotional attachment needed to build customer loyalty.
Having that information at your disposal makes it easier to create an experience guests won’t soon forget. For example, if a customer’s birthday is approaching, send them an email about available party packages a few weeks in advance. Similarly, if you have a guest who loves trying out new wines, be sure to let them know when you receive a new shipment.
That same degree of personalization can also be applied on a more routine basis. Encourage waitstaff to take note of the items a frequent guest tends to order. Having their favorite drink or appetizer ready before they even have to order it will make them feel welcome. Similarly, guests with young children will appreciate finding crayons and a high chair already waiting for them when they arrive at their table.
Focus on creating an experience versus giving away freebies to repeat diners. Even though it may be tempting to offer a free drink or dessert to familiar faces, it’s better not to overdo such giveaways. Otherwise, guests will start to expect the same treatment every time they visit, and it may make you appear too desperate for their business.
Turn Your Menu Into a Marketing Tool
Provide more incentive for guests to make your restaurant a regular destination by giving your most loyal customers the inside scoop on new menu items. For instance, if you’re switching up dessert offerings, invite long-time customers to a private tasting of the new items.
Another way to solicit menu feedback is by attaching a comment card to each check and asking customers to share their thoughts about their experience and your food, including what they liked, or specific items they would like to see added. If guests made a reservation online, send them an email after their visit asking them to leave a review that includes their thoughts on the new menu offerings. If you can, use a platform where the review shows up as “verified.” Consumers reading a verified review may give it even more weight, as they will know the guest really ate at your restaurant.
Gathering feedback on how your new dishes are being received can give you a sense of what is working and what might need to be tweaked before the next seasonal rush rolls around. In addition, when you ask your regular guests to provide input in the form of a review or comments, they feel even more valued.
Develop a Data-Driven Loyalty Program
Research by global consulting firm Accenture found that two-thirds of U.S. consumers spend more when they feel a sense of loyalty to the brand they’re buying from. One way restaurants can tap into this trend is by implementing a data-driven loyalty program that offers rewards. In the past, most restaurants required customers to show a restaurant-specific card or app in order to earn benefits. Today, restaurant loyalty programs have evolved in a way that is more convenient for the customer, allowing them to earn rewards simply by paying for their meal with a registered credit or debit card.
To attract even more repeat diners, restaurant owners should consider implementing a loyalty program tied to multiple rewards partners.
To attract even more repeat diners, restaurant owners should consider implementing a loyalty program tied to multiple rewards partners. This way, customers have the ability to choose their preferred rewards currency when they initially register their credit or debit card. Whether it’s airline miles or a gift card to their favorite retailer, your guests will appreciate having a wide selection of options to choose from, particularly millennials. Now the largest demographic in the U.S., Millennials cite the variety of rewards offered as the second most important factor in their decision to join a restaurant’s loyalty program.
A well-designed loyalty program also gives restaurant owners access to unique customer data, something they can't easily collect on their own. For example, they can learn about their loyal visitors' demographic characteristics, geographic distribution, what time of day they tend to visit the restaurant, and what their favorite menu items are. Harvesting and analyzing this data allows restaurant owners to fine-tune their offerings to convert more visitors into loyal customers who visit frequently and spend more.
By offering personalized experiences, a chance to help shape future menu offerings, and a loyalty program, your restaurant will be well on its way to building a dedicated group of customers who return again and again, without the need to resort to frequent LTOs or deep discounts that can cheapen your brand.