Owning and operating a restaurant in today’s economy can be a challenging proposition, which is why it is so important to build customer loyalty.  In truth repeat customers make up the bulk of any restaurant’s customer base and word-of-mouth advertising can do wonders for building up your clientele.  But how do you go about building customer loyalty in the restaurant industry?

While any one of the following five suggestions will help to increase your business, implementing all of them is highly recommended and definitely possible given a little time and planning.

Tip #1: Atmosphere is Everything

For dine-in customers the atmosphere of the establishment can rate right up there with the quality of service and nearly as high as the quality of your food.  But when you think of atmosphere, think more than the decorations and table linens; think also of an atmosphere of one-on-one recognition.  Customers like nothing better than visiting an establishment where they are recognized and called by name.  Encourage this kind of recognition in your staff.  Everyone from your bus boys to the chefs should be able to recognize repeat customers and make them feel comfortable.

Tip #2: Reward Your Repeat Customers

A customer rewards program for repeat customers is a must if you really want to establish your credibility with your repeat customers.  Perhaps a customer loyalty card (with a free meal after so many purchases) or coupons for a discount on their next meal purchased.  There are a number of options available when it comes to customer rewards, and each of them is worth the time and effort you will put into it.

Tip #3: Start a Newsletter

Believe it or not, many customers really do pay attention to what goes on in their local neighborhoods.  By starting a newsletter you can keep yourself firmly in their minds by their seeing your weekly or monthly newsletters in their email inbox.  This mailing list will also help to establish a list by which you can send out offers for discounts and special ‘group’ purchases or birthday discounts or other options, but the set up of a newsletter to address local concerns (and those specific to your restaurant) can be a viable option for asking for the emails.

Tip #4: Drawings and Giveaways

Having drawings and giveaways for repeat customers is a great way to keep them coming in.  Have a business card drawing for your lunchtime business clientele, or a random once a month door prize raffle where someone who came in during the course of an evening will receive a free meal for two, or free desert with their next purchase or something similar.

Tip #5: Reward Referrals

If a repeat customer refers a new customer to your restaurant, why not reward them?  Perhaps a coupon for free deserts the next time they come in, or even something as simple as a thank-you letter; something to let them know that you appreciate their support.

Truly, your repeat customers are the bread and butter of your business, so why not take the time to ensure that you do everything in your power to win their loyalty?  Not only will you be increasing the chances that they will keep on coming back, you’ll most likely gain new customers as well from their referrals, and that can be a very good thing.

Are there any other strategies that your restaurant employs? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Ian Said, is an entrepreneur and founder of Ideal Software, a software development company specializing in Stock Control and Point of Sale reporting solutions. 

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Tags: Customer, IdealStockControl, Inventory, Loyalty, Profitability, Restaurant

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Comment by Ian Said on June 3, 2012 at 11:05pm

Thanks very much for your comments, Gary.

I am always amazed at how much time and money businesses will put in to attract new customers, but won’t do the same to look after existing customers! Great points!

Comment by Gary Pomponio on June 2, 2012 at 9:50pm

Ian, great post!  I'd like to add 2 things.  

Instead of constantly looking for new customers ... market directly to the ones you already have.  They are the most "guaranteed" group to pay benefits from your marketing dollars.  If they love you already, remind them!  A far simpler task than "convincing" new ones to both check you out and then hopefully love you as well.

Also, target your loyalty program for success.  I've always mailed out birthday invitations to my customers (I mean guests), and it has created a sense of community and friendship that any amount of money can't buy.  Note that I said "invitation" and not "coupon."  While they function the exact same way, they are polar opposites.  Coupons are impersonal, and we always strive to make our guests feel special, so it's all in how the staff handles it.  

The incentive is there for everyone.  More customers means more tips.  Customer loyalty will be increased, so you will see familiar faces more often.  The more you get to know your guests needs and wants, the more you’ll know how to up-sell them.  Customers win, servers win and you win.

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