How to increase customer loyalty in your restaurant
Attracting new customers and providing them with amazing dining experiences that meet or even surpass their expectations is quite an achievement. Hats off to the many restaurants that manage to work the magic in spite of today’s rising inflation and supply chain issues, staff shortages, and increasingly demanding consumer expectations. But what's even better for your bottom line than drawing in new customers? Managing to convince a customer to come back again and again, to experience more of your unique brand until they become a loyal customer. But why are loyal customers so valuable to your restaurant and worth the extra attention?
The benefits of customer loyalty
Data shows that loyal customers tend to spend significantly more than new ones and are often more willing to try new things (they trust you after all). They also cost less to acquire and are often your most enthusiastic fans, spreading the love about your restaurant and bringing in more customers. But how do you get customers to come back in the face of intense competition from other good restaurants? Check out our tips below to find out how to cultivate a loyal customer base.
How to develop customer loyalty in your restaurant: five tips
Make customers feel welcome and wanted
What are most people looking for when they walk into a restaurant besides consistently excellent food? People like to feel welcome, wanted, and wooed. It's that simple and yet many restaurants miss the mark. The chef is having a bad day, your most experienced waiter has called in sick and you’re feeling sleep deprived with a long to-do list staring you down? It happens but customers shouldn’t be able to tell. Many people go out precisely because they want to take a load off and enjoy a relaxing and enjoyable dining experience. No matter how challenging the day, or what drama is unfolding in the kitchen, customers should immediately sense that you and your employees are genuinely happy to see them and eager to make them feel at home.
So how do you cultivate an upbeat, warm, relaxing vibe? While it might seem cringey, regularly remind staff (and yourself) to be genuine and generous with smiles (they’re free and make everyone feel good) from the moment the customer steps in the door and across every phase of their journey. Make sure every employee understands that being friendly, attentive and patient with customers (evening challenging ones) is a key part of the job.
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Give extra attention to loyal customers
While every customer should always feel the love, this is even more important with return customers who should feel extra appreciated. After all, they are choosing to come back to your restaurant over all the other options out there: so let them know how delighted you are to see them again and make them feel extra special by greeting them by name and remembering their preferences. Hopefully, you and your staff will get to know regular customers on sight. An online reservation system can help you with this by keeping track of your loyal customers and gathering valuable insights about their specific preferences (seating preferences, allergies, favourite dishes…).
Offer an irresistible customer loyalty program
Customer loyalty programs are a great way to show repeat customers your appreciation in a tangible way, while offering them an incentive to keep coming back. There are different types of loyalty programs such as special promotional deals only for loyal customers (ie. two for one offers which encourage them to bring a friend, reduced price invites to special events such as a wine tasting or brunch). Another way to build customer loyalty is to offer the customer points each time he visits your restaurant and makes a purchase which can then be redeemed for a free meal, menu item, or the equivalent of cash to be used at the restaurant. Whatever customer loyalty program you choose to set up, make it simple, convenient and easy for the customer to understand. Also, make sure that employees are familiar with the system. Find out about how your restaurant can partner with TheFork's nifty customer loyalty program.
Create a happy workplace
If you treat employees with respect, show them that you value their hard work and insights, and create opportunities to share best restaurant practices and experience, employees will be happier at work and more productive. An added benefit: they are also much more likely to smile without being asked to. A happy workplace goes a long way to creating a genuinely happy vibe for customers. Provide a space where employees can share their insights about what is working well or what could be improved in day-to-day operations. Identify and nurture employee strengths (organizational skills, social skills…) and show them how to improve in areas that need work. And don’t forget to create fun opportunities where staff can relax and get to know each other at meals, team building games or off-work activities. Make your restaurant a place where everyone wants to work!
Empower staff to reduce customer wait time
Of course, making the customer feel special is not just about being nice. You need to follow through with attentive, timely service. One of the most common customer complaints that keeps people from coming back to a restaurant is when they have to wait excessively and/or they feel forgotten or ignored. Encourage staff to listen actively to customer requests (that means listening, asking the right questions, and checking for understanding if in any doubt). And remind them to check in on customers frequently and tactfully. Nothing is more irritating than being shown to a table and then forgotten about or kept waiting endlessly for bread, water, a fork, or the check.
There are also some amazing digital tools available today to help restaurants reduce customer wait time, keep track of customer preferences, and improve overall organization. Find out about our own empowering solution, TheFork Manager. And the great thing is that by minimizing customer wait times and helping you to improve efficiency, your employees will feel more relaxed and available to engage even more positively with customers.
Building customer loyalty is not achieved overnight. It takes dedication and consistent efforts to earn someone’s trust but the benefits in terms of the growth and sustainability of your restaurant are enormous! 💥