The benefits of retaining customers and how to do it

20 January 2022
restaurant table with people

Many restaurants tend to focus on attracting new customers. While this is critical to the growth of your business, it is perhaps even more important to focus on keeping the customers you already have. Why? Studies show that it costs significantly more to attract new customers than to retain existing ones. In addition repeat customers tend to spend more on average and are more open to trying new products or services than new customers. Loyal customers are also likely to recommend your restaurant to their social circle, providing great word-of-mouth advertising and in turn driving the acquisition of new customers. 

But with today’s abundance of dining options especially in major cities, what is it that makes a customer return to the same restaurant time and again? In short, how do you cultivate customer loyaltyWhile there is no one single answer to this, it starts with implementing a multi-faceted customer retention strategy. Here’s how

Using customer feedback wisely

If you are really interested in getting your customers to come back, you need to understand what they like and dislike about the dining experience you are providing. And how can you know this if you don’t ask? 

Face-to-face vs written feedback

One way to get customer feedback is to train staff to systematically ask clients how everything is going both during and at the end of the meal. Encourage open questions such as how was your experience, or what could we do better, rather than did you enjoy your meal.   If a customer is feeling frustrated with an issue, this gives you the chance to resolve the problem before it leaves a distinctly bad memory in the customer’s mind.

customers at a restaurant smiling at a waiter

Another benefit of face to face feedback, is that the meal is fresh in your customers’ minds enabling them to provide you with detailed insights about their likes and dislikes. It also provides an opportunity to build rapport with customers and get to know their needs or preferences better.  Be sure to train staff on how to actively listen and always respond courteously to both praise and criticism. And make sure that there is a formal channel to record the feedback so it is not forgotten.


However while many people will be happy to tell you what they like, not everyone feels comfortable voicing dissatisfaction. Give customers the option of leaving written feedback in a visible, accessible register or by inviting them to engage with you through your TheFork or Tripadvisor restaurant profiles or your social media pages. You might even try promoting a feedback form which allows you to reward customers with a free menu item or price reduction for answering it. 

Above all, make sure to thank your customers in person or in writing for taking the time to share their thoughts with you. And take their praise or criticism seriously. Over time you should glean valuable insights about how to improve your restaurant experience regarding portion sizes, popular dishes or the ones to phase out, and perhaps most important of all, if people are happy with how they are treated in your establishment.

 

shared table at the restaurant

Creating a positive environment: or the importance of being nice 

Above and beyond a certain quality or type of food, what many people are looking for in a restaurant experience is an authentically positive vibe. Diners crave a place where they are made to feel at home and appreciated so that they can relax and enjoy the food. This has nothing to do with décor which can be exotic or traditional, or how formal or casual your restaurant is.  It is about how you and your staff engage with your customers on a human level. So while naturally great food,  good lighting, attractive interiors, and comfortable seating all contribute to a feel-good atmosphere, the single most critical factor is how you engage with your customers.

Is your staff consistently friendly and welcoming? Not only when customers walk in the door but throughout the entire meal and right up to the time they pay the bill.  Do your guests feel comfortable asking a question? Is it easy for them to get your attention? Do you make sure that someone always says good-bye to your customers and thanks them for their visit?  Customers are likely to forgive a longer than usual wait between dishes on a busy evening if your staff takes the time to apologize sincerely for the issue.

However, no matter how good your food is, most people will not come back if they feel that they’ve been ignored, forgotten or talked to rudely or impatiently. This is even more important for return customers, who should be celebrated and never taken for granted. So take the time to train staff to engage with customers in a warm, authentic manner. Role plays is one way of doing this. Encourage them to recognize your repeat customers and even if you or they can’t remember their names, let them know that you are happy to see them again and treat them as if you mean it. 

restaurant staff holding a sign open

Encouraging engagement 

Try thinking of your restaurant as a community in which customers should feel that they are  welcome, valued members. In addition to creating a consistently positive atmosphere in which they feel heard, seen and appreciated, you might try creating new opportunities for connecting with return customers.  This could include special events such as wine tastings, holiday meals or themed evenings at a slightly discounted price. Without being intrusive, treat the event as an opportunity to get to know your loyal customers and be ready to share your restaurant’s story or vision if they seem interested. Chances are the exchange will be mutually beneficial. You could also create a short quarterly e-newsletter featuring signature recipes, menu changes, or other news items to reconnect with interested customers.

Rewarding return customers

Finally many restaurants have very successful customer loyalty programs. A simple way to set this up is to offer a punch card with rewards for return customers such as a discounted meal, an event invitation or a free meal item. Online customer loyalty programs are also increasingly common. Looking for a digital loyalty program? Discover YUMS, TheFork loyalty program which boosts restaurant bookings.

 

 

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