Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of review sites and services like Yelp, Google Reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and others, it’s never been more important for small business owners and managers to invest in developing effective customer loyalty strategies in order to keep their businesses afloat. For owners of restaurants, a lack of understanding of the needs and desires of customers can greatly impact the overall reputation, sustainability, and success of their business. The fact of the matter is, it takes more than just good food or a friendly staff to keep people coming back to your restaurant.
Customers today want and expect more from the places they buy clothes from, the places they travel to, the products and services they invest in, and the restaurants they dine at. It’s up to you to decide how you want to ensure that your customers continue coming back time and time again for more. In this post, we’re offering a handful of brilliant hacks that you can use to boost customer loyalty at your restaurant. Let’s begin:
1. Support local (food, artists, musicians, events)
In the last decade or so, there has been an evident increased desire among consumers to support, when possible, local and small businesses. It’s why companies like American Express have spent thousands of dollars in order to launch and promote entire websites and campaigns dedicated to encouraging and helping people support small businesses.
At your restaurant, you can boost customer loyalty by supporting other local and small businesses whenever possible. For example:
- Instead of playing music from Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, or Amazon, why not play music from a local musician—or better yet— why not invite the musician to play music live while people dine at your restaurant?
- Instead of buying and hanging stock art from places like Ikea, Michaels, or Amazon, why not purchase and feature artwork from local artists throughout your restaurant? You can even give customers the ability to buy the artwork you feature.
- Instead of buying food from a national distributor, why not work with a local farm that can provide you with fresh, local ingredients?
- Instead of traveling to and promoting your restaurant at national restaurant conventions, why not participate in more local festivals and events?
Example: Dunn Bros Coffee , a company that happens to be one of our clients, does a great job investing in and supporting the local community. In most stores you go into, you can find artwork from local artists hanging on the walls. On their website , they have this to say about their dedication to investing in the communities that surround their shops: “Over the years we have supported countless local and regional events and causes, including many local artists and musicians who display their talents in our shops every day. Our goal is to be a point of community connection, not just another chain retail establishment.”
It’s plain and simple: when you invest in the community, the community invests in you.
2. Design and promote food & drink pairings
Another simple strategy that you can use to keep customers coming back to your restaurant is to design food and drink pairing suggestions and incorporate them into your menu. Thanks to the craft beer boom that has taken the restaurant and bar industry by storm over the past few years, “foodies” and craft beer enthusiasts across the country are looking to dine at restaurants that can cater to their desire to try new and exciting beer. The same strategy can be used for wine enthusiasts.
At your restaurant, you can boost customer loyalty by offering menus to diners that include unique pairing suggestions. For example:
- The dinner entrées on your menu can include a suggestion from your wine list.
- You can design a new appetizer sampler that also includes a beer flight.
- You can even incorporate craft beer or wine into the actual food your chef prepares.
Example: Read about a few restaurants that decided to start incorporating food and drink pairings on their menus.
When you create unique and memorable experiences for your customers, they are bound to come back— and with friends.
3. Offer free soda water, cucumber water, or any other kind of fancy water
This one is pretty simple, but it can be powerfully effective. To increase the likelihood that diners will choose your restaurant when trying to decide where to go to eat, offer your customers soda water, cucumber water, mint water, or any other kind fancy water—for free. It’s a small perk, but customers will notice. Here are a few recipes you can use:
Example : According to one of our employees, there’s a restaurant in Minneapolis, MN called Lake & Irving that offers complimentary soda water to all guest who dine in their restaurant. Click here to check out their Facebook page.
The littlest of details can make all the difference for your customers.
4. Support local, national, or world causes
Thanks in part to social media, consumers, especially those who fall within the “millennial” category, are extremely tuned in to local, national, and world causes. As a restaurant owner, you have the opportunity to connect with customers on a deeper level by showing that your restaurant is actively dedicated to supporting a cause (or causes).
At your restaurant, you can boost customer loyalty by showing customers that you’re willing to help others. For example:
- Your restaurant could donate food to a local shelter.
- Your coffee shop could donate proceeds to support fair trade coffee .
- Your staff could volunteer at a local fundraising event.
- Your restaurant could host a fundraising event.
Example: Another client of ours, MyBurger , invites nonprofits and charity organizations to host a fundraiser at two of their locations. Here’s what they have to say about it on their website : “Hold a fundraiser at MY BURGER and help your organization by doing something you’re going to do anyway — eating your favorite burgers, fries and malts with family and friends! MY BURGER will donate a percentage of all sales (excluding sales tax) generated by your group at the fundraiser — the more people you bring in to eat, the more money you can make for your cause.”
Again: when you invest in your community and things that are important to your customers, they’ll invest in your business.
5. Use loyalty & rewards apps
Using loyalty and rewards apps might be a bit more obvious, but it’s an incredibly useful strategy to implement for any restaurant owner or manager interested in boosting customer loyalty. There are a lot of apps out there to choose from. Here are a few options:
Example: See how Ken Monteleone, owner of Fromagination in Madison, WI uses the loyalty rewards app Belly to bring more customers into his store.
Your customers are constantly using their smartphones already anyway—why not use it to your advantage?
6. Organize game nights, family nights, or “food theme” nights
In most cases, if a group of people is dining at your restaurant, it’s probably because they wanted to socialize with others, be entertained, or experience something memorable, right? Otherwise, why wouldn’t they just eat in the comfort of their own homes? Another strategy restaurant owners can use to boost customer loyalty involves organizing “themed nights” that reoccur from time to time. Here are some examples you can try:
- Bingo night at your restaurant every Thursday evening
- ‘Bring Your Family’ night every Wednesday evening
- All-You-Can-Eat Fish Fridays
Example: According to one of our employees, Muggswigz, a local coffee shop in Canton, OH, puts together and hosts both an Open Mic night and a Poetry night each week as a way to draw regular customers into their shop week after week. Take a look at their Facebook page .
When you take time to plan themed nights at your restaurant, your customers make time to be there.
7. Keep your employees happy
This strategy is a bit broader than the others on this list, but still worth mentioning. Without a doubt one of the best ways to boost customer loyalty is to invest in keeping your employees happy and loyal first. Your employees can be your restaurant ambassadors. Their friends and family members are your prospective customers. It’s up to you to do what it takes to keep them talking about how great your restaurant is, how good the food is, how memorable the experience is, etc. Here are some ideas for keeping your employees happy:
- Give them rewards for doing good work
- Give them the time off that they ask for
- Improve communication and other processes that affect them
- Plan team parties
- Give them benefits
Example: Learn what Modmarket does to keep their employees happy.
When your employees are happy, they tell their friends.
8. Create and share original content (funny, helpful, customer-focused)
As a restaurant owner, you’re already likely connecting with your current and prospective customers online, but are sharing any value with them? These days, consumers want to interact and give their business to companies that can educate them, entertain them, and even solve their problems. That’s where content marketing comes into play. As the owner of your restaurant, you have an opportunity to connect with your customers on a deeper level by sharing with them original value in various forms of content. Here are some examples:
- A YouTube video on how to season steak perfectly
- A blog post on what “gluten-free” actually means
- An cocktail recipes ebook
Example: Watch this video of a chef from Red Lobster teach viewers how to successfully crack a lobster. Notice how they offered education that addressed a problem a lot of their restaurant visitors likely deal with: not knowing the correct way to easily crack open a lobster shell to get to the meat.
When you take time to regularly educate your customers by using original content, you’re more likely to pop into their heads when they’re trying to decide where they should go to eat.
Investing in customer loyalty strategies is the key to keeping your restaurant open for business. Try one, some, or all of the strategies listed above and see what works best for your restaurant, for your community, and for your customers.
How do you keep customers coming back for more? Tweet your ideas to us!