25 Tips for Boosting Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant

More than 70% of customers visit a restaurant once and never go back.

These one-time visitors aren’t the bread and butter of successful restaurants. In fact, businesses with 40% repeat customers generate almost 50% more revenue than competing companies with only 10% repeating customers.

Instead of relying on new guests, develop longstanding relationships with consistent clients who fill tables and help to broaden your customer base. These 25 tips can help you to get started boosting customer loyalty today:

1. Give a Genuine Smile

Train your hosts and hostesses to give accurate wait times and seat guests with reservations immediately, always with a posture of appreciation. A smile goes a long way, especially when you first walk into a restaurant.

2. Accommodate Walk-ins

Some restaurants leave up to half their tables open for walk-ins. If you prefer to hold these seats for reservations, consider adding a chef’s bar or a few communal tables for last-minute guests.

3. Build a Website

A website is a simple way to develop trust with your consumer base. To appeal to regular diners, post your hours and offer online reservations. If you don’t have a website yet, build one from scratch with Wix or Squarespace.

4. Get Active on Social Media

When local Boston restaurants suffered from repeated weather closings, social media helped them recoup their losses. Build a strong following on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to spark customer engagement.

5. Supply Free Sparkling Water

A new trend in the dining world has restaurants filtering and carbonating their own water — it’s less expensive and more environmentally friendly than the alternative. Instead of charging for sparkling water, offer it for free.

6. Give Back to the Community

Seventy-two percent of consumers believe that restaurants give back to their communities. Live up to the reputation by putting people first. Consider donating to charity or offering free meals like George Dimopoulous. Every year, his Michigan-based restaurants open their doors on Thanksgiving for free.

7. Buy Local Produce

Customers value fresh, local produce because of its health benefits and positive environmental impact. Partnering with nearby farms nurtures a thriving community of these diners who like to support the local movement.

8. Offer Your Employees Freebies

Last year, b-good gave their team members smoothie vouchers to share with family and friends. Consider similar ways that you can make generous gestures, building a strong circle of support around your business.

9. Keep Classic Dishes Alive

New dishes delight customers and breathe new life into menus. But as you move through the seasons, don’t forget to keep a few customer favorites constant.

10. Publish Your Recipes

There’s no better way to build a following than to publish your favorite recipes. Consider reaching out to your local newspaper about featuring a recipe in the food section. Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery, for example, has a devoted group of fans because of her amazing cookbooks.

11. Serve Brunch

Brunch service has taken the country by storm. To solidify your place as a “go-to” spot, develop a Sunday menu that appeals to twenty-somethings who brunch out every week.

12. Celebrate Occasions

The most vibrant businesses rely on loyal customers who celebrate with them over and over again. If there’s a couple who dines at your restaurant on their anniversary every year, make a note of it in your reservation system.

13. Feature Artists and Musicians

Have you ever walked into a cafe and heard live music? Build a following by featuring local painters and musicians who create a one-of-a-kind atmosphere for guests.

14. Adapt to Allergies

Scientists estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies. Train your employees in proper protocol, and never act as if an allergy is an inconvenience. Adapting to restrictions ensures that you keep diners safe and happy.

15. Add More Vegan and Vegetarian Options

Vegans and vegetarians often struggle to eat out at mainstream restaurants with friends and family. Get creative with vegetable-based dishes — a little extra effort can foster strong relationships with non-meat eaters.

16. Treat Long-time Customers

The best bartenders know that when regulars come through, an extra treat or two helps to maintain a positive relationship. Top up a wine glass for free, or bring out a guest’s favorite after-dinner drink on the house.

17. Carve Out a Niche

New York City’s Serendipity 3 is known for its frozen hot chocolates. Their cult-like following of locals and visitors has kept the restaurant in business for over 50 years. Honing in on a specialty creates meaningful associations for customers, contributing to a resilient business model.

18. Host Special Events

A lot of families want to mark big moments — weddings, graduation parties, or bar mitzvahs — in a place that’s special to them. Consider accommodating personal and business events, which can help you gain traction with well-heeled customers and build a strong referral network.

19. Offer Takeout

Support loyal guests by making it possible for them to enjoy their favorite meals at home. Thanks to startups, restaurants can choose between a wide-range of takeout delivery services: GrubHub, Foodler, and Caviar.

20. Mistakes Happen: Don’t Place Blame

When mistakes happen, don’t blame wait staff and line cooks. As Scott Phillips, an executive chef shares, “The guest doesn’t want to see professionals behave that way.” Instead recognize that any mistake reflects the restaurant, and apologize wholeheartedly.

21. Take Items Off the Bill

Losing a customer is a lot more expensive than losing the revenue from one dinner. When your team drops the ball, pay for the dish — or the meal — if it’s a real disaster. Diners always appreciate when restaurants offset a difficult experience with incredible customer service.  

22. Maintain High-Quality Food

The clearest way to increase customer loyalty is to maintain the high standards in your kitchen. Emphasize accountability in every aspect of service to bring consistency and quality to the table every time.

23. Educate Your Guests

A recent marketing study revealed that product knowledge is integral to customer loyalty at high-end restaurants. The more diners know about the food at your restaurant, the more likely they are to come back. Encourage servers to take extra time to share the origins of each ingredient and describe how the chef prepares dishes.

24. Tactfully Respond to Online Complaints

Scathing restaurant reviews can go viral to the detriment of any business. Instead of allowing reviews to make their way through the Internet, tactfully address any issues on Yelp or TripAdvisor with a clear apology.  

25. Start a Customer Loyalty Program

According to Loyalogy, 73% of restaurant customers would recommend a business more frequently if it had an appealing rewards program. If you manage a casual restaurant, consider incorporating a customer loyalty program into your strategy.

When restaurant owners add these tips to their business strategy, they benefit from devoted customers who bring consistency in both periods of growth and tough times. Meeting their needs strengthens your bottom line while building your restaurant’s reputation as a top-notch establishment.

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