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How to turn one-time diners into regulars

Written by Giada Pezzini | 01 February 2016

    
Many restaurants fail in their first year of operation. This is a grim, but accepted fact in the industry. Wrong location, bad food quality, unfortunate financial choices: there can be many factors behind a permanent closure. The problem is, even if you do everything right – even if you offer good food at the right price with a smile – you might still end up with a “closed” sign on the door. The only way to keep your business thriving is to build a group of loyal patrons, who will support your business again and again.

 

But how do you keep people coming back to your restaurant?

To make people choose you over your competition, you need to be able to connect with your customers and wow them with personalized touches. How, you ask?

 

1. Connect with the local community

The Millennial generation (people who now are between the ages of 12 and 35) is heavily involved with the local community. Millennials prefer to shop in small, local stores rather than big box ones; they care about making a contribution to society; they value community, and want to be involved with their neighborhood. You can connect with this large generation of potential customers by supporting local businesses and initiatives. Buy food from local farmers and growers (zero-kilometers ingredients will also be a hit with the environmentally-conscious in your clientele!), feature local artists and musicians. Make your restaurant a central part of the local community, and guarantee loyal customers.

 

2. Give little free items

We have previously discussed it: it’s annoying when establishments charge for common extras like water and bread. Why not go the opposite way, and offer extra small treats? Add a complementary chocolate alongside the coffee drinks; offer free fruit-infused water, for example mint- or lime-flavored water; set on the table a small basket of freshly baked bread. People like free items, and love personalized touches. Don’t underestimate the power of little gifts – you don’t need to go big or expensive to make an impression, and make people wish to reciprocate your kindness by returning to your establishment.

 

3. Offer a loyalty scheme with valuable rewards

Did you know that almost two thirds all loyalty memberships remain unused within one year of activation? Even though they are designed to boost returning business, many of the loyalty programs out there miss the mark. This doesn’t mean that loyalty programs are useless; according to a recent research, over 90% of consumers say they would likely sign up if their favorite fast food or fine dining restaurant started a loyalty program. If you want to offer a successful loyalty scheme, start by making sure that your rewards are both attainable and valuable to your customers. If you offer uninteresting rewards people won’t feel the desire to collect points; if the prizes you offer are too hard to reach, people will feel discouraged and desert your program. It is better to offer a small but enticing perk – maybe free chips or salad - every few meals (giving diners the feeling that the reward is easily attainable) than a full free dinner after 50 meals. Design your loyalty program so that it’s attractive to customers, and valuable for you. For example, you could use your loyalty program software to check what your customers usually buy, and push them to try something new – for instance offering free dessert to customers who never order it.

 

4. Personalize the dining experience

If you want to gain loyalty, personalization is key. How can you make your patrons’ visits more personal - and memorable? Technology can help. Use your customers’ data from your loyalty program to send special offers to mark birthdays, anniversaries and other special events. Some restaurants are already using beacon technology to welcome visitors, for example sending customers personalized notifications on their devices when they enter the restaurant’s doors. To be personal, though, you don’t need to be technologically advanced. Why not train your staff to pay special attention to guests? Recognizing loyal customers and greeting them by name is an easy way to create a familiar and personal atmosphere that customers will want to return to.   The secret to returning customers is easy on paper, but every restaurateur know it requires continued effort and attention. If you need help in getting the quality of your service up to speed, do not hesitate to drop us a line.   [hubspot id="2"]

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