Repeat diners are a critical part of success in the contemporary business world, making up 71, 68, 64, 63 and 51 percent of sales at quick service, fast-casual, casual-dining, family-dining, and fine-dining establishments respectively, according to research from the National Restaurant Association (NRA).
The clear takeaway? Keeping diners happy is an essential strategy for today’s bottom line-minded restaurant owners and managers. However, cultivating true diner loyalty can often be easier said than done — particularly in this intensely competitive industry.
Luckily, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure many happy return visits.
1. Keep Things Fresh
While the notion of the corner restaurant “where everybody knows your name” is a quaintly appealing one, the contemporary diner has more choices than ever when it comes to where they’re spending their hard-earned, dining-out dollars.
And while the element of the familiar may be comforting to consumers, it can also lead to stagnancy — both in terms of your operations as well as in your clientele.
One simple way to ensure growth is through the introduction of new menu items. This doesn’t necessarily require a complete and total overhaul, but it does mean enticing diners with new and exciting things to try.
Other ways to grow beyond the menu? Host a weekly or monthly special cuisine night, such as a Monday night buffet or Tuesday themed taco night. Regulars who might not otherwise come in on a weekday may be motivated by these new offerings.
2. Get the Word Out
The truth is that you may not even have to debut something new to get leverage out of it with customers. For example: “Locally sourced meats and seafood,” were deemed to be the top food trend for 2016 by the NRA.
If you’ve always worked closely with local suppliers when planning the proteins for your menu, incorporating news of your ongoing efforts into your marketing and social media can go a long way with building consumer relationships without requiring you to actually implement anything new.
Other trends worth capitalizing on? Hyper-local sourcing, locally grown produce, natural ingredients, environmental sustainability, chef-driven concepts, sustainable seafood, ethnic cuisine, farm/estate branded items, and ancient grains.
If you’re already incorporating some or all of these themes into your restaurant operations, promoting diner loyalty may be as simple as getting the word out.
3. Reward Them
Who can say no to a freebie? While giving away too much can be a detriment to your profits, a well-executed diner loyalty program strikes a beneficial balance.
From stamped loyalty cards to special VIP events, implementing a reward program also has the benefit of giving you a reason to reach out to customers to make sure you remain at the forefront when customers are making dining decisions.
In addition to announcing these promotions on your website, social media pages and in print, email blasts are also an effective way to reach out.
4. Get to Know Them
Your restaurant may serve hundreds of diners every night, but regulars are you bread and butter.
Doesn’t it make sense to get to know them? From something as simple to knowing their names to more thorough details like acknowledging their birthdays, building meaningful relationships with diners is an indispensable part of appealing to diners.
However, for this to be successful it must be implemented across your entire staff. When hiring, look for personable hosts and servers, and reinforce the importance of showing interest in diners and striving to meet their needs as individuals throughout training.
The more this attitude is embedded in your company culture, the more authentically it will resonate with diners in the form of enhanced loyalty.
Other giveaway events which double as retention strategies? Two-for-one dinners, “Bring-a-Friend” night, and free drinks and desserts.
These promotions don’t necessarily mean losing money on your end either.
Why? Because many consumers are more likely to splurge on higher-priced menu items and/or a nice bottle of wine if they know they’re already getting a deal.
5. Be relentless in your efforts
One last thing to keep in mind? Regulars are both fickle and yours to lose.
Rather than coasting on past successes — which ultimately means little to today’s instant gratification-minded consumers — cultivating and maintaining repeat diners requires constant effort.
The benefit? In our increasingly social, peer-driven world, many of these strategies also serve as incentive for bringing new diners through your door.
Americans eat out an average of 4.5 times a week, according to the results of a Zagat survey. Wouldn’t you like to be able to count on them regularly choosing your establishment as their dining destination of choice?
By incorporating these five tips into your restaurant strategies, you lay the groundwork to stay on the radar of your regulars and keep them coming back for more.