In the past, we’ve spoken about employee loyalty and reducing staff turnover. Today, we’re talking about a different kind of loyalty. Repeat guests and regulars are, often, the heart and soul of a restaurant. Those VIPs who we see, week in and week out. They keep the place moving, and they keep the lights on -- literally. In fact, according to a recent study, repeat customers will spend up to 67% more than new guests. As well, 61 percent of businesses surveyed said that over half of their revenue comes from repeat customers, rather than new business. With all that in mind, it’s crucial to think about ways to retain customers, perhaps even more so than focusing on acquisitions (if we may be so bold). Today, we’ve put together some tips and tricks to keep those regulars coming back, again and again.
For good reason, we’ve included this as our number one tip. If customers don’t experience the same level of quality each time they visit your place...well, what’s to keep them coming back? Standardizing recipes and service operations is key to developing long-term brand loyalty. When making changes to your operation, be sure to properly communicate them at all-staff meetings. If a customer can’t expect the same thing each-and-every time, they probably won’t be coming back often.
Keep in Touch with Your Customers
Even when you’re customers aren’t physically at your establishment, you should be part of their day-to-day lives. This means engaging on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook. These platforms give your restaurant an opportunity to create a 1:1 relationship with your patrons...even when they aren’t at your place. You don’t need us to tell you how big that can be. By properly utilizing these platforms, your establishment can stay in the forefronts of peoples’ minds.
Another way of making a guest’s visit especially remarkable is good ole-fashioned snail mail. Consider including comment cards with customers’ checks, including a space for the customers’ address -- a well-placed ‘thank you’ note can work wonders. Granted, this is more logistically realistic for some bars/restaurants than others. But, the point stands -- engage with your regulars and customers when they aren’t at your bar. It’ll score some major brownie points.
Support Your Community
Being an active, visible member of your community is another great way to make yourself known to potential regulars. Buy from local purveyors, for example. Did you know that 41% of U.S. customers are influenced to choose restaurants that source local ingredients? Even just highlighting a few local items on a nightly basis can make a huge difference. Also, take part in local festivals and markets -- these sorts of things make you stand out. Being present for neighborhood events gives you visibility amongst locals, who are most likely to become regulars.
Charity walks or runs are a great option as well -- whether that means sponsoring these events or taking part yourself. Besides building customer loyalty, being charitable attracts customers and patrons through word-of-mouth. Fun fact: 72% of bar and restaurant patrons recommend venues that support a good cause.
Make Guests Feel Like a VIP
“Every guest is a VIP” is an oft-repeated mantra in our industry. And while that’s a fantastic philosophy to have, loyalty should always be rewarded. The loyalty of your customers is no exception. When your regulars come in, they should feel like regulars. We suggest spreading the word when a regular is in house, and giving that customer a little extra-special attention. You don’t have to go crazy here, but a little extra customer service is going to make a regular feel like an absolute VIP.
Regulars are a restaurant’s best friends, and they should feel that way. Whether that means a free drink (more on that later), or just the occasional checking-in from waitstaff and management. This extra bit of attention is going to make your regulars feel truly special, and keep them coming back. What’s more, when regulars are treated exceptionally well...guess where they’re bringing their friends?
When we say ‘create visibility’, we mean that your staff should be able to see every one of your customers. Set up your establishment in a way that makes this possible. Hosts and hostesses should know when a regular is in the building, as should servers and bartenders. These people are the front-facing personalities that help to create that repeat customer in the first place. If a regular is able to enter and leave entirely unnoticed, well...they certainly won’t feel like much of a regular.
While outright espionage should be avoided, the occasional managerial lookout can do wonders to identify those repeat guests. Alternatively, encourage your hosts and hostesses to let management know when a regular enters the building.
Give Away Freebies
Probably the most obvious on our list, but we’d be remiss not to include it. People like free stuff. A lot. There’s really no two ways about it. Especially if they’re out on the town, expecting to open up their wallets, that occasional freebie means a lot. Giving away the occasional drink, shot, or piece of food can go a long way to bringing people back into your bar. While you want to avoid doing this too often (thus spoiling the magic of the freebie), an occasional and well-placed comp item is always a good idea.
And really -- how much does it cost you, if the occasional freebie creates a returning guest? Maybe you lose five or ten dollars in drink sales, but you’re creating long-term brand loyalty.
Mobile Loyalty Programs
Although they can be cute and whimsical in the right setting, it’s mostly time to abandon punch cards. Loyalty programs that offer rewards for guests are now available in convenient, smartphone-friendly formats. It’s easier than ever to get these going in your establishment. It’s also more beneficial than ever. In fact, studies have shown that loyalty programs can increase guest spend by as much as 39%. These programs add value to each visit, while also encourage further spending. As far as we can tell, loyalty rewards programs fall squarely into the category of ‘win-win’.