Does your survival as a restaurant really depend on being the biggest and brashest restaurant on the block? Probably not.
Smaller, independent and more intimate restaurants can certainly compete with the larger restaurant chains, but it may all depend on how clever you are in your approach to retaining customers.
One thing is certainly true; repeat customers can make a big difference to your bottom line.
Unless you are a restaurant located at an airport with varied and many customers on their way through to other destinations, you may want to look to tactics that bring back the one-off diners on a regular basis.
The sense of satisfaction, for you and your staff, knowing that customers choose your restaurant over all others on a regular basis, can be extremely financially an emotionally rewarding.
Surprisingly, it’s not just about great food. Of course that has to be a big slice of the persuasive pie, but a few other things come into play to get those diners back again, and again.
Tempt Your Customers with New Menu Items
Imagine having samples of new menu items for your diners to taste. Maybe introduce one night a week where patrons can sample what you are planning for inclusion on next week’s menu.
This is a different and creative way to bring customers back. Even offering a take home sample can allow your restaurant to have a definitive point of difference.
Consider having a special cuisine event every week or every month. Make every Friday night Italian night, or ensure the first Sunday of every month is a seafood extravaganza.
Look to the talents of your chef and staff. Many restaurant workers have lots of recipes that have been passed on through their family’s generations.
Everyone can contribute to the success of special even nights.
This not only makes for a super friendly, comfortable experience for everyone, but has customers remembering you when next they plan to dine out.
Blow your Own Trumpet
If you use local suppliers, or are one for organically grown produce, let your customers know.
Many customer like to know where their food is coming from and to shout it to the world that you are using sustainable food sources and local vegetable growers, can get more diners through your door simply because they value your way of thinking.
Reward Great Customers
If you have a regular business crowd that are somewhat loyal but you want to push them a little further, extend your invitation for a great dining experience to their families, out of town associates and friends.
Offering this type of incentive can be just as rewarding for you and your staff, with the end result being that you get to know your customers that little bit better, in order to cater to what may be a growing market.
People have networks and the power of ‘word of mouth’ is still very important to the food industry, especially in these times of social media.
Knowing the details of someone’s life is invaluable to any service industry. From simply looking at their name on a credit card and greeting them personally, to knowing their birthday or their kids name, gives an impression that you are interested in who they are.
From a business point of view, think about how having a little information about them, not just as consumers, but as individuals, might transfer into regular bookings.
The personal touch is very powerful in marketing.
Get to know your customer’s world. Becoming familiar with their routines can be a tremendous advantage.
As an example, if you know a particular customer has regular business meetings, suggest your venue.
They may very well be open to it as a convenient, non-distracting alternative to a boring meeting room. Wouldn’t you be?
We are all consumers and having an insight into what your diners may like is a way to increase your bookings.
Customers are a great source of information and ideas for recipes they would like to share. What a great way to make your customers feel welcome by introducing a favorite or even a much loved meal from their childhood memory.
I can hear the cash register ringing now!
Giving away freebies (but not too often) is a sure fire way to bring people back. It’s not often that diners will miss the chance of a free meal or free drinks on their return.
Everyone loves a bargain, especially the hungry hoards.
Loyalty plans are a great way to bring in repeat business. If you have the time to plan one, consider loyalty cards that can be stamped or hole-punched.
Email lists are another great way to offer loyalty to diners that were happy to provide you their information on their first visit, so may be just as happy to wander back in to your establishment again and again.
Send out invitations via your current email program, with your unique offers, prior to times of particular events like Valentine’s Day and all those occasions when people are looking for somewhere special to go.
Perhaps offer an incentives to return by via a two-for-one-discount at the time of check payment. If your diners know they are mitigating some of the costs, they may be tempted to purchase the higher percentage profit items, such as a nice bottle of wine, or two!
And while we are on the subject of offers. Who can resist a free desert? Go on, I dare you.
Another suggestion would be ‘bring-a Friend For Free’ night.
You can’t do these kinds of things too often, but once in a while they can be a great source of repeat customers.
Diners generally don’t expect offers from restaurants as much as they would from, say, a coffee house. What’s the old saying? ‘Under promise and over deliver’.
Consider it the ‘feel good effect’.
Try different things over a period of time and see how they work out, and how your customers respond. Feel free to be creative with your offers.
You’ll be amazed at the response from simple gestures that will do more than just put a smile on hungry faces; they bring them back.