Hold onto your aprons, because here comes a nasty factoid: restaurant sales are, according to analyst Paul Westra, “falling at such a meaningful rate that they’re signaling not just an industry-wide problem, but could be a ‘harbinger’ for a full-blown recession.” Ouch! That’s a brutal outlook to face in an already challenging market.
It’s a reminder of the work required to keep restaurants afloat. Surely, it takes extraordinary operational effort—budgeting, hiring, training, staffing, scheduling, planning, and cooking—but it also takes recognizing that customers are your restaurant’s most valuable resources.
And it’s about more than just getting people through your door, it’s about getting them to return to your restaurant again and again. If a 5% increase in customer retention is all it can take to increase profits by up to 95%, it’s good business sense (and a great way to insulate against Mr. Westra’s warning) to invest in ways to attract customers.
What steps can you take to keep ‘em coming back for more? Read on. Here are three tactics to increase your restaurant’s customer loyalty.
Studies have shown that making emotional connections with customers will go a long way towards turning them into regulars. Customers report that they value feeling cared for by attentive staff, and that they appreciate a restaurant where they can gather with friends. And naturally, they like feeling content after a satisfying, delicious meal.
Tap into the warm fuzzies when it comes to staff training—employees that put in effort with customers make all the difference when it comes to earning loyalty. Front-of-house employees are in the business of customer care, so motivate them to go the extra mile. Edmonton’s Woodwork credits their success to an attentive workforce that’s trained to engage with regulars, anticipate customer needs, and manage challenges as they arise.
When you and your staff take the time to chat with regulars, you establish, build and maintain personal relationships. Dedicated, friendly managers and employees are key to establishing returning customers. Your regulars will feel a sense of inclusion and ownership when their feedback matters, and you’ll gain insight that you wouldn’t ordinarily have—you might gain a fresh perspective on what your restaurant could start, stop, or continue doing. Plus, when your regulars see their suggestions being put to use, their loyalty will flourish.
Well, you already are awesome. But what’s wrong with becoming more awesome? Where to start? Take a peek at your menu. As a restaurant on the lookout for regular customers, it’s essential to identify what you do well, and to then do it the best.
Deloitte found that 7 in 10 diners say that they like their favorite restaurant’s signature menu offerings. What dish or drink does your restaurant do really, really, really well? Capitalize on those popular items by encouraging staff to brag them up. When customers fall in love with your kitchen’s or bar’s finest work, and when your restaurant consistently does a wicked job at preparing those signature items, you’ll quickly build a fleet of loyal regulars who can’t get enough.
And don’t forget to stay awesome, too! Once a customer is loyal, it doesn’t mean that it’s time to go into set-it-and-forget-it mode. Find ways to maintain that VIP feeling for your most loyal customers, and always leave them with something to show their friends.
As the demand for your signature items increases, so will your need for smart inventory control. Erase your margin for error with BlueCart. Use the procurement platform to closely monitor your inventory levels and order frequency, because nothing’s more heartbreaking than when your server informs you that the kitchen is out of a key element of a beloved dish.
One of the many reasons why people go out to eat (or use on-demand apps like UberEats, SkipTheDishes, Just Eat, etc.) in the first place is because it’s easy. The work’s done for them. The table’s set, the food’s masterfully created, and—assuming nobody’s forgotten their wallet—no one has to do dishes. Restaurants are places of customer care and convenience.
Of course, plenty of behind-the-scenes hustle goes into creating a simple, relaxing customer experience. The key to success on this front is to be prepared, and the best way to prepare for your future is to reflect upon your history. Luckily, you have all the information you need right in your restaurant POS software and in your restaurant scheduling software.
Examine past sales and scheduling reports from days, weeks, months, and years gone by when you start creating your staff schedules. Look at restaurant and staff performance to be ready for sports events, hot patio days, busy holiday seasons, and remember to stay in tune with local ongoings.
For example, were employees breathlessly sprinting across the dining room to keep up with the crush of customers last Valentine’s Day? If so, work with that information to keep employees—and diners—at ease when that popular dining-out day pops up on the calendar.
When your staff levels are optimized, your employees can put extra time into customer care, and that special attention goes hand-in-hand with creating a frictionless, welcoming dining experience that’s sure to inspire return appearances.
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Customer satisfaction is everything, because customer satisfaction means customer loyalty, and that, of course, equals revenue. The Harvard Business School conducted a study on Starbucks to determine the relationship between customer satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue. They found that “highly satisfied” Starbucks customers visit 7.2 times per month, spend $4.42 per visit, and remain a customer for an impressive 8.3 years!
Imagine what your restaurant would look like with customer loyalty of that magnitude. The best part is that it’s all within reach. With wise preparation, emotional connections, and irresistible signature items, you’ll be well on your way to building a strong foundation of loyal customers that you’ll be able to rely upon for years to come.
Kim Warner is a Content Strategist at 7shifts, an employee scheduling app designed for restaurants. She works with the rest of the 7shifts team to help their customers all over the world save time scheduling, reduce labor costs, and improve employee communication. When she’s not slingin’ words at her desk, she’s either in search of yet another cup of coffee or is on the hunt for the next addition to her record collection.