7 Secrets for Building Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant

7 Secrets for Building Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant

Restaurants that enjoy steady business make it look easy. Regulars return again and again, even on weeknights. Business is brisk. Check averages are high. But don’t be fooled: Customer loyalty doesn’t just happen; it must be earned. Behind the scenes, successful restaurants are hard at work – using these 7 secrets to build customer loyalty.

Bottom Line Benefits of Customer Loyalty

As a restaurant owner or manager, you’re busy. So why add customer loyalty to your already-full plate? These stats prove why it pays strengthen bonds with your guests.

  1. Bigger Profits: Improving guest retention rates by 5%, can increase profits by 25-95%
  2. Word of Mouth: 55% of loyal customers tell their friends and family about your business
  3. Easy Upsells: The probability of upselling to an existing customer is 60-70%, just 5-20% for new ones!
  4. Early Adopters: Loyal, existing guests are 5x more likely to try a new menu offering

1) Mobile Customer Loyalty Programs

Move over punch card. More than half of today’s guests want your loyalty program on their smartphone, based on a 2017 VISA study of over 28,000 customers.

It’s easier – and more affordable than ever – to design a mobile customer loyalty program for your restaurant. One of the biggest benefits of launching one is a boost in sales. Most loyalty apps alert guests when a reward is within reach. Studies show that the quest to earn rewards becomes a game, increasing guest spend by as much as 39%.

While customer loyalty programs are effective, loyalty is more than mechanics. Mobile app platform AppInstitute says it best:

“Loyalty programs are a great way of adding value to customer visits.”

They discovered that 90% of consumers joining mobile loyalty programs feel they are gaining value from them and 95% of people were likely to continue using them. Why? It creates a more personal experience for the customer and builds trust between both parties. To be likeable and trusted by guests – try these next 6 strategies to build loyalty.

2) Guest-Facing Dining Tech: Proven to Improve Customer Loyalty

To build customer loyalty, emphasize the “custom” in customer.

In a 2017 loyalty study by Accenture, 57% of millennial guests reported more loyalty to businesses that invite them to personalize their experience. So, start fostering customer loyalty as soon as guests place orders.

That’s where tabletop dining tablets come in.

Tabletop tablets let guests order from a digital menu, empowering them to customize their meal like never before. Even your best waiter can’t recite a list of every add-on and option for each menu item. But a tablet can display all the extras!

Personalization doesn’t stop at ordering. Some dining tablets also let guests pace out their meal: Guests decide when to order, re-order, checkout, and pay. While waiting for food, guests can even access on-tablet games and trivia (see more in tactic #5).

No worries. When patrons control the meal’s pace, they don’t turn into campers. Dining tablets actually speed up table turn…an extra bonus on top of improved customer loyalty.

After likeability, trust has the biggest impact on customer loyalty. The easiest way to instill trust in your guests is through a safe, secure payment process.

In fact, the Accenture loyalty study showed that 85% of customers are more loyal to businesses that take steps to safeguard their financial information.

The same tabletop dining tablets that take orders also include secure EMV card reader (also known as a “chip” card reader). Guests don’t have to hand off their credit card to a server. It stays with them at the table.

3) Charitable Causes…and Effects on Customer Loyalty

One of the best ways to be loved by guests? Show you’ve got heart.

Make charitable causes a priority to boost customer loyalty. The Accenture study found that nearly 4 in 10 U.S. customers show loyalty to brands that actively support charities. The key word is “actively” – it’s not enough to make occasional cash donations. For the biggest lift in customer loyalty, create charitable programs that involve guests.

  • Charity of the Month: Using Facebook or Twitter’s polling feature, let guests vote on one charity each month who will receive 10% of all proceeds from a “charity night” event. Go a step further, let the charity send in a guest bartender to collect tips that night.
  • Buy Local: Support local farmers: 41% of U.S. customers are influenced to choose restaurants that source local ingredients. Even sourcing just a few items can make a big impact on customer loyalty.
  • Charity Walk or Run: Create a team comprised of both guests and employees to fundraise and participate in a charity race.
    In addition to building customer loyalty, being charitable attracts new guests through word-of-mouth: 72% of bar and restaurant patrons recommend venues that support a good cause.

4) Special Events That Build Bonds

What’s the ultimate goal of any customer loyalty program? Repeat business. Encourage return visits with exciting events that bring guests back again and again…

Live Trivia Night
Join nearly 3,000 bars and restaurants who are hosting live trivia nights…themselves. Most restaurants just hire an outside trivia host, but the host ends up bonding with your guests. Instead, let your staff rock the mic – and build customer loyalty. Partner with a live trivia company that trains your team and provides the trivia questions and tablets for easy scoring.

Advance Preview Nights
Make guests feel like insiders with invite-only menu preview nights. To foster customer loyalty, let guests be first to try new seasonal menus. Your chef should give a brief talk about his or her inspiration behind each dish. Or, partner with a local brewery. Host a “First Tap” event where guests try new brews before everyone else.

5) Game On! Up Your Entertainment Factor

Knowing that the key to customer loyalty is likeability, try these tips to raise your fun factor. Think of people you like to be around. They’re entertaining, upbeat, and fun. How can your restaurant embody those traits?

Bar Olympics
Everyone likes a little friendly competition. Guests can team up and compete in classic bar games. Think cornhole, darts, ring toss, and beer pong.

Handheld Gaming Tablets
Give guests tablets that tap into nationally scheduled trivia games. The same tablets also give customers access to a digital arcade loaded with games for all ages.

An independent Arbitron study revealed that over 56% of players returned more often than the average guest – and spent 21% more per table check. Want in? Find out more about Buzztime.

6) Customer Loyalty Tips to Make Guests Feel Like a VIP

Alert System for VIPs
Regulars. VIPs. NPRs. PPXs. Whatever you call your best guests, have a customer loyalty abbreviation system in place. That way, everyone – from the host to the busser – is alerted to treat the guest like royalty.

Most restaurants affix acronyms to reservations and orders. It’s a simple way to alert the team a VIP is in the building. Some even have codes for new guests – to ensure they receive extra-special service to build customer loyalty from the start.

First Name Basis
Say hello to one of the easiest customer loyalty tactics. Train your servers and bartenders to use the guest’s first name whenever possible. Nothing sounds sweeter to guests than hearing their name. Studies show that when people hear their own name, it evokes a powerful emotional response. Plus, it makes the guest feel like a VIP.

It’s not “can I get you another beer?” – it’s “John, can I get you another beer?” Bartenders have it easy. When guests open tabs, bartenders should sneak a peek at the name on the credit card. Learning first names is an added benefit to carding every bar patron.

Customer of the Month 2.0
Many bars and restaurants have a customer of the month program. It’s a tried and true method for building customer loyalty. The problem is, usually the guest is the only one who knows!

Instead, shine the spotlight on your customer of the month using digital signage technology.

A digital signage system can turn your existing TVs into customizable displays – in a few fast clicks. Now, your top customers can see their name in lights…all month long.

7) Marketing Tactics That Grow Guest Loyalty

Start a Blog
Got a blog already? Great. You’re ahead of the game. While most restaurants start blogs to build SEO, blogs also increase customer loyalty: 6 in 10 guests feel more positive about a business after they read its blog. Use these tips to start a restaurant blog.

Personalized Email Marketing
Just like dining tablets, your email marketing can give guests a personalized experience – one that boosts customer loyalty. To personalize the emails, use the power of list segmentation. If you use an email service provider, like MailChimp, it’s simple to set up and maintain different email lists. That way, you only send emails with information the guest cares about.

In addition to building customer loyalty, you’ll see a drop in unsubscribe rates. In a 2016 survey by HubSpot, 66% of customers said they unsubscribed from emails because “the topics weren’t aligned with their interests.”

When you capture email addresses, ask guests if they want to receive emails about:

  1. Sports-related events (even ask which sports they follow)
    New menu items
    Special events and live music
    Special offers and coupons

Don’t forget to ask for the guest’s birthday! You can send guests automatic emails for a special birthday offer – a simple way to enhance customer loyalty.

It’s a fact. Competition is fierce in the bar and restaurant biz. To keep guests coming back to you, make customer loyalty a priority and put these 7 secrets into play today.

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