Five Ways to Increase Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant or Bar

As any restaurant or bar owner/operator will tell you, loyal regulars are the foundation of a successful small business. Despite slow days, seasonal lulls and economic downturns, a robust and dependable base of customers can keep your business afloat.

Of course, occasional and first-time guests are great. You should work to recruit as many of them as possible via marketing channels like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Yelp and others. But recruiting customers is more costly and more difficult than retaining them. So, in the race for more, don’t forget about the ones you already have.

Whether you own a chef-centered fine dining restaurant or a dive bar with craft beers and burgers, you’ll appreciate these five ways to show your customers some love, increase customer loyalty, and keep them coming back for more.

1. Offer Loyalty Programs

One of the easiest ways to increase customer loyalty at your restaurant or bar is through loyalty programs. These programs allow you to reward customers for their business. You’ll want a reward big enough to make customers want to participate, but not so big that it sacrifices profitability.

Loyalty programs come in all shapes and sizes. You could offer a free appetizer or drink after a certain number of visits, or you could offer a percentage-based discount on an entire check after a certain number of meals. Additionally, you can incentivize joining by offering a free beer or dessert to anyone who signs up.

Signing up also offers you the opportunity to collect customer data, like emails and zip codes, which might later prove useful in future marketing campaigns and promotions. If you need help getting started with your loyalty program, you can find customizable loyalty card templates online that will make growing loyalty a cinch.

2. Prioritize Customer Service

Another important way to increase customer loyalty is to prioritize customer experience. Owning a restaurant or bar isn’t just about offering great food and drinks. Your guests also want to unwind, have fun and enjoy your atmosphere.

From the moment your guests enter, they need to feel like an appreciated part of your business, and they need to feel like your staff is doing all they can to provide them with a memorable experience. Every step of the dining process – from being greeted by the host to closing out with the server – should show your business’s commitment to service.

One of the best ways to ensure customer service is to foster great staff morale. It’s been proven time and again – a happy staff leads to better interactions with customers. So, if you want to make your guests happy, make sure your staff is happy, and make sure your staff knows how to pass along their quality work environment in the form of quality customer service.

Understanding your ideal customer, and understanding what they want from your business, is also an important part of your customer service experience. If you don’t know what your guests want, how can you give it to them? Understanding your customers can help you perfect your brand, your atmosphere and your menu. It’s smart to periodically take a step back, survey your customers, and ask yourself if you are doing all you can to best understand and provide for their needs.

3. Ask for Feedback

Comment cards, surveys and online platforms like Yelp or Google provide you with plenty of opportunities to ask your customers for feedback that can improve your customer service, show your guests you care, and increase customer loyalty.

One way to get feedback is to simply ask for it. You could promote your business profile on Yelp or Google with bar flyers, table tents and social media posts. This will provide your guests with the ability to tell you, and the rest of the internet, about their experience at your restaurant or bar. If the reviews are good, this can also increase the visibility of your restaurant on Yelp and Google.

For some, especially your regulars, it will be enough to simply ask for feedback. For others, you’ll likely have to incentivize it. You can do this by offering free appetizers, drinks or dessert to anyone who leaves a review. Promoting your business profile on these reviews sites, and incentivizing reviews, should provide you with plenty of actionable feedback to improve your customer experience and boost your Google and Yelp rating.

Now that you have all of this feedback, it’s time to actually listen to it. Maybe there are common themes in your reviews, or maybe there are a few very smart and insightful suggestions. Whatever the case may be, now it’s time to improve your business by doing more of what your customers love, and maybe less of what they don’t.

4. Streamline Your Processes

Your guests come to your business to relax, have fun, and enjoy delicious food and drinks. They don’t want to work to get a table, work to order their food, or work to spend their hard earned dollars. If dealing with your restaurant is difficult, they’ll probably go somewhere else next time where it’s easier.If you want to increase customer loyalty, then you need to make it as easy as possible for your guests to enjoy all you have to offer. The best way to do this is by streamlining your front-of-house processes.

You want your front-of-house to run like a well-oiled machine. Each member of your staff must be thoroughly trained and understand their role in the larger customer experience. Additionally, embracing technology can help your customer move through the dining experience. Online reservations, virtual waitlists, QR codes and tableside technology can make it easy for your guests to keep coming back for more.

Don’t forget about delivery and takeout. For those customers who want your mouth-watering buffalo chicken sandwich but don’t want to leave the house, you can partner with services like Grubhub and DoorDash. For take-out orders, skip the third-party delivery services and their profit-slashing fees. Instead, promote your restaurant’s phone number or use the online ordering software that likely comes with your POS.

5. Promote via Social Media

You’ve heard it said before – out of sight, out of mind. With more restaurants and bars than ever before competing for your customers’ attention, this cliché has never been truer. If you want to increase customer loyalty at your restaurant or bar, it’s not enough to make great food, offer loyalty programs and provide top-notch customer service. You also need to stay on your customers’ minds.

Social media marketing campaigns are an effective and inexpensive way to remind your guests why they love your business. On platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, you can post food-porn worthy photos to make your customers drool and get them back to your tables. You can post short videos highlighting your quality customer experience, your great cocktails and even your chef preparing a house favorite. You can also run social media contests to get users to engage with your content.

As a good rule of thumb, you’ll want to post three to four times per week. This is enough to stay at the top of your customers’ minds, but not enough that they grow annoyed or bored of your content. But running eye-catching and effective marketing campaigns can be a lot to ask. Thankfully, for the busy restaurateur and bar owner, you can find tons of online resources and free social media templates that can quickly supercharge your digital marketing and keep your customers engaged.

The Result: Powerful, Lasting Effects

Overall your regulars are the heart of your business. Make sure they know it, and make sure they know you know it by showing them the appreciation they deserve. Small things – like learning names and stopping for a chat – can have powerful and lasting effects.

In the end, owning a successful restaurant or bar isn’t just about making food, drinks and money. It’s about creating a community of workers and customers. If you can create a community and maintain your sound business practices, you will provide a solid base for your future. If you can remember, in the melee of a Friday night rush, to be thankful for your employees and your customers, then you can create the ideal environment for customer loyalty.

Mark Plumlee is the senior content manager for MustHaveMenus, a leading design software and template provider for bars and restaurants.

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