8 Ways to Build Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant

Jessica Elliott

Jessica couples her 24 years of restaurant and hospitality industry experience with meticulous research to deliver insight into technology, operations, and marketing topics. Her optimized copy helps companies engage their audience while strengthening their communication with clients, employees, and management.

Waitress Holds Credit Card Machine As Customer Pays Bill In Bar Restaurant

Although many restaurateurs invest money in marketing to new guests via outreach campaigns, mailers, and special promotions, it’s more cost-effective to build customer loyalty at your restaurant.

Previously guests showed loyalty to their favorite restaurants after fantastic dining experiences, including mouth-watering meals. However, today’s customers may never step foot in your store. Instead, they order delivery through third-party services or find a take-out coupon on your social media page. To attract and retain restaurant guests, you need a multi-channel approach that engages customers on several platforms.

The best thing you can do is create a comprehensive engagement and retention strategy that turns guests into brand ambassadors. Leverage these tips in your restaurant marketing plans to increase repeat visits.

1. Develop a user-friendly loyalty program

While some customers appreciate traditional punchcards, online reward programs delight digital-savvy guests. Furthermore, a loyalty program drives sales and encourages repeat visits. Annex Cloud says a loyalty program can:

  • Increase overall revenue by 5% to 10%
  • Boost guest spend by 5% to 20%
  • Grow repeat visits by 5% to 20%

Get the most from your loyalty program by regularly engaging with your guests, training your servers to sign-up guests tableside, and sharing social media posts about the benefits.

Gamify the experience

Points-based programs often give customers an app to see how many points they need to get a free dinner or dessert. You can customize rewards to encourage consecutive visits or offer points based on a dollar amount.

Take advantage of all communication methods

Learn which contact methods your guests prefer, then do more of it. For example, many loyalty programs incorporate short message service (SMS) or text messaging along with emails to spread the word about a promotion or discount code.

Create regular campaigns to increase your loyalty members while vetting your current list so you can delete users who don’t respond to your efforts.

2. Tell your story and share your values

Many people wanted to show support for local businesses and desperately missed eating out during the shutdown. However, to keep their support, it’s crucial to show folks the people behind your restaurant brand.

Increase customer loyalty at your restaurant by creating a series of social media posts talking about your startup days, why you wanted to open a restaurant, or highlighting your staff and their families.

Tie your story into your values, showing how you’ve grown or changed your business yet remain dedicated to your mission and your community.

3. Give customers more of what they want

With a customer-centric focus, you adjust your offerings to fit your restaurant guests. However, to do this, you must first understand your market and how their needs evolve. Learn about your customers by talking to your staff, reviewing your point of sale (POS) data, and surveying your audience.

Once you have ideas about why your guests choose your restaurant (or why they head elsewhere), take steps to personalize their visits, and give customer-friendly choices.

Payment alternatives

While contactless payments is a buzzword for 2020, it’s a concept that’s here to stay. Guests may not want to hand over their credit or bank card to your server or sign a receipt after receiving delivery. Find out how your guests prefer to pay by taking an online poll and asking fans about popular payment methods like:

  • Android Pay
  • Apple Pay
  • Google Wallet
  • Self-service kiosks

Food options

Are you taking advantage of new ways to sell your products and support your customers? Build customer loyalty at your restaurant by offering meal options that reflect the needs of your guests. For instance, large families want bundled meal packs, whereas remote workers may crave a healthy lunch delivery option. Consider adding alternatives to your menu, such as:

  • Delivery
  • Carryout
  • Do it yourself (DIY) meal kits
  • Grocery add-on items
  • Family meal packs
  • Meals for two
  • Office catering or group meal options
  • Holiday menu items
  • Carryout beverages or desserts

4. Entertain fans on Instagram

You’ve probably noticed your diners’ snapping a photo of their meal before digging in. Instagram’s visual platform is perfect for food photos and videos, and you’ll find more than 168 million photos with the hashtag, #foodie.

According to Maru/Matchbox, “69% of millennials take a photo or video of their meal before eating,” suggesting that restaurants that support or encourage Instagrammable photos by asking fans to use a branded hashtag can increase engagement leading to loyalty.

While posting once a day is a good strategy, it’s essential to take advantage of Instagram’s other features.

Add action buttons and stickers

Instagram rolled out action buttons and stickers for restaurants to encourage fans to support small businesses. You can use stickers in your Instagram Stories and Reels for interactive experiences where followers click on the sticker to take action like buy gift cards or order food delivery.

And you can do the same thing for your business profile. Add an action button to buy gift cards or order delivery, so your followers can tap the screen and head to a partner site to purchase.

Use Stories, Reels, and IGTV

Although a post of your weekly special is excellent, other formats like Instagram Stories get more engagement. Restaurant brands create Stories to highlight an upcoming featured dish or show behind-the-scenes moments. The Stories disappear after 24-hours, making them perfect for your fear of missing out (FOMO) marketing strategies.

Plus, you can add a 15 to 30-second video Reel showing the plating of a favorite dish or a sneak peek of a new dessert. And when fans use your branded hashtag, reach out to them for permission, then reshare it on your page for extra social proof and to grow your Instagram following.

5. Get involved in your community

Community involvement builds customer loyalty by showing that your business cares about locals and is a part of the community. Being active in your community generates a buzz about your brand while increasing word of mouth recommendations. Popular ways to get involved include:

  • Sponsor a local sports team
  • Join your chamber of commerce
  • Host events for local business owners
  • Display artwork from schools or local artists
  • Be present at community events

6. Form partnerships with local businesses

Can you partner with a wellness facility to offer healthy meals and a meditation session for local companies? Or join a community-wide scavenger hunt where several businesses participate and cross-promote the event?

Small businesses are all in the same boat, struggling in a challenging economy. But there’s strength in numbers. So, talk to your neighbor and partnering up for a promotion or merely agreeing to cross-promote social media posts.

7. Get fans involved on Facebook

Your guests often ask their friends or location-specific groups about the best place to get a burger or delivery. In fact, ReviewTrackers finds, “Nearly three in four customers have used Facebook to make restaurant or retail decisions, based on comments or images that have been shared by other users.

So, marketing on Facebook involves regular updates from your brand and prompting fans to engage with your posts by sharing comments and photos. Ask a question, create a poll, or offer a giveaway to encourage customers to share their stories about your restaurant.

Many Facebook users also get information about local news or events on Facebook, so sharing posts about your community garners goodwill while increasing eyes on your posts. Replying to customers is a good way to start conversations and increase visits to your store or restaurant website.

8. Train your staff

Personal customer experiences drive customer loyalty at your restaurant. A team that works together can create excellent encounters every time. Your restaurant crew can learn customer names and accommodate special requests. You can use your POS system or rewards program to give your front of the house staff access to data to personalize every experience.

Plus, it’s important that your staff share table details with managers. For instance, servers can alert managers when someone is celebrating a birthday or significant life event. That way, your floor manager can also walk by and greet them and express gratitude for sharing their day with your store.

Next steps to increase customer loyalty at your restaurant

Turn these ideas into a plan that covers in-house, social media, and website marketing. Identify fans who regularly share your social media posts, and send them a thank-you note and coupon. Or gather social proof by asking followers to post a photo of their favorite meal from your restaurant. Engagement with your guests turns into repeat sales while increasing customer loyalty.

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