The restaurant’s guide to forging a meaningful customer experience

October 4, 2018

For most of us, restaurants, cafes, and pubs are places we go to celebrate, share, and enjoy good food and drink. But how can restaurants connect with customers and keep them coming back again and again? With a little creativity, careful tool selection, and some inspiration from these 4 suggestions, come-again connections are within every restaurant’s reach.

1. Do a little homework

Connecting with your customers is grounded in understanding what customers really mean to you and your restaurant. Seems straightforward, right? After all, customers bring in the money that boosts your cash flow. But understanding the lifetime value of your customers and how it’s calculated helps you grasp just how much money a customer could spend with your business over a lifetime. And that understanding can move your restaurant’s entire marketing focus from constantly scouting for new customers to nurturing those you already have.

In fact, most restaurant owners understand the need to put effort into pulling new customers through the door, but they may not know that the cost of getting a new customer is typically higher than the cost of keeping an existing customer. Shifting your marketing focus from just scouting for new customers to keeping those you already have means shifting more attention to your customer’s experience.

2. Create an unforgettable guest experience

Creating a standout experience isn’t just about the food, beer, or coffee you serve, it’s also about what you do for your customers. According to this recent Deloitte study, patrons connect with restaurants who serve up these actions.

Engage. First impressions count. Simple things like greeting each guest who enters your establishment and letting them know you’re glad they came starts to forge a connection. And not doing so can produce instant fallout, as this restaurant discovered. Keep the hostess area organized. Provide accurate wait estimates, and offer more options with apps like WaitlistMe for letting parties know their tables are ready. If wait times are longer on certain evenings, make sure guests have a pleasant place to wait. Consider offering complimentary waters or a sample tasting to whet their palettes.

Empower. Experiences with your brand start well before a guest sets foot in your restaurant. They can start with your digital presence, like your website, mobile app, or social profiles. Create anticipation before guests venture in by telling the story of your restaurant, your chef, or your space. Give guests the power of choice by providing online reservations through Open Table, or offer average wait-time information for the busiest nights of the week. And when customers do arrive, make selection and ordering simple through clearly-written menus and well-trained, knowledgeable staff. When it’s time to leave, offer quick, easy options for payments and splitting tabs. And don’t forget takeout customers. Make online ordering simple and convenient with apps like iMenu 360 Online Ordering or Kwik Menu.

Listen. Hearing customers as they make requests, express needs, or demonstrate challenges, and thinking out of the box to meet those needs goes a long way in creating experiences that bring customers back. For example, one of the big challenges of dining out for families is keeping small children occupied. So offer activities that keep little hands busy as they wait for a table or for food. And making ingredient and allergen information—particularly regarding gluten, nuts, and dairy—available to guests with special dietary needs goes a long way to building trust and appreciation.

3. Keep customers coming back often

How do restaurants keep and deepen relationships with customers? They show customers that they appreciate. Peruse these simple ways to deepen valuable relationships.

Appreciate loyalty and reward repeaters. A stellar loyalty program for restaurants not only acknowledges customers and shows them they’re appreciated, it creates an opportunity for engagement and transaction. Studies show loyalty programs increase purchases by as much as 20%. As you design your customer loyalty program, be sure to ask these 6 questions. And check out 4 tips specifically for café loyalty programs. Incentivizing customers to dine more frequently, order that extra dessert, or chase dinner with a coffee is easy with apps like Customer Connect Rewards and Rewards. Finally, consider launching a VIP program for your best customers—you can even design affordable perks for them. For more reward program ideas, take a peek at page 12 of this ebook.

Create occasions and host events. Whether it’s customizing tables for large parties, welcoming after-work business socials, or accommodating book club meetings, being the place where customers create occasions can bring your guests coming back with their colleagues, friends, and family. Consider creating your own events to engage customers. For example, offer a cooking class for singles or a lesson in pour over coffee brewing methods at your venue. Or offer an invitation-only event for your VIP customers to sample your unique flavors. Invite customers to participate in a theme night: think 80s sci-fi night, Halloween fright night, or weekly sports night. And never underestimate the value of hosting a charitable event to show support of your community and present your brand to the local market.

Throw in some freebies. Giveaways, raffles, and contests can get customers’ attention and don’t have to be expensive. Buy a couple of tickets to the theater, the symphony, or a sporting event as draw prize. Or gift a dinner for two to the customer who refers the most friends in a month. And check out these 8 smart, affordable ways to deepen customer relationships.

4. Pull new customers through the door

In our recent interview with David Joseph, restaurateur and current tech company cofounder, he shared: “A restaurateur once said to me, ‘The most expensive seat in a restaurant is the empty one, because it’s costing you’.” So how do you fill empty seats? Before foodies can enjoy your delicious edibles, they’ve got to know you’re there. Filling those seats can be as simple as this rule of thumb: be social, reach new customers through existing ones, and test.

Be social. One of the least expensive ways to get the word out is by marketing your restaurant through social. The goal is to increase followers and to turn those followers into customers. But to attract followers you need content. Content can include posts about events you’re hosting, recipes from the chef, photos of the kitchen staff in action, or anything that might interest your patrons. Another way to create content for your restaurant is to have your fans create it for you. For example, ask customers to take a pic of their favorite dish from your place, post it, and share it on a page you set up for them. Turn it into a fun event by awarding the pic with most shares or likes with a gift card. For more ideas about marketing through social, check out 5 marketing tools that boost your restaurant’s visibility and section 2 of this ebook.

Reach new customers. Use reviews, testimonials, and referrals of existing customers. Each month, 100M+ visitors turn to Yelp for information, ratings, and reviews on all kinds of businesses, including restaurants. But in the frenetic everyday of food service, many restaurants struggle to find time to manage online reviews—reviews that can make or break their reputation in the local community. Fortunately, Yelp for Business Owners makes it easy to connect with customers, respond to reviews with a private message or public comment, and manage your Yelp page to help garner great Yelp reviews. And when you receive outstanding reviews from customers, harness those testimonials for your marketing materials. Lastly, remember to encourage customer referrals, but keep in mind these dos and don’ts of referral marketing.

Test new-to-you tactics. One of the best tools of marketing is testing. So be open to testing new-to-you tactics, whether coupons, email marketing, or fun apps, like Food and Drink Exchange. Conjuring Wall-Street-style excitement through dynamic pricing, this app lets customers watch item prices change in real-time as products are purchased at your venue. When guests order in-demand items, prices of those items rise and prices of competing items fall—just like the stock exchange. Dynamic pricing can spin up a festive atmosphere fast and increase profits.

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