How to Keep Loyal Customers
When you first opened your restaurant, your goal was to attract new customers – to get them through the door and have them try your food. But now that you’ve established a successful business, your goal should be to maintain your customer base or, conversely, to prevent customer interest from waning. Attracting new customers is important, but keeping loyal customers may be the most important goal of all.
Return Business is Vital
Return business is the meat and potatoes of the restaurant industry. Return customers provide your business with a regular income and they can be your best marketing tool. The results of a survey, conducted among a large number of fast-food restaurants, indicated that customer satisfaction drives higher returns than food or price. The chances that a customer will return increases from 20 percent, to more than 80 percent, when he or she leaves a restaurant satisfied and happy. In addition, a satisfied customer is more likely to recommend your restaurant to friends and relatives.
In an article entitled “Repeat Customers Integral to Success, Study Finds,” the National Restaurant Association reports that repeat customers make up from 50% to 70% of total sales at all types of restaurants, ranging from fine-dining restaurants to fast-food operations. So how do you keep your customers loyal and returning? Read on.
Keep Your Restaurant Clean
Restaurant customers are famously observant and the first thing they notice – before the menu or the waiter’s nifty uniform – is dirt. If you want customers to keep coming back, keep your restaurant clean. It’s not enough to wipe down the tables; we’re talking about checking the corners for dirt and the light fixtures for dust. If you don’t pay proper attention to your dining area – and to your restrooms – customers can assume that your kitchen is equally questionable.
If you’re looking for customers to keep returning to your restaurant, superficial cleaning won’t cut it. Restrooms, especially, must be spic and span – throughout the day’s operating hours. According to the Fast Casual website, “Clean bathrooms might be the most important marketing job in your restaurant. Customers consistently site dirty bathrooms as the primary reason for not returning to restaurants.” Just as important, ensure that your wait staff is presentable and orderly – they represent your restaurant and should be well kept, even at the end of a long day.
Customer Service: At the Top of the List
To turn a new customer into a loyal patron, make customer service a top priority. Every aspect of your restaurant needs to focus on building a personal connection with the customer. This means that the moment a guest parks his car, through the time spent waiting for a table, to the moment he pays the bill, your approach should be service-oriented, with the customer always front and center. Customers want more than minimal attention; they want their needs taken into consideration and their presence acknowledged.
As soon as a customer walks through the door, he or she should be greeted with a friendly smile. Once seated, they should not have to wait more than a few minutes for a server to come and take their order. Almost nothing can make up for guests being left high and dry by the wait staff after taking their seats.
However, good service goes beyond simply taking orders quickly and bringing the right food. Good service includes, filling water glasses (without being asked), and bringing food to all the guests at a table at the same time. Servers should never leave one customer hungrily watching while fellow diners partake of their menu choice. In addition, train your servers to approach unattended customers – even if the guests are not sitting at a table assigned to that server specifically. An abandoned customer is not a repeat customer.
Keep Your Cooking Consistent
When you opened your restaurant, you focused on a concept that was represented by your menu and that was anchored in quality. However, one of the biggest mistakes a restaurateur can make is letting quality and consistency slide over time. People like consistency; they like knowing what to expect when picking a place to eat out. If your food tastes different with each visit, people will stop coming. If they order food that’s phenomenal one day, then mediocre the next, they’ll probably stop ordering from you altogether. What this means is that pasta must always be fresh, soup should be consistently hot, and a medium rare burger should never be anything but medium rare. The amount of salt and other seasonings should also stay consistent, so that the Split Pea Soup a customer had on Opening Day should taste the same three years later.
Equally important is that portion sizes stay consistent, as well. You customers should be able to come back time and again, and find that their favorite dish hasn’t shrunk or changed its look. Consistency is the bedrock of repeat business.
Keep Your Menu Simple
Surveys of restaurant customers have found that menus with too many options are off-putting; customers – especially hungry customers – run out of patience when faced with an overwhelming number of choices and lengthy descriptions. If you opened your restaurant with a minimalistic menu featuring your signature dishes, your loyal customers are not looking for an expanded version. When it comes to menus, more is often less, so continue to choose a small selection of items and feature the dishes that you’re best at making.
You Can’t Put a Price on Loyalty
Return customers are the cornerstone of your business. In addition to the above steps, a loyalty program can also encourage customers to keep coming back. Keep your restaurant clean, periodically review your menu, deliver consistent food and portion sizes – all the time every time – and work on your customer service. Paying attention to these elusive factors will keep your customer retention rate and increase your business accordingly.