Blog Post / January 22, 2020 / Best Practices

From First Date to 50th: How Restaurant Marketing Nurtures Guest Loyalty

by Lenny DeFranco
Lenny DeFranco

In restaurants as in life, long-term relationships can be hard to come by. People come and people go, and even enjoyable experiences can’t prevent dalliances with the other countless options out there. But finding loyal regulars is possible. With ample communication and a deep mutual knowledge, a relationship between two happy parties can blossom and last a lifetime.

Valentine’s Day is a great occasion to bring new people into your restaurant. In 2018, 32% of Americans celebrated the holiday by dining out, with fine dining seeing a bigger increase in business than any other segment. (By the way, 40% of Valentine’s Day reservations were made in the 11 days leading up to the holiday, so make sure your reservation system is ready to go by the beginning of February.)

But what about after the special occasion? Which of those customers are going to come back? Which ones are ride or die?

Restaurant regulars spend 67% more than new guests do, but they don’t come out of thin air. Restaurant marketing is the art and science of turning one-time guests into loyal regulars. With the right combination of outreach, feedback, and personalized service, your restaurant can attract diners who really get you—and stick around for the long haul.

Restaurant discovery: How to meet new people

Before you can break the ice in person, you need to get your prospect in the door. Here are a few tips:

Look your best

There’s plenty of fish in the sea, but the waters right around your location are your best bet for getting set up long-term. Locals are more likely to see your restaurant from the street, and if they like what they see, they’ll be more likely to get in touch when they’re looking to make plans. So spruce up your appearance, and put your best foot forward. Look good, feel good.

Read next: 13 Valentine’s Day Marketing Ideas to Win and Woo Guests

Get set up by friends

Make sure the people you're already close with are spreading the word, too. According to Nielsen data, 92% of consumers trust recommendations made by their peers, and are four times as likely to spend money on an experience referred by word of mouth.

Consider setting up a loyalty promotion that rewards existing customers for sending you new ones.

Check each other out online

Before agreeing to meet in person, they’ll probably want to see what you’re like—which social media and search engines are happy to help with. Make sure you have a polished, up-to-date online presence with direct booking ready to go. While you’re at it, if they’ve made a reservation with you, check to see if they’re anyone special. Remember: it’s not stalking if they put it out there.

Beware the apps

Plenty of apps out there want to help you connect with new people, and they do make it easy to get people in the door. Maybe… too easy.

Nothing wrong with using these channels when the need arises, but beware: it’s tough to drive loyalty when the channel that introduced you two is also introducing them to others.

Be spontaneous

If someone great walks in off the street, are you ready to capture the opportunity?

Even waitlisting a restaurant guest is a chance to make a good impression. They know you’re in-demand and you get an opening to ask for their info. Reach out when you’re less busy and from there, start to connect.

Get to know them

When you first meet up, make an effort to understand this new person. What makes them tick? What’s their favorite wine? What kinds of food will make them break out in hives? Definitely make a note of that one.

Store this information for later. Because as nice as it is to show them a great time on your first encounter, it’ll be even more special to know exactly what they like when you meet again.

See what they thought

Many diners will go public with their impressions of your restaurant. On sites like Yelp, Google, and Facebook, they’ll write reviews of their experience that gives you an idea of what kind of time they had.

Aggregating these reviews into one place lets you engage them after they’ve left. If the guest had a negative experience, it’s always classy to send a note of apology and ask for another chance. If it was good, invite them back for more.

Personalize the experience

You know what they like. You know how to help them enjoy it. On your second visit, use guest data to sweep them off their feet.

Have your host stand greet them by name. Make a note for the server to recommend menu items based on the allergy information you learned last time. Offer a glass of the wine they had with their previous meal. Give them an extra glass when they’re done with that—on the house.

And ask them more about themselves. Every piece of information that can help you serve them even better next time should go into their guest profile, so that even if different servers are working when they come back in, the experience is just as magical.

Offer something you know they’ll love

Move past the honeymoon phase by proving you want the relationship to last: when they least expect it, surprise them with an offer you know they’ll love.

Invite them to a special event celebrating a type of food they like. Offer VIP treatment to the week you have a guest chef in town. Propose it in a beautifully-designed email personalized with their name.

You are not playing. This is for real.

When they do come back, treat them like royalty. Make them feel comfortable, known, respected, seen. Upgrades they don’t have to request; their favorite table when they make a reservation; surprises from the chef to celebrate their returning and continuing business.

Make it official: Upgrade them from walk-in to regular

Loyalty doesn’t come from simple convenience. There are always other options for people who just want something quick and easy; many companies will even bring food straight to their door, and they’re good at remembering guest data too.

Loyalty happens when a guest knows they can rely on you to take care of them. With guest data profiles and a commitment to amazing service, you can make that promise to them. Not just once, but for a lifetime.

About the Author

Lenny DeFranco

Lenny DeFranco writes about the data transformation of dining and hospitality for SevenRooms. Contact with story ideas and life questions at lenny.defranco@sevenrooms.com.

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