How can I make new customers regular customers?

09 March 2006
How can I make new customers regular customers?

What can I do to make sure new customers become regular customers?

Paul West, Ignite Marketing
Repeat customers are crucial to the success of a restaurant, and it costs considerably more to attract new customers than it does to retain old ones.

Loyalty starts with the basics. Customers will return if they love the food, service, atmosphere and decor, and feel they receive value for money, so begin by ensuring each of these is as good as you can possibly make it.

Customers like to feel special, so try to remember names and favourite drinks, dishes and table. Greet people by name, welcome them back and offer them a free glass of their favourite tipple. Spend time with your customers, ask them to try a new dish or wine you're thinking of introducing, and listen to their feedback. Personal service is everything.

You could launch a loyalty reward scheme in which a customer earns X if they get a card stamped Y times - try to aim for the equivalent of a 10% discount. A complex version of this can be incorporated into your EPoS system with plastic loyalty cards that earn points based on spend that can be redeemed for discounts or other rewards.

Develop a database to enable you to communicate with customers. You can collect data through a feedback card incentivised with a prize draw or through business card collection boxes. As well as asking for contact information such as
e-mail, address and mobile phone number, include info such as birth date, favourite drink, dish and table. Learn how to use mail-merge to send out personalised communications which should encourage brand interaction. Hold wine-tastings, cookery demonstrations and menu-launch events, and invite customers to spend their birthday at your venue.

Ensure your customers feel part of your business and they will return time and time again.

Guy Holmes, The Restaurant Ingredient I shall take it for granted for the purposes of this article that the food and service available at your establishment are enough to make new customers return, but nevertheless with so much competition out there, they sometimes need a push.

One of the most tried and tested as well as the most cost-effective ways to do this is by using "bounce backs". Basically, these are enticements to get customers to make return visits, and they usually take the form of vouchers. For example, over the Christmas period some restaurants decided to make their own crackers and put a January offer inside, such as two main courses for the price of one or a free bottle of wine for every table of two.

Obviously a bounce back is not just for the Christmas period, and any senior staff should be able to give a limited number of vouchers out every week. The vouchers can simply be the offer written on the headed restaurant notepaper and can be useful in getting bums on seats at quieter times of the week like Monday and Tuesday nights, and could turn new customers into regulars.

As each bounce back is given personally, and the offer limited to whoever you like, it makes it somewhat easier to get the customers you want at the times you want. For example, there may be businessmen who come to your restaurant in the evening but never for lunch. By giving them a bounce back with a good lunchtime offer you'll make sure they come for lunch at least once - and obviously the reverse is also true.

Robin Houghton, enewsworks First, ensure you have the means to contact customers once they've left the premises. The hospitality sector leads the field in loyalty programmes, yet it's still amazing how few independent establishments bother to ask "May we keep in touch?"

Second, remember satisfied customers have already been won over. What's going to keep them coming back is attention, recognition, and reminders that you exist. Record customer preferences and purchase behaviour - easily done if you have an electronic reservations system - and use that information to target messages.

Use e-mail to keep up a dialogue with customers. It's fast, measurable and cost-effective. Depending on your market, you could also consider adding SMS (text messaging).

E-mail loyalty tips:

  • Do it regularly - people appreciate consistency.
  • Always ask permission. Don't collect e-mail addresses by stealth - that's spamming.
  • Make sure it's not just hard sell, and go lightly on self-promotion. Telling people about the manager's new baby or the head chef's tips on cooking asparagus builds empathy. Banging on about your latest awards or newest promotions doesn't.
  • Work with complementary businesses to offer partner rewards. Reciprocal deals can put your brand in front of a new audience.
  • Have a customer-get-customer strategy, such as offering gift vouchers or "treat a friend" rewards.
  • Be compliant with privacy and electronic communications legislation - for example, you must include unsubscribe instructions.
  • Don't overdo it. You can add "alerts" to your regular newsletter schedule, but too many e-mails can annoy people.

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