How to Increase Customer Loyalty at Your Restaurant

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The restaurant industry is highly competitive, whether you’re offering fast food, casual or even fine dining. And attracting customers and retaining them takes more than just reasonable pricing and a good concept. You need to differentiate your restaurant from competitors and provide them what they want. If you’re looking for ways to increase customer loyalty, consider implementing the following tips.

Improve Your Service Speed
There’s a limit to how long customers want to wait for a meal, even if you own a fine dining establishment. If you’re in the fast food industry, you must constantly strive to improve speed of service at the counter and drive-thru. And customers of casual dining facilities expect waiters to enlighten them about their menus, refill their drinks and get their orders right.

Maintain High Quality
Your customers will never be loyal unless your food tastes good and is served at proper temperatures. The best way to improve quality at your restaurant and, in turn, increase customer loyalty, is making sure all your employees are properly trained. This includes training them on food preparation, portion sizes, holding times and maintaining proper temperatures. You must also ensure your workers know how to properly store items in walk-ins and freezers.

Go the Extra Mile
As a restaurant owner and manager, maintaining a visible presence in your unit speaks volume to customers and their continued patronage. Talk to customers during and after their meals. Ask them how their meal was and inquire if they need anything else. Don’t give them the opportunity to leave without being completely satisfied with all aspects of the experience: ambience, food quality and service. Get to know your customers and address them by name. Learn where they like to sit, what foods they enjoy and whether they have any special needs. All of these special gestures can drive repeat business.

Provide the Right Environment
In a recent Scottish study, restaurant customers spent 23 percent more on food and drink when slow music played, according to Kiplinger. Many restaurants are upgrading their settings today, making customers feel more at home. Examples include more comfortable and roomier seating, fireplaces with sofas, brighter color schemes and WI-FI services. These add-ons can increase the average amount of time customers spend in your restaurant, which means they’ll likely spend more, too.

Offer What They Want
Most restaurants have core menu offerings that are either instituted by corporate offices, franchises or individual owners. But you will need to be more flexible with your offering to generate loyalty. In any business, loyalty is created when you can predict what customers desire before they know it, according to Forbes. The best way to accomplish this is by remaining innovative and constantly upgrading menu choices. See what food items, sauces and side dishes sell best at competitive restaurants. Create several variations of the new meals. Conduct focus groups or taste tests to determine which ones people like best.

Create a Loyalty Program
The Gilkey Restaurant Consulting Group said, “Loyalty programs are specifically designed to turn restaurant patrons into repeat customers, which means enhanced customer loyalty.” These programs reward customers according to the amount they spend or the frequency in which they visit your restaurant. Start by promoting the loyalty program inside your restaurant. Create banners or displays that inform customers about the loyalty program and enable them to sign up. With a frequency program, you can issue simple cards that your cashiers can stamp each time a customer comes in. Once they complete the card by purchasing six meals, for example, you can offer free drinks, sides or even free entrees. It’s best to keep the free entrees limited to one specific popular item to minimize costs: Small hamburger, taco or chicken sandwich, for example. You can also integrate the frequency program purchases into your POS systems by using magnetic strip cards or phone numbers. That way your computer system determines when customers get discounts and calculates the discount automatically.

Just introducing several of these strategies at your restaurant can start increasing your customer loyalty. And you don’t even need to hike labor expenses to accomplish this. Increasing customer loyalty leads to higher sales and profits, which is your primary objective anyway.

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Kevin Schultz is a professional journalist with over 15 years of writing and media experience. He is a full-time contributor to the Themocracy Online News Blog and his insightful writing has been enjoyed by thousands.