How To Convert One-Time Diners Into Loyal Customers

How To Convert One-Time Diners Into Loyal Customers

Getting people in the door is one thing, but getting them to come back is a whole different ball game.  Loyal customers are incredibly valuable in the restaurant industry: you want to do all you can to find those people who will come back and dine with you on a regular basis.  And while providing good service and tasty food is a great start, unfortunately that alone is not enough.  Here are some steps you can take to convert casual customers to full-fledged fans.

Make First-Timers’ Experience Special 

Go the extra mile to make customers’ first visit to your restaurant special. It is a pretty standard practice for servers to ask diners if it is their first time visiting.  If they say that it is, make note of this information and make it a special visit for them.  This effort can take a variety of forms: Maybe you provide your best-selling appetizer for the table to try for free, or maybe you have the owner check in on the table and chat with the first-timers. Do everything you can to ensure your first-time visitors enjoy their experience to increase the chances that they will return.

Offer an Exclusive Discount For Return Visits 

You can also incentivize all your customers to return with a special or discount.  Try printing an exclusive coupon on the bottom of all of your receipts, so customers have an immediate incentive to return after they have finished their meal.  You can even make the offer limited-time in nature (ie. have it expire after 30 days) to encourage them to return sooner rather than later.

Offer a Loyalty Program 

Loyalty programs are relatively easy to execute, inexpensive, and can yield impressive results when done right.  Set up a loyalty program that rewards customers each time they visit with points, stars, or something similar.  Once they have earned a certain number of points, they can redeem them for free food, drinks, merchandise, and more. The offer of a free or discounted item can keep people coming back more frequently than they otherwise would have, and can increase your customer loyalty as a whole.

Keep Your Menu Changing: Daily Specials, Rotating Dishes, Etc. 

You want your customers to feel excited about visiting you.  One way to increase this excitement is by changing up your menu and adding new offerings on a regular basis.  You don’t want to get rid of too many mainstays and risk upsetting your long-time customers.  However, try offering limited-time specials, off-menu items, or a rotating menu of daily specials to keep things interesting. 

Collect Contact Info Whenever Possible 

One of the best ways to keep customers coming back to your restaurant over and over again is by staying in touch with them.  If they don’t ever hear from you after their first visit, they are more likely to forget about your restaurant or wait a long time before returning.  Put the effort in to stay front-of-mind for all your customers.  When diners visit you, be sure you are sharing your social media channels and other avenues through which they can contact you.  Take any opportunity you can to collect contact information for your customers as well.  You can use this info to reach out to your customers through email marketing and keep them informed about all that is happening for your business.

Respond to Positive Reviews 

When a customer leaves a positive review of your restaurant, take it as an opportunity to interact with them and encourage them to visit again.  For most customers, merely hearing back from a business, even if it is just a simple thank you, increases their perception of the brand. Positive reviews are a great place to interact with customers who you know enjoyed your restaurant, and are thus your key target audience for building loyalty. (If you want to find out more ways to generate even more reviews for your business as well, read all about that in our recent blog post.) Thank them for the kind words, share any upcoming specials or deals you will be offering, and suggest other dishes they might enjoy if they do come back to see you again.


Finally, in all of your efforts, the more personalized you can make them, the better.  Your customers want to feel valued and seen as individuals.  Chatbots and mass marketing efforts can be great to get the word out to a large number of people, but can also feel impersonal and robotic. 

If there is ever a spot you see a chance to personalize your interactions, take it!  If you can address your customers by their first names in your emails, do it.  If you can leave a personal note on a diner’s receipt after their visit, do it. If you can target customers based on their specific preferences and tastes, do it.  The more personal your efforts feel, the more successful they are bound to be. 

As you can see, there are a variety of ways you can work to increase loyalty amongst your customer base and increase the number of return visits you are seeing.  Make the first visit count, and keep your efforts strong and consistent from there on out.  Any way you can reach your customers, provide them a positive experience, and engage in a personal interaction, make the most of it.  Before you know it, you’ll have more loyal customers than you ever did before!

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