How To Build Long-Term Guests For Your Restaurant

Long-term customers are the lifeblood of most restaurants. They’re so important, that building long-term clientele should be one the top priorities of the restaurant operator. In the entire, all-consuming, whatever-it-takes world of running a restaurant, it can be easy to forget that this is the hospitality industry, and that personalizing the guest experience is the real secret to building long-term clientele.

Talking with guests should be a perk of the job. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. But managers, who are tasked with working to be all things to all people in the building, shouldn’t neglect the people who really count. These tips for building long-term clientele rely on personal service and guest rapport – two facets of the industry that too often get overlooked by very talented individuals.

Have Great Servers

Sure, letting someone you hire handle talking to the guests isn’t always a bad idea. But the reality is that the server drives the guest experience. They may come to see the friendly manager and enjoy the food, but the service has to be personal and anticipatory to win the guest over. Servers that have call parties are a sure sign of a well-run restaurant, and they give guests multiple reasons to keep coming back to their favorite lunch or dinner spot.

Having a staff full of great servers require plenty of effort from management. Hiring has to be discriminating, training has to be careful and thorough, and weak links need to be ferreted out quickly. But the rewards of building long-term clientele are too great to overlook. Unfortunately, too many great restaurants do.

Personalize the Experience

Guests who feel that their presence and their dollar are valuable are the most likely candidates to return again and again. There are countless ways to make the guest experience a memorable one.

• Always greet guests by name.
• Offer complimentary appetizers or desserts.
• Personalize a card or menu for special occasions.
• Keep logs of customer visits.
• Let the same servers wait on guests upon repeat visits.
• Send personalized emails that offer discounts.

Of course, there’s only so much time in the day, and many of these strategies are difficult to maintain. But relying on just a few will let the guest know their presence is highly valued upon each visit. This is the nuts-and-bolts of the hospitality business, and shouldn’t be lost amid food ordering, staff training, paperwork, and the other daily tasks of managing the business.

Visit Every Table

Table visits by the manager can be awkward, and they’re difficult to execute in the middle of a busy dinner shift. But a brief stop by a table lets guests know that their patronage is valuable. It also gives them a chance to compliment the food or service – a critical facet of cultivating repeat customers. A good table visit that includes name recognition and which thanks customers for coming (or returning) makes the experience personal.

In some cases, table visits let customers voice an opinion or complain about something specific. This can put out a fire before it becomes larger, and give the manager a chance to do something constructive to fix the problem. Unvoiced complaints that walk out the door are a silent killer in the restaurant business. But many long-term customers in this business have started with a manager who is willing to go the extra mile to fix a problem.

Personal Correspondence

Taking a moment to thank a guest is a lost art in this business. Email blasts and impersonal discount offers have become the norm. But taking a few moments to write a letter of thanks or addressing a question is a great way to show guests that you care. Having a marketing director or other employee do the same is also a great tool. The bottom line is demonstrating value and personal service, and any operators should take advantage of any opportunity to do so. After all, this is the hospitality business.