8 Simple Ways to Attract and Retain Customers
Restaurants are among the most diverse businesses out there. There are franchises and chains both large and small, mom-and-pop breakfast joints, upscale casual bistros, late-night pubs, white linen fine-dining, fast food, take-away shops and everything in between.
There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to get the word out about your business; in fact, there isn’t a single way at all. That’s a blessing and a curse, marketers like Jane Barkley, founder of IM@Events, will tell you.
“Restaurant marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. The way you approach the challenge of marketing your restaurant depends on whether you’re launching a brand new restaurant, or if you’ve been in the business for years. One thing remains true regardless of where you fall in the food chain: you must understand who your customer is in order to grow your business,” she says.
“Understanding your customer and the best channels to engage with them will lead to success. Smaller parts contribute to the whole and make your strategy a successful one,” said Jackie Oakes, Marketing Manager at Flanagan Foodservice.
There are time-honoured conventional methods and newer digital approaches for communicating with customers. First and foremost is focusing on fostering relationships and having a clear objective and goals. That’s according to Debbie Repke of Eyelight Creative Marketing in Waterloo.
“There has to be a strategy. There will always be different avenues that you can take depending on the type of restaurant that you are,” Repke says adding that ultimately relationships matter most. “If you don’t have those relationships, people aren’t going to come just because you have built a restaurant.”
Here are a few tips for growing your customers:
1) Old customers are new customers
The easiest route between two points is a straight line: your current customers are your best bet to be your future customers. If you’ve got them, keep them.
“If you have a large clientele of existing customers, that fact will drive your tactics. Allocate more of your budget to that group. If you are a brand new business opening up in a brand new market, your advertising approach would be very different without any regular customers. You have to build that up,” says Janice Powell of Eyelight.
2) Get social (media)
Social media, from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, builds community among existing customers and leverages their networks to build new customers. “Restaurants that are flourishing are leveraging social media to generate excitement for their brands,” Oakes suggests. “It is a great platform to test what may interest the guests and an opportunity to engage with them on a regular basis.”
Barkley adds that the best strategy is to post periodically and encourage people to sign up for your events and features. Use your Facebook “Call to Action” button to direct people to your newsletter sign-up. “Create simple incentives for people to be part of your restaurant’s community, or ‘membership.’”
3) Collect customer information
Mine information via online reservations or table-top collateral such as a feedback cards on which contact information can be filled in by the customer. From that, you can start to create a database, advises Eyelight’s Powell. “You have to have the information (about your customers) in order to put a plan together to get where you want to go. If you don’t know, you’re guessing. The research will allow you to have facts.”
For her part, Barkley says, “your database may simply be names and email addresses. It may contain birthdays, home addresses, telephone numbers, and allergies. The stronger your database is, the better your chances of creating a unique, personalized and unforgettable experience for your customers.”
4) Now put that database to work
It’s not about carpet-bombing people with promotional material. Examining your database is “an invaluable tool to gather insights, testimonials and feedback in a discreet way, creating an opportunity for people to share feedback with you directly and avoiding potentially public, negative reviews that impact your business,” Barkley says.
5) Newsletters can keep your name top-of-mind
Beware, however: Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) applies in electronic newsletters. And should the newsletter be monthly or quarterly? “Effective email takes time and consideration. Ensure you are providing value to your audience,” Oakes says. “It is critical to measure the effectiveness by tracking who received, opened and engaged with your newsletter. This will provide insight into what interests your audience.”
6) Tell stories about the restaurant
Let your food do the talking too, says Megan Clark of Eyelight. “Because of the personal connection, chefs bringing out a small sample of a new dish can build the restaurant’s brand in a very different way than BOGO coupons can. It’s a small gesture but an important one that customers will remember, especially if the food is very good.”
Digital platforms can help you excel at getting your story to both existing and new customers, adds Clark. “The digital side of things has evolved how you market to your customers across all industries. The focus has changed from pushing your brand in front of customers to pulling them in. Focussing on existing customers is more important than ever before because at any moment could be attracted to a competitor.”
7) Word of mouth
Rather than advertising outside, spending money on your customers in-house can result in a good return on investment.
Barkley says that, “as marketing becomes more automated, word of mouth still reigns supreme. But as a marketing strategy it can feel laborious, slow and even dangerous. With the prevalence of rating sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat and Open Table, restaurants are now subject to an amplification of positive, lukewarm and negative word-of-mouth reviews.” She follows up noting that it is easier to invest in the quality of your customer’s immediate experience than it is to manage the impacts of negative reviews later.
Oakes concurs: an online presence is crucial, but be mindful of your online reputation too. “Managing online restaurant reviews provides the operator a chance to respond and get them back as a customer. Others will see that you care about the customer experience.”
8) Create experiences above and beyond food
Repke suggests that even small specialty restaurants are looking at how they can make the experience better and different for both existing customers and as a way to gain new business. They are creating special events including having live music. “Think of yourself as more than a place for food and more of a complete-package entertainment venue. It’s breaking the norm,” she says.