There are reasons local guests become regulars at restaurants, and it’s not solely based on the menu, or how your storefront looks. A recognizable sense of appreciation for loyal guests also does the trick and there are ways to harvest this type of relationship.
If you want to be the local restaurant that’s frequented by regulars, well, keep reading!
These examples come directly from experiences that have led to ongoing relationships between restaurateur and guest.
1. Be An Educator: Share your knowledge and Tell a Story
I developed this tip when frequenting Empire Tea & Coffee in Newport, Rhode Island.
The first time I walked into Empire, I immediately noticed not only was the staff friendly, but the owner also was very knowledgeable on coffee and tea and would generously share his knowledge on the latest products in his café.
A newfound interest in your products also encourages them to try different items. Instead of a typical order, regulars may opt to purchase the newest product they just learned about. I would often buy a half-pound of the newest coffee or a new latte after learning about the local ingredients or expert process of roasting the coffee beans.
Here are a few ideas from actual restaurants:
- Winery: If you’ve ever been wine tasting, use wineries as a primary example of this. You never leave without knowing what grapes are in each of the wines, where the vineyards are located and how long they’ve been in business. Stories form attachment and relationships. Strive to keep your guests close.
- Tea Shop & Cafe: Bistro du Vin invites customers to afternoon tea, where tea sommeliers serve tea alongside a healthy description of the type, taste, and origin of every tea they pour. Customers walking out know the difference between the green tea from China and the one from Japan, and that’s a piece of information that will forever be tied back to their experience at Bistro du Vin.
- Italian Bakery: Consider how easy it would be to tie your infamous Zeppole’s to a story about La Festa di San Giuseppe?
- The Publican Restaurant: What better way to educate the palate of your guests than by hosting pairings? The Publican teams up with breweries to offer five and seven course dinners that pair beers with a complementary dish, meanwhile teaching guests how to do the same at home.
2. Address your regulars by name
Email marketers have been following this tip for years while sending email campaigns to their recipient list. Using a person’s name shows a personal touch, and tells the guest that they’re important enough to be remembered.
Email marketers have an easier time setting this process up. They insert the guest’s name into their database and it’s set. In the real world, it’s much harder because some employees will seek to find out the name of regular guests while others don’t.
We recently visited a small business in Portland, Maine, Coffee By Design, who keeps a handmade scrapbook of their best customers. On the individual pages of the scrapbook, they’re asked funny questions like what their favorite Gene Wilder movie is, what their nickname in high school was, the name of their pet and other fun questions, like their favorite brand of socks. They become mini local celebrities of guest loyalty.
Or, you can use Upserve’s Guestbook to keep them in one place, integrated into your POS. In addition to suggesting your team learn the names of regular customers, openly introduce regular guests to employees. This way the familiarity will be created and your employees won’t feel uncomfortable with informal introductions.
Have you ever watched Cheers? Be that place where everybody knows your name, and you’ll earn loyalty quickly.
3. Know your Guests’ Preferences & Orders
Some regulars will order the same meal or drink most of the time they come to your restaurant, but they won’t do it always.
When I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts as a teenager, we had “regulars” at the drive thru every morning. Some of them we’d see their car coming and instead of asking, we’d just say, “Large Iced French Vanilla, Extra, Extra, no ice?” They were always impressed, especially at the way we learned to calculate at what time they’d reach the drive thru with no windows or camera for precision.
You can control the conversation and change the way guest communication is handled with proper staff training.Download the Guide
When the opportunity arises, ask the guest if they will be having the usual and specify what that is. This way you can show the guest that you recognize their usual selection but you won’t be jumping to conclusions and making them feel awkward if they decide to get something else. Here are some key pieces of information you may want to record in your notes about guests.
- Dines With: Does John always bring his wife with him on Saturday night?
- Drinks: Sending a glass of the red wine that John always drinks at dinner goes a long way.
- Specials: Do you offer a specific special that you can easily make any time, if your server knows ahead of time, it goes a long way.
- Servers: If John comes in often enough, you may start to learn that he prefers a certain server… or a seat closest to the kitchen.
4. Be transparent and say “I don’t know” when you don’t know
Have you ever been to a busy restaurant where it appears your order has been forgotten? I have (and you probably have, too) and it can be frustrating, especially as your stomach growls louder and louder.
Everyone make mistakes and many reasonable people are accepting of this fact, particularly if you’re up front about the error.
If this happens in your restaurant, how do you deal with it? Do you share the information and make a peace offering by giving a free dessert or drink? Or do you supply a discount for a future meal at your restaurant? Either option shows appreciation for the customer and attempts to fix any hard feelings.
The same goes with questions. We’ve written before about how to make gluten-free diners feel safe when they dine with you, and the biggest pet peeve I’ve heard from a friend of mine with celiac disease is when it comes to questions. If a guest asks if a menu item is gluten-free or has a certain allergen, it’s OK to say you don’t know and ask the question. When it comes to allergies, patrons would rather you say you don’t know than say “I think so” or “I don’t think so”.
Bonus. Treat your Loyal Guests like VIPs
Here are a few inspiring ideas to make your best guests feel special and show them you appreciate their business:
Advance booking opportunity
Reach out to them in advance through email with a special invitation to make a reservation. By offering an exclusive opportunity to make their reservation ahead of the general public, you’re giving them the chance to plan the perfect Valentine’s Day. They can rest assured knowing their reservation is booked at the perfect time, and with enough time to request their favorite table or server.
Offer a special treat
Surprise your most loyal guests with a special treat when they arrive. Maybe it’s an amuse bouche, a flower on their plate, or a special dessert to share. Even something small can go far in making your most loyal guests feel special. It lets them know that their loyalty has not gone unnoticed.
Use your loyalty program
How can you use your existing loyalty program to entice diners to make their reservation with you? If you have a point based reward system, offer a special promotion such as double points so guests get more rewards for the occasion. Another idea would be to offer all participants in the program a free dessert or appetizer to share.