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8 tips to retain customers in your restaurant

If you think the biggest hurdle of running a business is attracting new customers, you’re not alone. You’re also not wrong, either, but getting hungry guests through your doors isn’t the whole story. Customer loyalty is the beating heart of business, taking your marketing strategy further than short-term highs for long-term success.

How does customer loyalty help retention? What are the best strategies to boost loyalty in restaurants? Are there digital devices that can aid your methods?

To help you build a base of loyal customers, we’ve put together 8 top tips to retain customers in your restaurant.

From why it’s important to how to implement different strategies, here’s what you need to know.

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Why is building customer loyalty so important?

Customer loyalty is all about building long-lasting relationships with your customers. The idea is that the more loyal your customers are, the more repeat business your restaurant will see. 

But why is this a crucial strategy? Let’s take a look.

Fill seats with ease

Loyal customers come back - it’s as simple as that. When you build a relationship with a customer they’re more likely to return regularly, making it easier to fill your restaurant without a lot of effort. Loyalty incentives can drive regular patronage, too, making it crucial you know the right tactics to put in place.

Cut down on marketing costs

Earning a new customer costs money. If you can turn that one-off visit into repeat business, you’ll see a higher return on investment (ROI) on your initial spending. You’ll also be able to cut down on future marketing costs, filling your tables without expensive promotions. 

See more referrals

The more positive experiences someone has with your restaurant, the more likely they’re going to be to refer you. Considering that 20-50% of all purchases are influenced by referrals, that’s not a strategy you’ll want to ignore.

Spread the word about your restaurant and you could see huge upticks in your bookings.

Loyal customers spend more

When a hungry customer knows they enjoy your food, they’re likely to spend more. An extra side? Room for dessert? Loyal customers are going to be much more susceptible to the tasty dishes you have on offer. 

You could see loyal customers spending a whopping 67% more per visit than first-time guests. The end result is a busy restaurant with ever-increasing sales, which is too good to miss out on.

8 tips for retaining restaurant customers

Make more sales, spend less on marketing and fill your seats without trying by keeping your guests coming back time after time. Focusing on customer retention is a no-brainer for restaurants.

Now, then, it’s time to look at how you can start growing a loyal customer base. Here are our top tips for your restaurant.

1. Focus on customer service

Customer retention all starts with service. Every visit, be it the first or the fifteenth interaction, has to impress your target market and leave them with a positive view of your brand. Excellent service should include:

  • High-quality food at reasonable prices.

  • Good portion sizes.

  • Efficient service (including time to be seated and waiting times for food).

  • Friendly and helpful servers.

Be sure to train your team members in customer service techniques. A smile on arrival and polite conversation can go a long way in terms of retention.

2. Create loyalty programmes

Hook long-term customers with enticing loyalty programmes. Reward repeat business with loyalty cards and market discounts for referrals. Use data to personalise your programmes, too, offering digital discounts on your customers’ favourite dishes.

For something extra special, why not give out rewards for nothing more than being a customer? Sending out digital gift cards at Christmas, for example, is a great way to bring old customers back and boost loyalty amongst your entire mailing list.

3. Use a CRM tool

Customer relationship management (CRM) software is a smart choice for restaurants looking to retain customers. Giving you useful insights into customer details and behaviour, you can personalise your processes for a stronger relationship.

Keep track of names, birthdays and anniversaries to send special occasion promotions. You can also link your CRM to your point of sale (POS) system to collect data on order preferences, helping you make more informed decisions about your marketing and menus in the future. 

4. Host events for customers

An easy way to bring back customers is by hosting events. Live music, quiz nights and themed food events are crowd-pleasers that give happy customers a good reason to come back. 

Events help your restaurant to stand out from competitors, too, giving you the winning edge. Become a community hub by bringing people together and increase customer loyalty. 

5. Give your customers choice

Customers like to feel in control when interacting with a business. By giving them plenty of choice, you’ll nurture a more equal relationship and build the image of a brand that puts its customers first. From a wide-ranging menu to their choice of table, let your restaurant’s guests take the lead.

6. Ask for customer feedback

Take the guesswork out of brand loyalty by asking for feedback. Once you know what your target market wants, it’s a lot easier to build a restaurant they’ll keep coming back to.

Gather feedback using surveys, reviews and by actively asking for face-to-face opinions. Customers will value having a voice, making this a loyalty-building strategy in itself.

Be sure, though, that you listen to and act on feedback. It’s not enough to simply ask for views, you need to be ready to change your restaurant to suit demand, too.

7. Keep in touch online

The digital age has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with customers.

After dining at your restaurant or ordering online, direct customers to your social media profile or ask to keep in touch via email. You can use your online contact to:

  • Market special events.

  • Send personalised promotions and discounts.

  • Build a recognisable brand image.

  • Keep customers up-to-date with changes.

8. Invest in service-focused tech

Technology goes a long way to creating smoother, stress-free experiences for your team and customers. By investing in the right devices, you can set yourself apart from competitors and make it more appealing to return. 

If there’s one piece of tech you invest in, make it a POS system. Your POS makes it simpler to:

  • Take contactless payments.

  • Speed up checkout with itemised lists.

  • Organise bookings. 

  • Quickly seat guests. 

  • Track stock to automatically update digital menus.

You can create customer profiles that track preferences and make it easy to reward loyalty, too, making this a digital tool that benefits everyone in your business.

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Liza Giraud