If you run a successful restaurant, chances are you have a loyal base of customers who return often and tell others to give you a try. While it’s nice to see familiar faces, it’s more than just good feelings that come with repeat business: it’s the foundation for reliable revenue.
On average, repeat customers spend 33% more than new customers do, and the longer they’re with you, the more valuable they are. In fact, according to Bain & Company, the average repeat customer will spend 67% more in months 31-36 with your business than they did in months 0-6.
One surefire way to grow a loyal customer base is to focus on consistency, and in few industries is consistency more important than it is in hospitality and restaurants.
The human brain may be wired to seek out novelty, but when a customer returns to your restaurant because of a previous good experience, they’re not looking for novelty. They’re looking to repeat the pleasure they had last time, and they expect to have an experience that is at least as satisfying as it was before. They have expectations, and if you meet those expectations, you could create a customer for life. If you fail to meet expectations, you’ll likely lose the customer. . .and you risk having them talk others out of giving you a try.
Let’s look at four areas where consistency can make or break customer loyalty: food, staff, cleanliness, and wait times.
People like knowing that if they had a great dish last time they visited, they’ll have the same experience if they order it next time.
We all know the disappointment of looking forward to enjoying a particular meal we remember being awesome, and then having it show up undercooked or overcooked, seasoned differently, or with a different side dish or substituted ingredients. . .it’s such a letdown.
If they feel let down, some customers will chalk it up to a bad day, and they’ll come back to give you another chance. But many customers operate on a “one strike and you’re out” rule, never to return.
Whether you’re serving casual sandwiches or high-end French cuisine, it’s essential that your kitchen team know how to put out a perfect dish every time—even during the meal rush. Recipes need to be documented and followed, food should be tasted, and quality control has to happen at every point in the process.
Keep in mind, if your customer had a good meal last time, they expect a good meal next time. If they had an excellent meal last time, they expect an excellent meal next time. So whatever your standards are, hold your line and never let them slip.
Part of what make a dining experience enjoyable is the interaction with your employees. Even if they’re ordering at a window or from a food truck, customers expect an efficient and friendly exchange. And if the service was good and the employees were pleasant during their last visit, customers expect the same level of interaction on their next visit.
Customer service is demanding, but no matter how rough their day, your servers need to provide excellent and friendly service. When customers sit down and dine in, they definitely want to feel like they’re the most important customer of the day.
Your waitstaff take the brunt of every customer complaint, so do everything you can to keep things running smoothly from the back to the front of the house. Equip them with the tools they need to take orders quickly and get accurate information to the kitchen. Streamline every process possible to minimize mistakes.
Some customers are germaphobes and others are quite the opposite, so you can’t make everyone happy. But repeat customers have an idea of what to expect when they visit your restaurant, and it’s important you meet those expectations. A sticky table, lipstick on a glass, dirty silverware. . .any deviation from what customers expect can drive even a loyal patron away to the competition. Whatever your minimum cleanliness standards are, make sure your entire staff is well aware of those standards and put systems in place to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
When you’re being slammed by a meal rush, sometimes it’s cleaning that gets skipped. Having a way to deal with a massive influx of customers can help you avoid being caught off guard and accidentally seating someone at a table before it’s been cleared (a big no no!). Making customers wait longer to be seated than they’re used to can be a major turn-off as well, so make sure your cleaning protocols are clearly communicated and easily executed.
EXPECTATION: WAIT TIME
Do your customers expect to quickly get in, get fed, and get on their way? Or do they plan to spend hours in your establishment, enjoying a leisurely meal? If they have to wait for a table, do they expect to stand outside, or can they relax in the bar until a table is available?
Whatever expectations you’ve created for your guest in terms of wait times, you need to be consistent. If customers usually come for a leisurely meal, you can’t suddenly rush them out. If they expect to get in and out in a specific period of time (because they’ve had that experience in the past), you can’t surprise them with long wait times. They may have scheduled you as part of a day or evening with other events, and if they’re repeat customers, they have an idea of how much time they expect to spend at your business, and it’s important you do your best to meet those expectations.
As you know, one way many restaurants give their guests a way to manage their wait time expectations is by allowing them to make reservations. Reservations used to be just for the “fancy” places and on busy nights, but having some sort of similar system might be just what you need to keep your guests happy and to keep tables turning at an efficient rate.
One way you can give your restaurant and your patrons all the benefits of a reservation system is by using aBitNow. Rather than calling ahead to make a reservation or calling to place a “to go” order, customers who use aBitNow can place their order online. The time savings for your staff is obvious, as no one needs to answer the phone, take down the name and phone number for dine-in guests, or write down an order being picked up. Because the customer places the order online, accuracy is almost 100% assured! Plus, the customer can specify the time they either want to pick up the food or dine at a table at your restaurant. Smart aBitNow restaurants even set aside a certain number of “jIT” tables (just in time tables) that are designated for guests who ordered online and want to spend time there eating instead of waiting.
Want to give aBitNow a try? Register your restaurant and you’ll receive your first 30 days FREE, with absolutely no commitment! Visit https://admin.abitnow.com/register/HomeSite to sign up today.