March 30, 2015

6 Step Process to Massively Boost Your New Restaurant Customer Retention

A customer comes into your restaurant and sits at a table. Your server walks up to them and after some quick chit-chat (building rapport) asks if they have eaten at your restaurant before. The server then goes on to give them a quick synopsis of the menu and cuisine and asks them if they need a moment. They respond yes. The rest of the meal goes on and the customer enjoys it…

Now let’s stop right there. This happens hundreds of times in thousands of restaurants every day. Now what if I told you that with just a few simple tweaks to the first time customer’s visit you could dramatically improve the odds of them coming back a second and even third time and virtually guarantee that they will become a regular customer. It is possible to increase your restaurant customer retention quickly and easily.

This is possible with just a couple of simple steps that you can set up today. Let’s take a look at what you need to do.

1. Find out if they are a new customer

This one is pretty obvious but let’s talk about it for a bit. As part of your servers initial conversation with a customer they should be asking if they have been to the restaurant before (unless of course the server recognizes them). Then depending on their answer there should be a script of what the server says.

If the customer is not a new one then the server should let them know about any specials or new items on the menu. Another great thing they can do is ask if they have a favorite dish or as a regular customer if there is anything on the menu that they would like to try a small sample of, free of charge.

Enough about that though. We are talking about the first timer after all. If they tell the server that they have never been to the restaurant before then the server should give them a brief overview of the menu and style of food. They should also inform the customer of any “house specialties” that they might like to try. They should then check if the customer has any question, concerns or dietary restrictions before allowing them time to look over the menu.

2. Alert the manager and kitchen

After identifying the new customer the server should alert the manager that there is a new customer at the table. They should also make sure that they alert the kitchen staff that the ticket is for a new customer. Your kitchen staff of course should do their best on every dish but they should make a special effort for a new customer…almost like someone was coming in to review your restaurant.

3. Manager visit

After the food has come to the table the manager should visit the new customer and see how their meal is. Hopefully they will respond in the affirmative. Obviously if there are any issues then the manager should resolve them quickly.
After chatting with the customer for a bit the manager will implement the next part of the system like this.

“I’m so glad you are enjoying your food. You know you really should try item x…it is one of our most popular items. Here, you know what?” The manager then reaches into his pocket and pulls out on of his business cards. He then scribbles a note on the back. “Take this. Next time you are here give your server this card when you sit down and we’ll give you 5 dollars off item x.”

Make sure that “item x” is something with a decent food cost and is a best-selling item so the discount doesn’t hurt you too bad.

That’s it for phase 1. Phase 2 starts when the customer comes in for their next visit.

4. Find out if they are here for a second time.

Pretty simple here. The server again should be asking if they have been to the restaurant before. If the customer has been then you move on to the next step.

5. Alert the manager and kitchen

Hmm…do we sense a pattern here?

Again let the manager and kitchen staff know that this is a second time customer. Again everyone should be focusing on making this visit as good as or even better than the first visit.

6. Manager visit


De ja vu? Again the manager will come over to the table and see how things are going. This time though instead of offering money off an item the manager should instead offer either a free specialty beverage or a free dessert (again items with beneficial food costs). The manager should do this the same way with a note on the back of a business card.

I know what you are saying. Why don’t I just hand out pre-printed cards or coupons on the first and second visit?

It’s simple really. If you just hand out coupons then it makes it feel a lot less personal and more like something you do with every customer (even if it is). When you have the manager take the time to make a little card up each time for them to bring back it makes it feel like they are special. And as much as restaurants (and chefs) don’t want to admit it, food isn’t the main reason why people return to a restaurant. The main reason is service and attention. When you give your diners that they are much more likely to come back again.


So that’s it. This simple process will increase the number of customers that come back for second and third visits which will greatly increase the odds of them becoming a regular customer. Restaurant customer retention is a big deal. Those regular customers are the ones that get you through the bad weather and construction that threatens your restaurant.

Have you had luck with similar strategies to boost restaurant customer retention? Please share in the comments below.


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