Five Simple Ways to Engage Restaurant Guests
For years, restaurants and pubs have worn their hearts on their sleeves when it comes to customer engagement, winning and retaining customers by providing fantastic food, drink and a welcoming environment. However, customers are now looking for a two way street in which they can feel connected with their favourite F&B brands.
Here are five simple ways restaurateurs and publicans can better engage their customers and ensure long-term repeat business.
Despite the plethora of new and emerging communications tools available to pubs and restaurants, email is still a very powerful medium. For all of the consumers worldwide who prefer to receive their information via Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram, there is an equal amount who still do the inbox trawl every day.
In terms of content, email is perhaps the preserve of special offers, events, announcements. A compelling subject line coupled with a clear message and call-to-action is key, and it goes without saying that the wording should be grammatically correct with accurate spelling. Keep it succinct and resist the temptation to pack the email with waffle. Don't forget to include links back to your website or online booking portal.
Care is needed, however, to avoid your emails falling into the receivers’ junk boxes and adherence to data protection legislation is essential. For mass emails, don’t pack the “to” field with multiple addresses, rather, use the email marketing tool within your restaurant management system or use an off-the-shelf product such as SendinBlue or Mailchimp. These options remove the risk of exposing recipients to each other’s email addresses (very bad for GDPR compliance) and being labelled a spammer by Google, followed by being blacklisted by them.
Loyalty & Discounts/Promotions
The cost of obtaining new customers is high, with the returning customer being the business owner's Holy Grail. But with fierce competition ready to lure away your trade, it’s essential that customers' loyalty isn’t taken for granted. A structured approach to encouraging their commitment is essential.
The great news is that a structured approach doesn’t need to be complicated. The promise of a free drink on a customer's next visit is a nice touch, but doing this verbally can lead to a melting pot of confusion among staff and diners. It is so much better, therefore, to decide what you want to offer to all customers, for how long and then create a clear mechanism for managing the process. This could simply be a printed card which records customers’ visits or purchases and guarantees the reward you’ve promised once a threshold is reached.
The reward card approach works well, but inevitably there are better online solutions available. The best restaurant booking systems will allow the restaurateur to issue digital discount or offer codes which can be redeemed when the customer books or pays online, sending that information back to the customer’s record. Even better, the customer can have their own “account” portal where they can see their spend and apply the relevant code. There is nothing better for making a customer feel special, and therefore creating loyalty, than some kind of “membership” system.
In an impersonal world, everyone loves a story. We’re not talking fairy tales here, we mean using the power of your website and social media to give customers an insight into you and your business. It is not all about posting special offers but telling readers what’s going on behind the scenes and letting your business's personality shine through. Diners are fascinated in what’s going on behind the scenes and even the most mundane activity can be turned into interesting snippets for consumption.
Pictures paint a thousand words, so if for example you’re having a new walk-in fridge installed, take some photos of the mayhem with some upbeat comments about why you’re investing in this kit – this example would be a great way to reinforce your food hygiene credentials on your business's Facebook or Instagram page. Try different things and invite reactions, but obviously don’t stray out of professional limits - these are not the places to show your new tattoo or political views – save those for your personal accounts.
Restaurateurs who see online review sites only as places where their occasional shortcomings are exposed are, we’re sorry to say, missing the point. From the customers’ perspectives the process is all about expressing their opinions in full public gaze, but restaurants have a fantastic opportunity to harness the same powers and use them as free advertising.
Let’s be honest, businesses will always get the occasional poor review, but the point is this: the wider public reading the comments will also see your responses. Those responses are your golden opportunity to redress the balance in a business-positive way, to a huge audience, for no cost.
The number one rule is not to be confrontational, but to out-think the original reviewer and write your response not with him/her in mind, but to a global audience of potential new customers. Reinforce your business values, show them that you have listened, pick out any positives and paint a rosier picture. So if, for example, a review says something like “there was no ambience” then you can choose your response from a range of perspectives: “…our restaurant is normally full of life…”; “…we’d love you to come to our weekly and very vibrant quiz/food tasting evening, with a free drink on us..”; “…we’re sorry, but we were investing in our kitchen and on that particular day and the walk-on fridge was being replaced”. You get the idea.
Rather than points-scoring, show the wider readership that you’re human and don’t hold a grudge, rather, you hold an open door. Who could fail to be engaged with a restaurant or pub offering free tickets to the quiz for previously disgruntled reviewers, and what better way to engage with the original reviewer and convert them to long-term advocates of your business? It is an unwritten business fact that your worst customer relationships often become your very best.
Public Relations activity (“PR”) is a powerful way of engaging customers but sadly one which is often misunderstood. PR is distinct from run of the mill marketing promotional activity in that it is geared solely towards getting your business in the editorial media. For journalists to take an interest, your story must be newsworthy. Simply writing to a newspaper or magazine with details of your two-for-one burger offer won’t cut the mustard – they will tell you to speak with their advertising team.
For journalists to be interested in what you have to say it is important to have a back-story to frame your news and to target the right writers. Activities which respond to a social or national theme will always be better received, so for example, news of the launch of your new healthy eating menu is in itself not particularly newsworthy, but make reference to national obesity statistics and how you’ve introduced the initiative after consulting your customers (also a great way to engage customers) and you’ll be onto a winner. Journalists do love fun, whacky stories so if you can bear to have your staff in themed dress on the day, all the better and you’ll have some great photos for any post-event coverage. Further, add in a genuine and heart-felt charitable element and your story will fly.
Engage, engage, engage
There are so many opportunities to engage proactively with customers in order to generate advocacy and repeat business. It is so much more efficient to retain your existing customers than pay to generate new ones, so use these principles to create a two way dialogue, strong brand loyalty and customers who return time after time.
favouritetable is the leading technology provider for food an drink businesses in the UK. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and easy-to-use systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue.
Favouritetable provides reservation software, pre-booking modules, take-away backed by a full manager portal and a host of restaurant-centric features. We're passionate about restaurants, which is why we have developed the best value full-function restaurant software on the market.
Call us today on 033 0124 4785 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be delighted to demonstrate what you will achieve with the right technology.
Image by Anastasia Gepp from Pixabay