Jeremy Hood here, founder of Restaurant Results Partners. We help restaurants increase their sales and profits by attracting customers that fuel your growth. We do this by running ads to get people to subscribe to your database, and then we use that database to drive people back into your store.
Today, let’s talk about your first time customer program for restaurants. Consider a time when you bought an expensive gadget or a high-end service. You likely received communication over the next couple of weeks, perhaps showing use cases, and testimonials, or ensuring you knew how to use it. You might have even received a welcome or thank you gift in the mail. There’s no reason why you can’t do that for your restaurant.
I’ll venture to say most restaurants don’t do this. There are many different ways you can enhance customer experience, and I’m going to mention a few that have worked well just to get you thinking about how you might implement these at your restaurant. For this particular client we’re advertising for, about half of the people we reach have never been to this restaurant before.
Use your customer’s name when addressing them
Obviously, you want to train your cashiers and servers to ask if it’s the customer’s first visit. One of the first things you can do is ensure they have a good experience when they bring this offer in. After all, you’re spending money trying to get them to come through the door, so you want to maximize your return on investment. It’s important not just to have them come in once but to encourage them to visit several times throughout the year.
We use software called Manychat, where customers come in with their offer shown on Facebook Messenger on their phones. This allows servers or cashiers to see the person’s name. Starting by addressing the customer by name can make a significant difference. When customers come in and it’s confirmed they’ve never visited before, let your manager know. This can be done verbally or through signals like a certain color napkin or a specific place setting to alert the management team that this is a new customer.
The manager should make an effort to greet new customers personally, thanking them for their visit. Towards the end of their meal, offering a comment card for feedback is beneficial. This method might seem old-fashioned, but it’s effective. It could be as simple as a form created on Google Sheets and printed out. Asking for feedback on what customers liked or disliked doesn’t have to be complicated. Since we’re collecting a lot of contact information to maintain communication, the feedback process can be simplified. Showing customers that you genuinely care about their opinions can significantly impact their experience.
Encourage repeat visits quickly from new customers
To further enhance the customer experience, it’s essential not to aim for just a single visit. Encouraging new customers to visit two or three times, especially in the first few months, can help develop a habit. Ideally, a percentage of these new visitors will become regulars.
Studies show that regulars can end up spending about $100 a month with you over the next five or six years, making them incredibly valuable to any operation. To engage these potential regulars, we’ve pre-programmed 10 to 12 messages to be sent out over the first four months, approximately every 10 days, across a variety of channels including email, text, and direct messages on Facebook. This strategy ensures we’re consistently reaching out to your audience without overwhelming them, as they might see an email one day and a text two weeks later, preventing any single channel from becoming overbearing.
These communications should be educational, with a few smaller offers sprinkled in at the beginning to encourage new customers to return a couple of times. Eventually, these offers are phased out in favor of purely educational content, focusing on aspects of your business that might not be obvious to customers.
For example, the first email is sent out four days after customers receive their first coupon, highlighting the working person’s meal deal, the restaurant’s number one seller. We offer a buy one, get one coupon on this deal with a 14-day expiration to encourage a quick return visit. Following this, we send a Facebook message offering a free dessert. It’s crucial to train your staff to recognize that about half of the people using these offers are likely new customers, emphasizing the importance of making a good impression to encourage repeat visits.
Recognizing that about half of the patrons using offers are new to the restaurant, it’s an opportunity to get creative with promotions. For instance, if you’re offering a free side order, like fries, consider upgrading it to a large size unexpectedly. Adding such unexpected perks, on top of a free dessert, can significantly enhance customer satisfaction. These gestures are not just about providing something free; they’re about exceeding expectations and creating memorable experiences that encourage repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth.
As the promotional strategy progresses, the offers become more nuanced and less substantial in monetary value but remain strategically valuable. For example, despite a barbecue restaurant having served breakfast for over twenty-five years, many customers may be unaware of this offering. Introducing these customers to breakfast options with a modest $2 off coupon early in the communication sequence can pique interest in lesser-known services. The sequence of offers is designed to gradually reduce in value, from significant promotions to smaller incentives, like a free drink with the next purchase, encouraging customers to visit at least twice within the first two months.
Sneak in a few surprises
Moreover, personal touches, such as managers introducing themselves by name, play a critical role in building a connection with new customers. Training staff to consistently deliver such personalized experiences can significantly increase the chances of converting new patrons into regulars. Achieving a conversion rate of even 10% from promotional offer claimants to regular customers can significantly impact annual revenue.
In addition to the initial welcome sequence, ongoing engagement through 4 to 6 messages a month about various promotions keeps the restaurant top of mind for customers. This comprehensive approach to customer experience and engagement is designed not just to bring new customers through the door but to integrate them into the community of regulars, thereby enhancing revenue throughout the year.
The Pareto principle that a significant portion of sales often comes from a small segment of customers, known as the 80-20 rule, highlights the importance of cultivating regular patrons. By focusing on increasing the number of devoted fans—those who make up the vital 20%—businesses can significantly boost their sales. This strategy involves nurturing a database of regular customers who are more likely to respond to promotional messages, thereby enhancing the overall effectiveness of marketing efforts.
An interesting aspect of diversifying business offerings is demonstrated by this restaurant that also engages in wedding catering. This service might be unexpected to many but represents a significant opportunity. Utilizing the introductory communication sequence to inform customers about the full range of services, including those they might not immediately associate with your business, can open new revenue streams. Even if many recipients of the message are not currently planning a wedding, they might know someone who is, expanding your reach through word-of-mouth.
Another strategy recommended is organizing “spirit nights,” which are fundraising events for local schools, sports organizations, and nonprofits. These events not only foster community relationships but also drive sales by agreeing to donate a portion of the sales to the organization involved. When these fundraisers are promoted effectively by both the restaurant and the organization, they can attract large crowds, especially if scheduled on traditionally busy nights like Fridays. This approach not only builds goodwill within the community but also introduces new customers to the restaurant, potentially converting them into regulars and further expanding the core group of customers who contribute most significantly to sales.
Continuing to educate your customers further. In addition to the previously mentioned working person’s meal, we also spotlight this top-selling item: the pork sandwich with coleslaw on top, Carolina style. This email aims to inform customers about our offerings without attaching any specific offer but rather encourages them to place an order directly from our website through a call to action.
By step eight of our communication sequence, around two and a half to three months in, we’ve likely seen some unsubscribes. However, our strategy includes introducing surprises to retain interest. We offer another buy one, get one deal on the working person’s meal as a reward for those who have stayed subscribed. This gesture aims to entice those who have not yet taken advantage of our smaller offers with a more substantial incentive to visit us again.
We emphasize the importance of daily specials, recommending that restaurants offer them from Monday through Thursday or even every weekday. The specifics of these specials can vary, and it’s vital to test different options to see what resonates with your customer base. The goal is to provide varied reasons for customers to visit, underscoring the lack of incentive if no specials are offered throughout the week. Communication about these specials doesn’t necessarily include a direct offer but serves to inform customers about what’s available and encourages them to come and experience our offerings.
In the final step of our customer engagement sequence, we emphasize the importance of soliciting feedback. This can be facilitated through a simple Google Sheet or a form hosted on your website. The aim is to gather insights on what customers enjoyed most, least, and how the experience could be improved. Taking the time to review these responses is crucial; while individual complaints might be isolated incidents, recurring feedback from five or six people on the same issue warrants further investigation.
This comprehensive approach to designing a new customer experience doesn’t need to be overly complex to be effective. The key is to ensure that new customers are consistently greeted and treated in a manner that leaves a positive impression, encouraging them to return and share their experiences with others. Implementing even a simple, well-thought-out customer experience program can significantly impact customer satisfaction and retention.
In summary, creating a structured sequence of interactions—from welcoming new customers to soliciting their feedback—can dramatically enhance the customer experience. By carefully planning each step and personalizing the journey, you can build lasting relationships with customers, turning first-time visitors into regular patrons. This approach not only improves customer satisfaction but also contributes to the overall success and growth of your business.