10 Ways for Restaurants to Stay Connected With Their Customers

This article is by Keith Jaffee, Co-Founder of Food Service Exchange

The dine-in experience is the lifeblood of restaurants. Delicious food, outstanding service, a thrilling ambiance, and even a tableside visit from the manager can leave impressions that last a lifetime. These remarkable moments turn one-time patrons into regular customers who reward restaurants with glowing reviews, steady income, and long-term prosperity.

But how can restaurants forge those relationships without the use of their dining rooms? And how can they keep their hard-earned regulars? Some of these tips involve embracing technology; others resort to traditional forms of communication.

1. Make your restaurant feel as safe as possible

Is your restaurant offering takeout? If so, then guests still visit your establishment on a regular basis.

Do everything you can to make your restaurant feel as safe and as clean as possible. Wash and wipe down every surface from door handles to light switches, and clear enough room for guests to maintain social distance. Your team should be wearing masks and antibacterial gloves. Make sure to stock up on disinfecting supplies and don’t hesitate to contract with professional cleaners to keep your restaurant in tip-top shape.

Customers are also likely to welcome the lingering aroma of hand sanitizer in your dining room.

2. Include “thank you” notes with delivery orders

Ordering delivery is far more impersonal than the typical restaurant experience. However, a simple “thank you” can go a long way. Buy a stack of thank-you cards and send customers notes along with their delivery orders.

This is a quick, cheap, and classic way to personally connect with valued guests even when they’re isolated at home. Consider rewarding your regular customers with coupons tucked into their cards.

3. Include a manager’s or owner’s business card

Nothing caps the restaurant experience like a tableside visit from the manager. These moments offer direct contacts between paying guests and the people on top. It’s a time for customers to give valuable feedback and for managers to express how deeply they care.

Sending business cards with takeout and delivery orders can keep these lines of communication open. Also, in the event of errors or concerns with orders, then customers know who to call. This can strengthen connections with guests while adding credibility to takeout and delivery services.

4. Include the names of workers who handle orders

Similar to sending out business cards, have workers who handle orders sign their names on printed receipts. This one small act can remind customers that they aren’t ordering takeout from strangers — these are the people who they’ll be seeing again.

5. Sell gift cards for the upcoming reopening

Get your customers excited by selling them gift cards for the eventual reopening of your dining room. You could offer these gift cards at slightly discounted prices to encourage guests to buy-in. For restaurants, gift cards offer instant influxes of cash flow. For customers, gift cards offer the chance to give back to the restaurants they love.

6. Stay active on social media

Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are amazing tools for staying connected with customers regardless of distance. Post important updates such as delivery options, daily specials, or changes to operating hours. You can also post pictures of chefs preparing meals or team members sanitizing countertops. Get creative and engage your customers with polls, quizzes, contests, or humorous memes to break up the monotony of their quarantines.

Is your restaurant involved in any community events? If so, then do not hesitate to share your involvement across social media. We’ve been keeping tabs on restaurants nationwide that have been doing just that.

7. Create a mini restaurant week

Get your customers excited by creating a miniature restaurant week! Team up with other local restaurants and take turns offering promotions from each location. Offer special coupons for future dine-in experiences to customers who order from your restaurant. You could even offer special rewards for those who visit each restaurant.

8. Enhance takeout & delivery with a lightweight CRM

Nothing beats CRM software for keeping track of sales, leads, customer interactions, and more. Restaurants cannot afford to let useful data slip through the cracks. A simple, affordable CRM can yield valuable insights that can help restaurants engage with their customers.

Want to know the most popular dates and times for takeout and delivery services, or whether special offers and promotions are hitting the mark? Do you want to see which menu items are trending with customers, who’s had problems with their orders, or whether they’re getting deliveries on time? These are just some of the priceless insights to be gleaned from a lightweight CRM.

Small businesses often prefer simplified “lightweight” CRM tools like the offerings in Salesforce Essentials.

9. Offer special online deals

Just because people are stuck in their homes doesn’t mean they don’t want lunch specials and happy hour menus. Why not give them what they want? Get creative with online specials and blast them over your social media channels. To really make it personal, consider naming some specials after your most loyal customers.

10. Take every opportunity to contact your regulars

To your regular customers, your restaurant is more than a place to grab dinner on Friday night — it’s a community, a place where they feel at home. It’s that sense of community that always brings them back.

Use every tool at your disposal. Write emails, letters, and thank-you cards. Call or text to follow up on delivery orders. When they come in for take-out, do all you can to make them feel appreciated. Regular customers are invaluable to your restaurant, so do all you can to keep their sense of community intact.

Restaurants can’t afford to lose touch with their customers. The cost of sending an email or thank you card is next to nothing. Some attempts at outreach — such as marketing gift cards or virtual happy hours — might actually increase profits. The tips we’ve reviewed don’t require massive investments of time or money. You know your customers better than anyone. All you need to do is reach out.

Food Service Exchange is an online marketplace for the commercial foodservice equipment and supply industry, focusing on overstock, discontinued, and scratch & dent inventory. The site's domain is www.FSXMarket.com and has over 2,000 SKUs at an average discount of over 50% of today's market price.

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