Insights
Nov 16, 2022
 – WRITTEN BY 
6
 min read

6 Guest Retention Strategies That Actually Work

This article outlines:

Why guest retention matters for restaurants

6 winning strategies to keep guests coming back

Actual frameworks you can use

Restaurants typically have a handful of loyal regulars who GMs and bartenders know by name, but behind the scenes, restaurant marketers are on a never-ending treasure hunt to find and attract new guests. While there are numerous restaurant guest acquisition strategies that marketers can leverage, it’s important not to underestimate the value of current guests. After all, research tells us that increasing guest retention rates by 5% increases profits by at least 25%.

Since retention is critical at all stages of the restaurant guest lifecycle, we’re breaking down some proven strategies, with frameworks you can actually use.

6 Winning Restaurant Guest Retention Strategies

1. Use Data for Good (Especially When It Comes to Your Regulars)

Personalization is no longer just a nice-to-have. Guests are beginning to understand the power of their data, and increasingly want brands to use it to serve their interests via personalized offers, experiences, and suggested products. Tailoring what you sell to a guest’s purchase history, preferences, and what they have engaged with is a crucial strategy to build restaurant brand loyalty.

Framework You Can Use

If you’re not already looking to retail for inspiration, start now, paying close attention to personalized marketing. When a guest on the waitlist leaves before being seated, treat it like an abandoned cart and send a strategic email to prompt them to return (stats suggest a 48% open rate for emails like these). Make like retail giants and bundle items—when a guest orders tacos, trigger a campaign suggesting the tacos are frequently enjoyed with an agua fresca and salsa trio. Best use case: A/B test different bundles to see what drives higher check averages and visit frequency.

2. Like Rome, Guest Relationships Aren’t Built in a Day

When it comes to those guests you’re just getting to know, winning second and third visits is a leading indicator of a “guest for life.” The means to that end is a structured cadence of personalized outreach—said differently, giving new guests more chances to engage increases your opportunity to build brand loyalty. And, consumer research shows that personalization increases visitor engagement by 55%.

Framework You Can Use

Build a scalable, repeatable framework for your new guests with a variety of ways to engage as they move through the lifecycle. Pay attention to what works, and tweak accordingly. Try this cadence:

First Visit/ WiFi Signup/ Online Order >> Welcome email promoting your insiders' club (the more tailored you can make this to their experience the better, e.g. drilling down by location visited or the channel via which they first made contact)

After Second Visit >> Let them know you’re listening with a triggered survey: “Hey Caleb, how’d we do? Would you recommend us to a friend?”

After 30 days >> Email campaign featuring occasion-based messaging such as “Did someone say Happy Hour? Right this way…”

After 3 months >> Email campaign featuring your most popular dishes on social media with an invitation to follow along and share: “Tag your posts for a chance to be featured on our feed.”

After 6 months >> Seasonal menu reset with an invitation to get involved: “Be one of the first to taste the new dishes on our menu at a special event for loyal fans …”

 

After 1 year >> Anniversary perk “Have this cake … on us. And yes, please eat it too!”

3. Go with the Flow (of Guest Frequency)

The Gartner Group found that the Pareto principle holds true with consumer behavior: 80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your current guests. It’s worth putting time, effort, and resources into guest retention, but not equally for all guests. The key here is segmenting by value and analyzing each segment’s frequency. With that, you can allocate time and resources according to value, and build outreach aimed to increase their known frequency.

Framework You Can Use

Guests with a high check average may be occasion-based guests with a twice-per-year frequency for birthdays and anniversaries. Send them a personal invite to join for a New Year’s Eve toast or Mother’s Day brunch to increase their frequency to quarterly.

Meanwhile, a segment of high-value guests may have a lower check average and bi-monthly frequency. Aim to get them coming in once a month by sending them an easy-to-use offer that appeals to convenience.

4. Go Outside the Inbox  

To reach guests who have stopped engaging with your brand, try a structured cadence across multiple platforms. Research shows that companies using multiple channels to connect with guests increase satisfaction by 15-20% and boost growth by 20%.

Framework You Can Use

Build a cadence around lapsed guests that includes personalized email, targeted social, and paid search outreach. Keep your automated lapsed guest content up-to-date with regular maintenance. Every six months, pull the entire list and test new platforms. Make sure to track engagement so you know what works.

5. Optimize for Conversion

If you want guests to keep coming back, you need to make sure that all sales channels are optimized for conversion. Otherwise, they’ll choose a different restaurant that meets their needs.

Framework You Can Use

Online Ordering: How easy is it to place an online order and checkout? If your menu is difficult to navigate or the checkout process is cumbersome, for example, your cart abandonment rate is going to be high. Ensure that your online ordering system enables guests to place an order quickly and securely. Bonus points if they can easily reorder their favorite items.

Convenience is Key: Can guests pick up their order curbside or in-restaurant? Is delivery an option? The more handoff options, the more likely guests will follow through with their order and keep coming back. In fact, according to Olo data, brands that enable four or more handoff modes typically see a 12%+ increase in conversion rate.

Google: Can people join the waitlist, book a reservation, or place an online order directly from your Google listing? If not, that’s one unnecessary hoop for returning guests to jump through. Eliminate friction by ensuring your Google listing is fully optimized for conversion.

6. Tighten the Feedback Loop

While 72% of guests will share a positive experience, for every 26 unhappy guests only one is likely to say anything to you. Good, fast, empathic guest feedback management is crucial. In addition, being proactive about collecting feedback is a great loyalty builder—77% of consumers view brands more favorably if they seek out and apply guest feedback.

Framework You Can Use

Build trust with a multi-level feedback strategy. 

When a guest reaches out with valuable feedback in any way (third-party reviews, social media comments, survey responses), it’s essential to engage quickly. Acknowledge their experience and let them know from the beginning that you value their feedback, positive or negative. Take action to fix the problem. Say thank you. 

Continue to build relationships by proactively asking for feedback (automated post-meal surveys work great). When guests reply, thank them and reward them.

For the super loyalist, consider consumer panel special events. “You are an important part of growing our brand and your voice matters.” 

Take a moment for meta-feedback and ask how your engaged guests like to be contacted. Do they prefer a quick text survey, an email, a social form, or an in-person menu workshop? Are they okay being contacted after every visit, or do they prefer a couple of months between surveys? Make sure to contact them accordingly.

This is most effective if you have access to reviews from every source on one restaurant sentiment analysis platform.

In summary, unless you test and implement retention strategies to keep current guests, you’re missing out on the opportunity to maximize their lifetime value and revenue for your brand.

Contact us to supercharge your guest retention strategy and get started with restaurant marketing automation.

Photo Credit: Shirota Yuri

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