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It’s a fact – it costs your business 5-10 times more to attract new customers than it does to maintain relationships with your current clientele. Building and maintaining relationships with customers benefits your restaurant more than you might think – recurring customers spend up to 67% more than new customers, and loyal customers are more likely to introduce  people in their social circles to your brand.

So what are the best ways to make friends with your customers?

The first place to start is in house. Your servers should be able to make the dining experience enjoyable for your customers. This means being presentable, smiling, and generally acting like they want to be there. The ability to build rapport with diners is useful, as is a general knowledge of the menu – people love recommendations, and if their server is obviously passionate about the food customers will be excited about their meals. The wait staff are the human face of your restaurant, and they’re likely the first and most memorable influence on a customers perception of your business.

Next up, engage with your customers online. We’ve written blogs about getting started on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and these are all key ways to build up your online presence. Key points here are to respond to customers queries, and post relevant and interesting content. Social media is great for promotion and for reminding customers about current or last minute deals. Post specials for specific holidays, such as Mothers Day, Fathers Day,  and Valentines Day to encourage customers to treat their loved ones to a meal out.

Now, give them a reason to keep coming back! Loyalty programs are a big trend right now, with around 2 in 5 QSR diners saying they’d like it if their favourite brand had a loyalty program. There are many cost efficient and effective ways to implement these, and the level of technology involved can range from minimal to having the entire system organised electronically. From the standard cafe model of ‘Buy 9 coffees, get the 10th free’ to more elaborate points based systems, a rewards program is a great way to encourage repeat customers.

This study showed that customers preferred a structured reward programs (such as earning a certain number of points and getting a specific reward), rather than sporadic bonuses (getting a surprise free coffee). Making sure the reward is proportional to what the customer has to do to earn it is important, as is making the reward something that the customers want. Another trend is gamification – turning the loyalty program and dining experience into a game. This is fun, and makes it easy for customers to share with their friends – which in turn builds more awareness for your brand!

As the economy gets better, discount deals and promotions are no longer enough to get customers excited about your restaurant. Diners want to feel valued, and loyalty programs are a great way to build a friendly relationship with your clientele.

Does your restaurant use a loyalty program? Tell us about it and don’t forget to say hi on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn .