Turn Your Customers
into Regulars

Repeat customers provide the bread-and-butter bottom line. How do you get more of them?

Regulars are gold—from both the bottom-line perspective and from a word-of-mouth marketing perspective. In its 2008 Operator Survey, the National Restaurant Association reported that repeat customers account for approximately 75% of sales at both quick-serve and family dining; 70% at casual-dining restaurants and 60% at white-tablecloth. And not only do they fill the seats on a Tuesday night, they act as brand ambassadors for the restaurant. So, how do you transform a new customer into a regular one? And how do you nurture that relationship into a sustaining, mutually beneficial one?

Sweeney’s Saloon

Five Ways to Woo Regulars

Sweeney's Saloon, a neighborhood tavern in St. Paul, Minnesota, boasts a strong foundation of regular customers. We tapped its manager, Eric Jackson, to share how the place captures and retains its impressive roster of repeat customers. "We're a neighborhood hangout," says Jackson. "People come in and are familiar with our pub-fare menu, but they also know their favorite server or bartender. They come in because we know who they are and treat them well." Here's his advice:

  1. Get to know them. "Everybody likes to be remembered," he says. "Learn their names. Sit down and have a conversation with them. Try to remember what they drink or where they like to sit." Personalize the relationship, so it's deepened, resonating with the customer when they're deciding where to dine out.

  2. Hire staff with personality. "This is so important," says Jackson. "Your front-of-house needs to know how to talk to people, how to make them feel welcome, and they need to remember their customers." When interviewing, look for outgoing personalities and good memory skills.

  3. Give them free stuff. "If we have samples of a new product, I may give them a taste," says Jackson. "Or I might buy them a drink." Really, small gestures go a long way here with making customers feel appreciated.

  4. Ask them for input. "The worst thing is when a customer leaves unhappy and we don't know about it," he says. "Your regulars will tell you how you've screwed up and will give you an opportunity to fix it. I've even had my regulars tell me that the T.V. isn't working—and then help me fix it!" Regulars are a wealth of constructive criticism—tap into them.

  5. Treat new customers like regulars. "Yes, you absolutely need to treat regulars well, but the only way to cultivate new regulars is to treat new customers with the same consideration," says Jackson. "Your customer service should be consistent across the board, and then they'll be loyal to you."

Culinary Support

Make regulars feel like they're on the inside track. Ask the chef to send out something "off menu," or perhaps a combination plate of a few favorite appetizers. Here's a small plate perfect for that very thing.

Smoked Salmon Appetizer with Chive Cream Cheese Spread

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