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In a competitive business environment, inspiring loyalty in your customers is essential to the long-term success of your restaurant. The main way to do this, of course, is through the quality of your food and service, but you can reinforce this by encouraging your consumers to be loyal through other means. Read on loyal readers and friends (see what we did there?)

Have a well thought out loyalty scheme.

The best designed loyalty schemes will encourage customers to make repeat visits without compromising your profits. This might mean keeping away from schemes that give users a percentage discount every time they dine or shop, and instead focus on giving customers a different incentive to come back – perhaps a free additional item that has a minimal effect on sales.

Do customers want loyalty cards?                                                      

Every time you go into a coffee chain you’re offered a loyalty card, but how many people remember to keep bringing them back? Most people don’t want a wallet full of plastic and cardboard cards so an online system that is convenient and hassle free is more useful. Supermarket key fobs are successful because they are easy to use and are usually in customers’ hands at the till. Alternately, our local coffee shop keeps our loyalty cards in a little box by the till – very handy.

Make the reward enticing and easy to redeem.

The reward shouldn’t be a hassle to redeem and it shouldn’t be laughably small. One luxury goods store we know – which shall go unnamed – gives you a princely €1 for every €100 spent! That’s so paltry, it’s actually dis-intentivising. On the other hand, every tenth burger free is a pretty good deal. And the best supermarket schemes send cash vouchers that you can spend on anything rather than discount vouchers tied to specific products.

Care in the Community.

Sponsorship of local sports clubs and community groups is a great way of keeping your business in the forefront of people’s minds. This is an especially useful tool for the independent operator as they will personally know people from the local area and can bring a more human touch than a multi-national chain could.

Local business networks online should also be used, from Facebook to Instagram to Whatsapp. You can also build partnerships with other local businesses to create a loyalty network. A free drink in a local bar can be awarded to customers of your restaurant in a reciprocal arrangement.

Part of your community interaction can involve sustainability and environmental concerns, If you are seen as environmentally conscious in your local community your customers will see you share the same values as them.

Don’t be a stranger.

When your customer opts in for an online loyalty scheme you will get some information off them than can help drive repeat business. You can offer birthday or seasonal discounts or LTOs that reflect their tastes and preferences. Keep in contact with those on the loyalty programme so they know what they are eligible for – within reason of course, no one wants daily emails and texts! Your loyalty programme could also rewards members for sharing content on social media and referring friends to your business.

Future Loyalty – The Robots are Coming

Inevitably technology continues to have an impact on all aspects of the restaurant sector and loyalty is no exception. Online programmes are a well-established way of driving loyalty but some companies are going further and starting to use Chatbots and AI to interact with customers. This is either potentially very useful or potentially very alienating – as anyone dealing with a service providers automated complaints’ line can confirm… In the end, as an independent operator you will know exactly which customers keep coming back and why. No food outlet can attract everyone. If your USP is burgers, you’re not going to pack in the vegans. A loyalty system is about rewarding customers who value what you do, and it’s about letting them know you value them in return. Which means that still nothing beats remembering names and taste preferences and sometimes slipping in the few extra chips.

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