Diner and restaurateur: a happy marriage

TKI's Daniel During on how to keep customers coming back for more

TKI's Daniel During.
TKI's Daniel During.

Thomas Klein International’s Daniel During explains how to keep customers coming back for more…

I have one core belief when it comes to food and beverage marketing: I don’t believe in advertising.

Restaurants that are good at what they do don’t need to advertise; people will come because of their reputation.

When a restaurant that’s been operating for a while suddenly starts advertising, that tells the world his usual clientele stopped going there.

You may agree or disagree with the above, but here are my reasons for this view:

Restaurants that offer good food, a great experience and have something that makes them stand out from the crowd generate enough good word of mouth.

An example of this is the old Soup Kitchen International in New York, which even before TV show Seinfeld shot it to fame always had queues of people standing at the door.

Never advertised, people queued for half an hour any time of the day because they knew it served the best soup in town.

So word of mouth can work: but what do you do when you first start? People need to know you are there, after all.

What you need is for people to talk about your opening before it happens. You want them to look forward to it and get excited about it.

However people — and the press — will only talk about you if you can bring something new to the table, something that is uniquely yours. You can’t expect your restaurant to stand out from the crowd if it replicates what everyone else is doing.

Uniqueness also allows you to demand higher prices.

(Having said that, a friend of mine argues that Wal-Mart is unique because of its low prices and that’s how it differentiates itself from its competitors. So you can also be unique in terms of pricing, not just concepts.)

So, you bring something unique, you make enough noise about it, you get people to try it, they love it, they come back.

But then, they stop coming back.

The question then is not how to make a customer return, but rather how to prevent them from straying.

So how can you keep your clientele loyal?

As for a long, happy marriage, you need to keep the relationship fresh, interesting and continuously reinforce the reasons you’re together.

Obviously, ‘window shopping’ is inevitable. Your customer will always be eyeing other restaurants and may well try something new, but your job is to make sure that they always come back to you.

Then important thing is to know your competition. You can only be better than another outlet if you actually know what you’re up against.

After that, there are a few guidelines you can follow to keep you loyal diners returning:

• Stay relevant

The odd random promotion can add spark to a relationship, but the key to sustainability is to remain continuously relevant to your customers. Build that relationship based in trust and understanding.

You can only stay relevant to a customer if you know then; trying to offer many different things to many different customers will just dilute your identity.

Don’t try to make everyone happy; you just can’t. Instead, focus on your target customers and offer them what they truly want.

Also, keep an eye on what’s going on in the market, and think how new developments could be used to keep your customers coming back.

Don’t over-do it — some restaurants change themselves so often they lose what they had. People like familiarity, so drastic changes are not always a good thing. Think carefully before you make a decision.

• Use creative PR strategies

Press releases are great, but you need to actively come up with truly news-worthy angle if you seriously want the attention of the press.

Clever PR strategies create constant ‘news’ about your brand, and if executed properly you won’t have to spend any money on advertising.

• Employ social media

Social media has become a powerful way to actively communicate with your current customers and their friends — and their friends’ friends — thereby helping you to get new customers in.

Social media targets a younger audience, generally under 35, so make sure you communicate what is relevant to them and not just what is relevant to your F&B manager.

Remember, once you start you can’t stop. Social media is not something you update once a month, you have to be there every day!

• Deal with ‘leaky bucket syndrome’

An old theory — always valid: imagine your customer base is in a big bucket. You need to fix the holes in your bucket if you don’t want to keep losing customers.

We all know that it’s much more expensive to win over a new customer than to keep an existing one. Offering a free meal once in a while to a good customer is much cheaper than a full page paid ad. And it will keep your customer talking about your product for a while.

Again for this to work you have to know your customer and what they want.

• Launch loyalty programmes

There are two ways to use loyalty programmes.

The first is to reward existing loyal customers. If you’re doing things properly then you won’t need a programme to know who these customers are.

The second way is to use them to ‘loyalise’ new customers.

Airlines are very good at this, encouraging you not to fly with a competitor in order to earn more of their own miles.

If you decide to launch a loyalty programme when you already have a customer base, you may want to look at enrolling your existing loyal customers into a higher level than your new customers. They need to know they are already special to you.

Loyalty programmes have don’t simply loyalise customers; they give you a data base to communicate with.

• Build your brand ambassadors

Empower your loyal customers to advertise and promote your restaurant.

There are many interesting and unique ways to achieve this, but all of them include making your customer feel a part of your organisation. Bonding with your customer is key. They should feel like they are doing their friends a favour by promoting you.

Daniel During is managing partner of Thomas Klein International, a food and beverage consultancy firm that has been based in Dubai since 2001.

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