Restaurant customers cheers glasses around a table.
Unsplash/Fábio Alves

When restaurants take the time to get to know their guests and use that data to customize marketing and loyalty efforts with the customer top of mind, the results will benefit both the guest and the company’s bottom line.

Creating Customer Connections That Stick

Successfully engaging with guests is all about delivering the right message.

When was the last time you encountered a memorable marketing campaign from a restaurant? If you’re having trouble remembering, you’re not alone. Restaurant marketing and loyalty programs have historically followed a one-size-fits-all approach that lacks personalization and fails to drive significant sales or boost guest loyalty. The industry is in desperate need of a marketing and loyalty overhaul.

Successfully engaging with customers is all about delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right person. This tailored approach is needed to scale these programs and create engagement with customers that will leave an impression long after they read your message. 

Revamping Restaurant Loyalty

The restaurant industry has seen significant innovation over the past few years, yet marketing has, for the most part, remained stagnant. Restaurants today not only need to continue integrating the latest technologies to deliver personalized experiences for diners during service, but they also need to focus on using those technologies to get diners to return again. This is where marketing and loyalty in particular play an important role. In a world where 70 percent of diners never come back and where it is seven times more cost effective to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one, increasing retention rates by just 5 percent can increase profits by 25 to 95 percent.

 Not all customers are interested in the same foods and experiences, so why would they be enticed by the same messages or perks? Loyalty needs to be personalized, and personalization comes from getting to know each individual diner on a deeper level. Collecting guest data is the best way to do this. 

Finding the right guest engagement software is key in collecting and organizing guest data in a way that will be most useful for creating personalized experiences. For example, if a diner repeatedly orders pasta every time they visit, and you have a system in place that can track this information, you can ensure they receive an invite to your restaurant’s “Pasta Making” event or can send them an email when a seasonal pasta dish has been added to the menu. This way guests are targeted with information they actually care about and feel valued when the restaurant remembers their preferences.

But not all marketing needs to be tailored to individual diners. Restaurants are able to efficiently segment their guests into different groups, whether it’s wine lovers, families with kids or even people with gluten allergies. These are all segments that are likely to have similar interests and appreciate similar offers, making it easier to provide guests with events they want to attend—as long as they align authentically with your company and brand.

When restaurants take the time to get to know their guests and use that data to customize marketing and loyalty efforts with the customer top of mind, the results will benefit both the guest and the company’s bottom line. And the data supports it, with research indicating that 80 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind

One mistake that restaurants often make is overlooking the entire guest journey and instead focusing solely on a guest’s time inside the restaurant. And though making a great impression and providing an unforgettable experience inside the restaurant is critical, letting the guest know that you’re thinking about them even when they’re not physically at your property can take the customer relationship even further. 

As hospitality businesses expand past standalone food and beverage concepts and into eatertainment venues and hotels, there are endless opportunities to offer more comprehensive loyalty programs for diners both inside and outside the restaurant. And why stick to benefits at just the restaurant? Consider including lifestyle benefits as well. For example, restaurants located in hotels could offer perks for the hotel as well, like discounted hotel rooms or invitations to special events in the neighborhood. This way guests can experience upgrades and a more tailored experience both inside and outside the restaurant that will keep your outstanding service top of mind.

Helping Guest Experiences Shine

Creating special experiences and upgrades are an easy way for restaurants to improve their marketing efforts, whether that’s creating a whiskey tasting event for the public, or making an exclusive winemaker dinner available to only your most loyal wine aficionados. But these efforts won’t show meaningful results unless you’re tracking the ROI on each promotion and leveraging guest data to target the right guests across email, social media or your website.

While data collection and utilization are extremely important in finding ways to connect with guests, human connection is still at the heart of hospitality and it’s important to form a positive relationship with guests. A major component of this relationship is two-way communication and encouraging guests to share feedback.  

Diner feedback is crucial in converting those guests into return customers and ensuring they will pass along the recommendation to visit your restaurant to family and friends. In fact, over half of Americans rely on family and friends’ recommendations when trying a new restaurant. With the right resources, operators can connect the guest feedback to guest profiles, and never get left in the dark on where they stand. This way the next time your restaurant appears in a guest’s inbox, it’s not something they will soon forget.

To succeed in the hyper-personalized economy of the future, restaurants should look beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to marketing and loyalty to truly cultivate experiences that resonate with every guest. Those operators who do a deep dive into their existing programs and data to understand who’s being targeted, who’s being left in the dark, and where new opportunities exist for making deeper connections with guests will drive more revenue and keep their business top of mind for years to come. 

Joel Montaniel is the CEO and co-founder of SevenRooms, a reservation, seating and guest management platform, where he leads business strategy and sales. Prior to founding SevenRooms in 2011, Montaniel served as the Chief of Staff at LivePerson, leading strategic, operational and cultural initiatives. He started his career at Credit Suisse within the Real Estate, Finance & Securitization Group. He graduated with a B.A. from Georgetown University.