How to Increase Customer Retention

How to Increase Customer Retention

One of the main keys to running a successful restaurant is customer retention.  You want loyal customers coming back for more, increasing their spend, and bringing friends.  Loyal customers are worth more than new customers.  Loyal customers help spread positive word-of-mouth, by sharing pictures on social media, writing good reviews, and telling others about your business.  How do you boost customer retention? Reward your customers, offer a great experience, have a social media presence, create a brand, and offer events and other incentives to come each week.

Loyalty Programs

Rewarding customers is easy with the right loyalty program.  You can use points, punchcards, or an app to incentivize customers to return.  Points or punchcards can be based on number of visits or spending.  A loyalty app is a more modern way of rewarding customers, using technology to offer tailored rewards.  All customers are not equal, so why should their rewards be?  Should you give the same reward to a customer who spends 100 dollars a week as one who only spends 15?  The goals are different.  You want the higher spending customer to keep returning and you want to increase the spending of the other.  Apps also allow for enhanced customer communication, you can use push, sms, or email to send them promotions or let them know about new specials or events.

Online Reviews

What do your online reviews say? Bad Yelp or social media reviews could be negatively affecting your customers.  If you’re reviews aren’t filled with happy customers raving about the food and the experience, potential or existing customers may decide to go to a competitor with better reviews.  Even if a customer had a great time, they may think it was a fluke based on the negative experiences of other customers.  Online reviews are a great way to see how your business is doing.  All customers aren’t vocal, you may not be able to tell a customer is unhappy.  Their problems go unseen until post about it.  Read your online reviews and make the necessary changes.  If your fries are too salty, talk to the kitchen.  If your bathrooms are dirty, start having your employees check the bathrooms more regularly.

Social Media Presence

Social media helps restaurants, bars, and cafes connect with customers.  You can use visual platforms like Instagram to showcase beautiful pictures of your menu items.  Facebook can be used to make event pages and invite your loyal customers (hopefully they will invite their friends).  Twitter is great for posting updates like new specials or promotions.  You can interact with your customers, let them feel like they know you.  Repost their pictures and listen to their comments.  You can ask questions, get opinions, and make them feel like part of the “family.”

Create a Brand

Starbucks vs Dunkin Donuts, most people have a preference.  Is it truly about the coffee or is it about the brand.  Make your business unique, set it apart from your competitors.  Give your customers something only you can give them.  You could make your business exclusive.  Make it the “it” place for date night, any other option is “less than.”  Your business could be a close-knit family; offer shirts, name a special after a favorite customer. 

Make it fun

The customer experience can be more important than the actual food or drinks when it comes to customer retention.   Fun events like trivia, live music, or themed nights can turn customers into regulars. Weekly events give customers a reason to return besides the food or drinks.  Exclusive events like a special tasting menu focusing a foreign cuisine or special ingredient can create an experience that encourages retention.  If the event is successful, the customers will be looking forward to the next one.

The goal of customer retention is to increase “regulars.” “Regulars” are golden in the restaurant industry.  Customers that keep coming back often bring friends, and can be encouraged to increase spend.  If your business has “regulars” then it’s doing something right.  It’s important to reward regulars to keep them returning. 

How to Build a Budget-Friendly Website for Your Restaurant or Cafe

How to Build a Budget-Friendly Website for Your Restaurant or Cafe

Websites and a social media presence are extremely important for restaurants, bars, cafes, bakeries, and other small businesses. Digital ghosting, lacking an online identity, makes you invisible to customers. Word of mouth has turned digital, and unless you’re in a location with extremely high foot traffic, you need to have an online presence.

Social media is free and easy to maintain, making it a no-brainer. Websites can be a little trickier. Unless you have a friend who can code or work magic with WordPress, building a complex website can be very expensive. Thankfully, most restaurants, bars, and cafes only need a basic website to start out. You can redo your website or hire someone to work on the SEO (search engine optimization) down the road.

Basic info your website needs to start out:

  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Easy to read menu
  • Great pictures of menu items

Free Website Tools:


Wix is a great tool for businesses on a budget and those without website building knowledge. It’s a drag and drop website builder, meaning you “drag” website elements like text, photos, videos, etc and “drop” them on the page wherever you like. You can then easily edit and customize. If you work with WordPress or a different site that isn’t drag and drop, you will have to use code to make changes. Wix is meant for those without any previous knowledge of website building. You can pick a pre-designed template, customized for various businesses ranging from fancy restaurants to cupcake shops. The website you create will be automatically optimize for mobile, meaning it will be easily viewable from a smartphone.


  • Customizable Templates
  • Menu template
  • Facebook and Foursquare menu integration
  • Mobile optimized
  • Online ordering (receive updates via email or phone call)
  • Online reservations
  • Can have an online store with the paid subscription

If you want a free site using Wix, you’re URL will instead of a custom domain (website name) like In order to have custom domain, you will need to purchase the name you want and set up a hosting plan. Free sites also show Wix ads.

Paid Wix subscriptions rang from 5$ per month for a basic subscription to 25$ a month for VIP. They often run discounts if you pay for a full year upfront. You still will need to purchase your domain. You can purchase your domain at or Domains typically cost .99 cents for the first year and then 10 to 15$ per year after that.

Weebly is Wix’s most direct competitor. It is also a free drag and drop website builder. The two platforms are very similar. Wix has the upper hand when it templates; it offers more free templates and they tend to be a little nicer. Weebly’s paid services range from 8$ to 25$, making it competitive in price. It offers the same free services as Wix, with a Weebly domain and advertisements.


  • Template code can be altered
  • Market place for “premium” templates that typically cost around 50$
  • Currently if you pay the year upfront, you get a free custom domain for the year

Your restaurant needs a website so potential customers can find you online and look at your menu. Down the road, you can work on your website on your own, or with a company to make it rank higher in Google searches. A restaurant website should have basic info for customers and feature great pictures to encourage them to visit. You can make a free website to start using Wix or Weebly in less than an hour!

Social Media Guide for Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes

Social Media Guide for Restaurants, Bars, and Cafes

Are you struggling to create buzz about your restaurant, bar, or cafe?  Have you fallen behind in the digital age?  Word of mouth has migrated to social media, with sharing of pictures and tagged comments.  Social media is an essential, free, tool that allows you, as the restaurant owner or manager, to connect with your customers and share mouthwatering photos, new specials, and updates.

According to a study by Trip Advisor, only 17 percent of restaurants have a marketing employee. If you’re like 83 percent of restaurants then the social media is left to you, the owner or manager.  You may not have a degree in marketing or even a personal Facebook page, but social media is user-friendly and starting small with some good pictures and updates will increase your business.

What is #FoodPorn?

Foodporn is the popular hashtag used for visually appealing or appetizing photos of food.  Social media has changed the way customers think about their meal choices.  Some customers want to eat at places they know will lead to great social media pictures.  Chefs are having to pay attention to the meal presentation and how photogenic it is.   Dillon Burke works with restaurant to make their menu items “Instaworthy.”  His firm helps food trends go viral, and helps restaurants keep up with the trends.

What is a social media influencer?

49 percent of consumers seek “purchase guidance” from influencers.  Social media influencers have heavy weight in their specific categories.  They are seen as “experts” in their particular niche and have a large following.  They can create new food trends with a snap of their iPhone or drive business with a good review.


Every restaurant needs a Facebook page, especially if it doesn’t have a website (read why your restaurant needs a website).  Facebook has a broader age demographic, ranging from young millennials to their grandparents.  Facebook is more business focused, and is a great platform for adding business details like hours of operation.


  • Built in “five star” review system to encourage new business
  • “Call now” button so customers can call you directly from Facebook
  • Customers can get easily directions to your business on their phone or computer
  • “Send message” allows customer communication
  • “Popular Hours” shows busiest hours for restaurant
  • You can make event pages and invite customers
  • Clickable link to website
  • Easily add your menu


Instagram is a visual platform, made for photo sharing.  It has recently upgraded to videos and live streaming.  Instagram is a powerful social media tool for restaurants because it’s all photo-based.  The user scrolls through feeds of pictures and short videos with minimal text.  It should be updated daily, if not multiple times a day with mouthwatering pictures or cool behind-the-scenes pictures of staff or prep.  Instagram is hot with the millennial demographic, who are visual and are more likely turn to social media when deciding where to eat.


•Make your photos as professional looking as possible.  You can take the pictures on an iPhone, you don’t need a fancy camera. It’s all about the lighting and staging.  Read this article for some tips.

•Use relevant hashtags.  Your hashtag strategy will depend on whether or not you’re a local business or a large franchise with one social media account for the entire brand.  If you’re a local restaurant your hashtags should revolve around local cities, events, and always tag your location. 

•Create your own hashtag so customers can tag you. You can put it in your description and encourage customers to take pictures of their favorite menu items and tag you in it.

•Make Instagram part of your branding.  You can use it as a tool to help shape how customers feel about your establishment.  You can give a “mom and pop” feel by showing the behind-the-scenes action or a very modern new-age feel with expert staging.


Twitter’s claim to fame is its 140 character limit. You can only post short bits of information at a time.  Twitter should be used for updates on special and events, as well as photos and videos.  Twitter can be updated more frequently than the other platforms because Twitter feeds move quickly.   Your customer may follow 1000 different accounts and their feed will be updating constantly.  Increasing the number of posts, boosts your visibility.

Google +

Google + isn’t as widely used as some of the other social media platforms, but you should still have an account to increase your search engine visibility.  Add pictures, the correct address, hours, and any other information you can so when customers Google your restaurant the information will pop up on the right hand side of the page along with a map.  Some of this information may be automatically generated by Google, if you haven’t made your Google + page yet.   If you have time, post pictures, coupons, and other updates on this platform, but focus on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter more.


Snapchat has the youngest demographic of the main social media platforms.  It is similar to Instagram, it’s a visual platform.  The main feature is that the pictures and videos stay up for 10 seconds or added to your “story” for 24 hours.  You can send pictures and videos to a specific user or show it to all of your followers.  You can add doodles and take pictures right in the app.  It is a little more time consuming but is rewarding for businesses that are looking to connect with younger customers.

Social media can put your business on your map and help your business’s popularity.  Taking the extra effort to create social media handles and stage photographs can help reach new customers.  There are so many choices when deciding where to eat or drink, businesses are becoming more about their brand.  Social media is a important way to brand yourself and show customers why they want to visit your place.  Highlight the atmosphere, repost pictures of happy customers and good reviews, take mouthwatering pictures.  Run a menu special that features a new food trend.  Give your potential customers #FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Are You Turning Away Customers with Special Diets and Allergies?

Are You Turning Away Customers with Special Diets and Allergies?

Do you have friends or family members that are gluten free?

It’s becoming growingly more important for restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops to offer items that appeal to those with allergies and special diets. Many people have at least one family member that falls into the “special diet” category, if not more. You could be unknowingly turning away potential customers by not advertising or modifying dishes for customers who follow special diets. Restaurants, including chains and small mom-and-pop shops are offering special menu items and modifications for those with special diets and allergies.

The Gluten Free marketing is growing rapidly. Gluten Free foods are becoming more and more popular for health reason, allergies, and Celiac’s Disease. According to NPR, 1/3 of people are trying to avoid gluten. Menu items can sometimes be made gluten free with a few modifications.

What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Some people choose to eat gluten free to lose weight, be healthier, or because they have an allergy. Celiac’s Disease affects around 1 in 100 people, and is an autoimmune disease, that causes damage to the small intestine when eating gluten. A customer with Celiac’s Disease must not have any cross contamination. Small amounts of gluten can cause damage.

The National Restaurant Association released a back of house guide for gluten free dining. The guide has many great tips to avoid cross contamination, such as using a dedicated fryer, prep space, and cookware. Education is important for staff. Gluten free can be more than a lifestyle. Your staff should know exactly what gluten is and avoid any cross contamination. For someone with Celiac’s Disease, cross contamination is extremely serious.

Dishes can often be easily modified using gluten free pasta, bread, and dough. Many pizza places like Blaze Pizza and Mellow Mushroom offer gluten free dough. Olive Garden offers gluten free pasta. Chick-fil-A recently announced they will be offering gluten free buns.

Are your burgers naturally gluten free? Could you offer corn tortillas and tortilla chips instead of flour? What about gluten free pasta? These easy modifications could increase your customer base.

Double check your ingredients carefully. Gluten can be sneaky. It can be found in soy sauces (opt for a gluten-free brand, it tastes the same), beer (offer a gluten free one), malt (think malted milkshakes or malt vinegar), sauces and gravies (made with soy sauce or wheat as a thickener).

Label and advertise
Once you know your gluten free menu items, start labelling and marketing them. Typically gluten free is indicated by (GF). You could also offer a gluten free menu, or advertise that you offer gluten free pasta or buns. The National Restaurant Associate overviewed the FDA regulations in gluten free labeling.

There are a few phone apps and websites that help those who are Gluten Free find local restaurants that offer gluten free foods.

Allergy Eats
Find Me Gluten Free
Gluten Free Travel Site

You can also use social media to advertise your gluten free options. Gluten Free is very popular on social media. The Gluten Free community is tight knit and shares gluten free finds all over the world.

Adding Gluten Free menu modifications and labeling will help attract customers you may have be turning away. Many people have a friend or family member who is gluten free. If they do not know your restaurant can accommodate, they might chose your competitor instead for a meal out. If you decide to offer gluten free options, make sure your staff is knowledgable and your kitchen can prepare the foods without cross contamination.

Is Your Restaurant a Digital Ghost?

Is Your Restaurant a Digital Ghost?

What do people see when they Google your business? Do you have a website? Does it show up on Google? Are there any reviews?  Are they positive?  How many stars do you have on Yelp!?  Do the pictures of your food look good?

Digital Word of Mouth

Before iPhones and laptops became all the rage, restaurants, bars, and other businesses relied on traditional word of mouth to encourage business.  They would use coupons, get listed in the Yellow Pages, or maybe put an advertisement in the local paper, but the biggest seller was customers raving about their business to their friends, family, and colleagues.  Today word of mouth has turned digital.  Customers are turning online when deciding where to go.  Online sites like Yelp! let customers publicly rate their experiences.  People are trusting other customers more than ads.  What motivation does a customer have to write a bad review on Yelp!? It creates a sense of honesty and trust. 

Online Identity

Today’s restaurants, bars, and cafes need to have an online identityCustomers are searching online for their next meal.  If you do not have a website, Facebook, online menu, or Yelp! page, you could easily be overlooked by your competitor who’s online presence is full of mouthwatering pictures and stellar reviews. 

Not all websites are created equal.  A bad website that isn’t user friendly or filled with a accurate data can suggest the business isn’t modern enough, it’s not up-to-date with the times.  Today’s consumers have become very visually oriented.  Millennials want to see drool worthy pictures.  They want to check your business’s Instagram, follow you to see amazing specials that are too good to pass up.

Is your website mobile friendly? Most customers are searching for restaurants on the go, using their smartphones.  Is your menu too hard to read?  Can you zoom in and read the font? Do you label your gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian items?   These special customers tend to plan ahead, since they can not eat everywhere.  If you’re special dietary options aren’t labeled, you may be turning away potential customers.

Social Media

According to a new Facebook study at least 1/3 of restaurant and bar patrons use Facebook or Instagram.   People are influenced by the delicious pictures and positive reviews on their social media feeds.

If the modern person is hungry, they can use the Yelp! app to find the best restaurants, bars, coffees, etc near them.  It can be as specific as gluten free muffins or broad like Tacos.  When trying a new restaurant, some people like to see pictures of the food, reviews, and even the menu. 

Yelp! has become the leader in online reviews for restaurants and small businesses.  First time customers want to be reassured they will have a good experience.  They check to see how many stars your restaurant has.  They look at pictures, read reviews.  Does your restaurant have a Yelp! page? Are the reviews positive? Bad online reviews could be secretly hurting your business. 


So you have an easy-to-navigate website with some good pictures, a relatively active social media presence, and good Yelp! reviews, now what?  Comprehensive and integrated customer loyalty programs are taking businesses to the level.  Your customer’s inboxes are being flooded with emails every day from businesses like your own.  Your email can easily get lost in the shuffle and sent to spam or left unread.  Restaurants can benefit from using SMS (text messages)  as part of their marketing plan. Zonal’s app based loyalty program uses SMS and even push notifications to send rewards, coupons, and marketing nudges directly to their phones

Adapting to the digital age is easy. It is free to create to create Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for your business. Uploading pictures and posting about new specials or menu items takes only a few minutes a day.  Quality pictures can be taken with a smartphone and good lighting.  Simple websites can be created on sites like for those on a budget.  You want to have an easy-to-read menu, contact information, and great pictures.  An online identity is as important as having a sign in front of your business.