Part 1 of 5 Answering Questions from Blue Light Media

Customer retention, culture, and goal-setting are essential to marketing your restaurant. We believe restaurants have a unique opportunity to build relationships with their customers, which is why we asked Mike Thorp, a restaurant marketing consultant, to share what owners need to know.

1. Retaining new customers can be one of the biggest challenges a restaurant faces. What are some actionable ways owners can increase the chances of coming back?

Imagine this: after a perfect first visit the chances of a guest returning are 33%, second perfect visit 42%, and after a third perfect visit it’s 62%. This means greeting the first time guests is crucial as they are easily identifiable. From a quick service to a casual or fine dining restaurant your staff should be trained (and hopefully genuinely interested) to ask if a guest has been there before.

This will accomplish two things. If they are first-time guests it gives your people the opportunity to tell your story in two sentences of less. (Anything longer gets boring unless of course the guests ask questions.)

This breaks down the wall of the employees and guests being strangers and immediately tells guests that your staff is on their side and is invested in their experience.

This information also must be communicated to the manager on duty, GM, or owner if available. That individual should make their way to the table to introduce themselves, welcome the guests, give a business card, and open the door to future communication.

I would tell all first-time guests that my email inbox was always open to them, in reality, they rarely used it but it was left open for them. Before this interaction, see what they ordered. If you have a specialty appetizer or seasonal menu, take your business card and on the back give them something that they can come back and try.

This will not only highlight something that is a favorite for your brand but it will also promote the second visit, raising that 33% chance. When this guest returns with this offer the service team has to be trained to inform a manager about the guests who have this offer. This way the manager, GM, Chef or Owner can make it to the table again. Again showing hospitality and concern about their experience.

At this point in this visit it is likely that the guests are near the end of their meal and have either had dessert or have decided to skip dessert. This time the manager should do the same except with a dessert. Again raising that return visit percentage over that 42% and giving you the opportunity to indicate to the staff that these guests are on their third visit the next time they come in.

The crucial part to this is not just giving away product but the manager interaction as well. People are 75% more likely to go to a restaurant where they can be recognized by management. Consider this as well: find a relatively inexpensive dessert that takes minimal prep to give away for special occasions; birthdays, anniversaries, retirements.

Then surprise and delight these guests by offering this complimentary dessert delivered by a manager. Again, driving home the manager interaction.


Thank you to Blue Light Media for featuring me. Please go check out Blue Light Media

I expand on these thoughts on my Restaurant Report Podcast here as well 

Increase Returning Guests - Restaurant Report Podcast

mike thorp