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The Art of Creating Regular F&B Customers

This is a familiar scenario for all restaurant owners: you have a limited marketing budget with which you are supposed to increase the restaurant’s profitability. Do you spend it on attracting new customers to your restaurant or on nurturing relationships with your existing customers so they’ll come back for more?

If you answered “attract new customers”, you probably could have used your budget in a better way. 

According to a study by the Harvard Business Reviewretaining only 5% more of your customers can increase your profits by 25-85%. This study isn’t even new; it was published in 1990. And yet, most restaurants today still concentrate their efforts on reaching new customers instead of cultivating regular ones. 

In case you need a little more convincing, statistics show that existing customers are 50% more likely to purchase from you than first-time customers and also spend up to 67% more. Investing in your existing customers is simply the more efficient way to increase your sales. Not only because these customers will return, but if done right, they’ll spread the word about your business. 

 

A regular customer is not just a random stroke of luck that either happens or doesn’t. 

Think about it: when was the last time it was your or your staff’s mission to make every customer have such a good experience that he or she would want to come back?

 

It starts with the your mindset

I’ve recently become mildly obsessed with Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table. Danny Meyer is the founder of Shake Shack, has a restaurant empire and catering division under Union Square Hospitality Group and he has never had to close down any of his restaurants. But what inspired me most was his view of hospitality. 

It’s his firm belief and refusal to compromise on his principles of hospitality that makes his restaurants successful, and I could go on for days with his gems of wisdom, but it boils down to this: the difference between service and hospitality. 

 

“Service is the technical delivery of a product. Hospitality is how the delivery of that product makes its recipient feel." 

When you are seated at the precise time of your reservation at the exact table and with the waiter you requested, that is a reflection of good service
When the right food is delivered to the right person at the right table at the right temperature at the right time – that’s service. … When your empty plate is cleared from the table in a graceful manner, that too is service. When, in answer to your question, the waiter can explain the nuances of the wines on our list, that’s service
But hospitality, which most distinguishes our restaurants – and ultimately any business – is the sum of all the thoughtful, caring, gracious things our staff does to make you feel we are on your side when you are dining with us."

– Danny Meyer, Setting the Table

 

Reading that, for me, was a paradigm shift. I finally understood why service is Singapore is so bad. It’s not because we don’t pay enough or because workers are lazy; it’s because we don’t understand hospitality

Everything else, once you have your priorities right, can be figured out. 

Nevertheless I acknowledge that not everyone has the ability or time to dedicate to the standards of hospitality Danny Meyer could. The high turnover rate of service staff in Singapore and employees’ mindsets will require a lot of determination and time to change. 

However, exceptional service is not impossible. 

Assuming the quality of your food is good and consistent – technology, like customer relationship management (CRM) software, can help to make up for these limitations by organising and keeping track of your customers’ details. For instance, iCHEF POS has a CRM built in (no extra fees, yay!) that helps with:

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1. Remembering faces 

Many eateries in Singapore rely so heavily on part-timers that even if a customer has been there a few times before, they are not recognised because they are served by a different person each time. It’s obviously difficult to create regular customers if the customers don’t feel like regulars. 

One solution is to ask your customers to register as a member at your restaurant to earn rewards on every visit. iCHEF only requires their name and phone number – each time the customer returns after that, your servers will know his or her name and the date of their last visit once their phone number is entered.

 

2. Remembering customers’ preferences  

There’s no better way to make your guest feel like a regular than to remember their favourite order, or quirks like their preference for ketchup instead of chili. These preferences will be logged in iCHEF’s system and displayed when a waiter is taking the order. 

 

3. Special occasions  

Before technology made things much more convenient, dedicated restaurateurs would have to meticulously record customers’ birthdays and anniversaries in ledgers. Now you can add your customer’s birthday into iCHEF so that you can give them a something complimentary on their special day. 

 

4. “Customer notes” database  

Does the guest have an allergy? Or any special requests (e.g. salad dressing on the side, or whiskey with only one ice cube)? Including these details and making it a point to take care of these needs before the guest makes the request shows thoughtfulness and will be appreciated.

If any mistakes were made on a previous visit, they should be added to the customer notes too (e.g. overcooked steak on 7/12) so that extra care can be made to not repeat it. 

 

5. Keeping in touch with customers 

Wish your customers a happy birthday along with a reminder that there’s a drink or dessert on the house for them; send them updates on new specials or changes to your menu. If you have a CRM like iCHEF’s that keeps track of your customers’ orders, you can sort your members by the items they order most often and notify them when their favourite items are on promotion. 

 

If you think that this all sounds like a lot of trouble to go through, I’d like to leave you with this last quote by Danny Meyer:

“There is simply no point for me – or anyone on my staff – to work hard every day for the purpose of offering guests an average experience.”

 

Cheryl Tay is the editor and content marketer at iCHEF Singapore. She also manages iCHEF Club, a growing community of F&B owners in Singapore – organising events, the blog, an online newsletter and the F&B Entrepreneur Bootcamp, the only regular workshop on opening a new restaurant in the country. In her spare time, she attempts to read every book that’s ever won a literary prize and watches cat videos. Like any proper Singaporean, her love for food runs deep – especially spicy food. Chili is life. 

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