May 11, 2022

Cultivating a Loyal Customer Base for Your Restaurant

Regulars are the foundation, the backbone, of every successful restaurant. These are the repeat customers that come in once a week or more. They are a source of steady income for restaurateurs — after all, they are the customers supporting the 80/20 rule. That is, 80% of the company profits will come from 20% of the customers.

Not only are regulars the generators of the restaurant's baseline profits, but they are also a powerful marketing tool. Regulars are often superfans who are happy to exaggerate the restaurant’s offerings to anyone who will listen. These word-of-mouth marketers steadily work to help build the restaurant’s reputation in the community and make it a vital aspect of the neighborhood.

But regulars don’t just start coming in the day the restaurant opens. Rather, they are earned over time. Any new restaurateur knows building a loyal customer base is essential to long-term success. But how can this group of regulars be cultivated? How does a new restaurant start to attract its loyal fans? 

Decode Customers

Perhaps the hardest aspect of cultivating a loyal customer base is figuring out what regulars are going to be attracted to the restaurant. One good place to start is with your competition. Understanding what they are doing to attract and keep loyal customers can be the key to unlocking your own innovation. It can keep you asking how you can model your restaurant to attract customers in the same way, or develop an even better one.

Developing a deep understanding of your customers is the key to catering to them. If yours is the kind of place that brings in the after-work crowd, you may cater to them with happy hour specials. Likewise, if you’re resonating more with families, you might offer discounted menu items targeted at children. 

As part of your decoding process, you may find a niche in the marketplace that you can capitalize on. For instance, you may notice that a lot of people walk their dogs in the neighborhood, but there aren’t many dog-friendly patios. Stepping in to fill this gap can bring in troves of new, loyal customers and make your restaurant a staple in that sector of the community.

Keep Them Coming Back

Once you’ve figured out who your regulars are and hooked them, the next step is to keep them coming back. They do a lot for your restaurant, whether it is spending their money there or encouraging new customers to walk through the door because of their praise. It is time to reward them for all they do to keep your lights on.

The rewards can be all sorts of things from handwritten thank you notes to engaging them with contests and prizes to full-blown rewards programs. Some restaurants have punch cards that offer a free drink or meal after so many purchases. Others proffer exclusive rewards clubs that for a small fee offer regulars access to coupons, special new menu items, or intimate dining events for small groups of members.

There are a couple of rules to follow for a successful rewards program such as

  1. Make it simple. Don’t make the rules for redeeming rewards overly complicated or you’ll disappoint customers. For instance, if they have to earn so many points for a free drink, they might be let down when they realize they can only get the free drink on weeknights 
  2. Integrate technology. Punch cards are great and some customers really like them. But they are easy to lose and younger generations expect to be able to do everything online. Create a rewards system that can be tracked through an app or online account.
  3. Offer extra perks. Extra incentives can be extra enticing. Consider offering bonus points on the slowest night of the week or putting customers in for a special raffle when they’ve spent so many dollars. These types of things keep customers engaged and gamify rewards even more.

Respond to Feedback

Customers that are connected to your restaurant through a rewards program are also those that are most likely to provide meaningful feedback. Engaging them through newsletters can keep them informed about all of the great stuff your restaurant is doing, whether that is incorporating more allergy awareness in your kitchen or seeking out locally produced foods for the menu. 

Responding to the feedback that you get is another major factor in keeping loyal customers coming back. If they suggest keeping a particular beer on draft because it is their favorite, consider making it happen. These small odes to loyal customers mean a lot to them and cement a positive relationship. 

It is always worthwhile to ask your loyal customers to submit reviews on your online profiles. Over 60% of people read reviews before going to a new restaurant, which means good reviews can do a lot for your business. Develop a smooth strategy for asking for reviews such as by following up after a purchase or providing an easy place on your website to do so. 


Developing a loyal customer base is critical to long-term restaurant success. Figuring out who your customer base is and catering to them is a great first step. From there work towards building engagement through rewards programs and other loyal customer perks. Responding to their feedback and encouraging them to provide it is another powerful way to continue these positive relationships.

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