A morning latte on the way into the office. Hump day beers at the bar around the corner. The weekend CSA pickup they look forward to all week. Thriving food and beverage businesses are the ones that become part of people’s rhythms and routines, not the ones they visit once in a while.
Building that kind of loyalty requires nurturing relationships with customers and giving them reasons to come back again and again (all while competing with other businesses for their time and attention). Regular, personalized communication will create a virtuous cycle of support, allowing your business to grow and guests to feel like part of a real community. Here are ten ways to pull it off.
Meet guests where they are.
Face-to-face interactions are at the heart of food and beverage experiences, which all circle back to hospitality. Still –– and this has never been truer than during a pandemic –– you have plenty of other channels to leverage when it comes to keeping in touch with guests.
Use social media platforms, email, delivery platforms, apps, and review sites to tell people what you have to offer, remind them what makes your products unique, and create a dialogue. You don’t have to jump on to every new trend immediately (TikTok dancing isn’t for everyone), but you should take an active role in talking to the people who support you –– and those who might do so down the road.
Find the right rhythm.
Across those different channels, figure out the best cadence for touchpoints with customers. For most businesses, daily social media posts of your team, space, and beautiful food and drinks will ensure your brand keeps popping up in feeds, but email can be trickier to navigate.
A restaurant may want to email their list monthly, while a bar with a packed calendar of live music may send weekly blasts. Ideally, you’ll find a balance between keeping in touch and congesting inboxes (which ultimately leads to unsubscribes).
Speak to the “here and now.”
Staying top of mind means giving customers a reason to visit now, not whenever they get around to it. Build urgency in creative ways, offering a seasonal dish for two weeks only (think sautéed chanterelles in July) or a local craft beer on tap for a single weekend.
Take advantage of holidays, too. When a wine shop and bar offers a special French cheese board and Tour de France flight in honor of Bastille Day, for example, Francophiles have one more reason to get out and toast.
Tailor your email messaging.
Social media posts should speak to a broad audience, but effective email communications are more personalized. Consider segmenting your email list into frequent customers, occasional ones, and one-time guests so you can speak directly to each group with relevant messaging.
Show one-time visitors what you’ve cooked up since their first visit to give them a reason to come back. Thank frequent guests for their support, and let them know how much you value them with an offer only extended to regulars. Finally, always collect as many email addresses as you can, via online orders or in-store purchases, to keep building your list.
Draw them in with a deal.
Speaking of special offers, these are a sure-fire way to get people’s attention and drive repeat visits. Try a once-a-week happy hour on a slow night, pouring from your best bottles at a discounted rate.
Or, tailor the offer to specific guests. A complimentary bag of roasted beans for folks who buy a cup of drip coffee every day for a month rewards loyalty, for example, and you can bring a first-time restaurant guest back with a free glass of bubbly on their next visit.
Follow up and make it right.
Consistent, long-term relationships require a dialogue, not a monologue. Follow up via email to thank customers for coming in and ask for feedback. And whether on social media channels, review sites, or other platforms, make a habit of responding to comments and reviews.
When customers post how much they love your cold brew or pain au chocolat, take the time to thank them and follow their accounts. (Bonus points if you can recognize and thank them in person, too.) Like the content they post, and repost any great photos they share of your products.
If a guest expresses disappointment about their experience, thank them for the feedback and invite them back in to give you a chance to make it right –– first round on the house. You’ll demonstrate gratitude and attention to detail and increase the odds of a return visit.
Give a personal touch.
When you respond to comments on Instagram or Twitter, you show that there’s a real (and warm and hospitable) person behind the business. That kind of interaction makes people feel seen and appreciated.
The same goes for in-person visits: everyone wants to feel like a regular. Train your front-of-house team members to remember frequent customers’ names, orders, and even anecdotes about their work or family lives, either by taking notes during service or recapping after shifts.
Finally, consider adding a note with orders that shows your gratitude and personality. Scribble “Extra spicy, just for you” on a to-go box or print “Thanks for coming in, Erin!” on a digital receipt to make them smile.
Lean on your locals.
For coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and bakeries, your best customers are likely to be those who live or work in your backyard. Go the extra mile to make them feel special and give them a reason to stop by.
Offer a punch card to keep in their wallets and get a tenth sandwich free. Ask them to follow you on social media, and collect their email addresses. Offer locals-only discounts. Partner with other businesses in the area, such as a floral shop or salon, to offer special promotions (think half-off drip coffee or tea with your haircut). Post flyers on bulletin boards about upcoming offers or events. Anything you can do to get in front of this crowd –– and keep them interested –– is sure to pay off.
Sell some swag.
Branded merchandise acts as a visual reminder of your space, food and drinks, staff, and the hospitality you provide. Plus, locals and other fans will want to associate with businesses they love.
Invest in items that align with your brand and that people will actually use. A reusable coffee cup with a cool logo works perfectly at a sustainability-focused coffee shop. A bar or brewery may offer a branded bottle opener that fits in a purse or wallet. Pens and tote bags are everywhere, so if you go that route, make sure you hire a good illustrator or choose a design that will set you apart.
Building community around events.
Lots of people can’t wait to get back to their favorite places post-pandemic, and hosting a special event gives them one more reason to choose yours. Again, the right style and cadence of events depends on your brand: a restaurant may welcome a monthly guest chef, while a coffee shop may hold open-mic nights every Friday. Think about what makes sense for you and what your team can support, then create a calendar of events throughout the year to promote on social media and through email. (This is another great opportunity to partner with a like-minded local business or donate proceeds to charity.)
Additionally, if you’re offering regular pickups (wine club, CSA farm box), turn the pickup experience itself into an event. Invite a musician to play live music, ask the winemaker to pour tastes, or offer bites to encourage people to linger. They’ll look forward to their next trip –– and the next and the next.