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You do have a customer database, don’t you?

Communication. In one form or another, it may be the most important thing that happens within a restaurant. Just like your employees, your customers need to know what is going on in your business. How do you communicate with them?

If there is one thing I try to get across to every business owner, it’s that no matter how great your product is, if no one knows about it, it won’t sell. This fact makes marketing your most important job as a restaurant owner. You have an obligation to yourself to build relationships with your guests, and to let them know, with plenty of notice, every special thing that is going to happen in your business. The most effective way to do this is by collecting contact information from your customers and building a customer database.

A customer database is made up of key facts about every customer that comes into your restaurant. Your database should contain first and last names and addresses of your customers at a minimum. Email addresses, telephone numbers, birthdays, and anniversaries can help you make easier contact with customers and tailor special offers to them. You may also want to know favorite dishes, dislikes, and what day you collected the information.

The biggest benefit of a customer database is giving you the ability to spend your marketing dollars on those most likely to come into your restaurant… I’m talking about those who have already been there. To many owners, spending their marketing dollars on people who already know about their business seems like a waste of money, but the truth is that the greatest potential for increasing sales lies with those who already know where you are located, what you sell, and how great a value it is. These are the people who take the least convincing. You already have a relationship with these people.

Think about it, if you were giving away free booze to attract people to your house for a party, who are most likely to come, complete strangers or people who have been to your parties before? Your business is no different. Convincing people to come back more often than they had already planned is much easier that attracting new people, whether it’s a house party or a restaurant.

By collecting information from your customers, you give yourself the means to invite them back more frequently, to try and make them regular guests. You have the opportunity to get them to come back when YOU want them back, not just when the mood hits THEM.

There are several ways to collect customer information. You can simply ask for it, hand out comment cards with blanks to fill in with their information, offer a signup for a “VIP” club, or collect information for a prize giveaway. You may also want to think about contacting other merchants in your area to see if they have customer databases they may want to trade with you. Someone who visits another business close to you is also likely to give you a try since they make regular visits to the area.

Once you collect your customers’ information, you have many options on how to use it. With email addresses, you have an almost free way to communicate with your customers. Not all customers have email though, and some that do may not respond to email advertising. Direct mail newsletters are another option you have to contact customers. Newsletters can be used as more than advertising, you can offer stories about your restaurant, your employees, and your customers. You may even want to start a “Customer/Employee of the Month” contest and publish the winners in your newsletter. Another option is good ‘ol fashioned direct mail offers. You can print a postcard with your latest offer or invitation to come to a special event. Since the people you are sending these print pieces to are familiar with your business, they are more likely to respond to your direct mail than a recipient from a mailing list you bought.

No matter how you communicate with your customers now, if you don’t have a customer database, you’re leaving money on the table.

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About friendthatcooks

Food service consultant and owner/operator of an in-home weekly meal prep service in Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, Milwaukee and Wichita

Posted on January 15, 2008, in Articles and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thanks for an interesting post. Great comparison: house party with strangers invited -> business. An idea for collecting emails, although you point out that a lot of people do not reply to email messages, is that one can set up registration so that people can have access to some parts, where they could find more interesting info. Like this it is easier to filter active internet users, who might be responsive to email advertising.

  2. Bang on Michael.

    Your future is your database.

  3. Your customer database is critical for long term success.

    The challenge I have is when you say you want feedback using a comment card but what you really want is consumer data you are devaluing the “comment card” even more. Restaurant customers are tired of being told that restaurants care about their feedback when in reality all the restaurant wants is data.

    Customer feedback is a critical business tool also and should be devalued!

    It’s better to ask for real time customer feedback and give the customer the option to share their personal information with you.

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