Is 2018 your “year of the customer”?

It is clear that the challenging consumer retail environment is not going to get easier.  Restaurants, especially casual and family sectors, will continue to be collateral damage as the consumer shifts their retail spending online, and Amazon meets their needs with amazing speed and price.  As chains start to scale back growth plans (and even rationalize their current locations), the macro environment will stabilize at a lower level of growth.

How does a restaurateur build a brand and traffic strategy in this environment?  Here are some tried-and-true tips for 2018 to make it your “year of the customer”.

  1. Know what you stand for.  What is your brand?  What is the feel, the vibe, the food, the service?  It may be tempting to think that changing the menu often, being excessively promotional (daily deals?), or changing up the bar to attract a completely different customer will be a quick fix.  However, it is more likely that your core customer, who likes what you have and what you are, will be put off.  Certainly, change things as needed to be relevant, but know how it might impact your core customer.
  2. Know who your customers are.  Beyond anecdotal evidence, do you know the age range, economic status, and family makeup of your customers?  If you have an eclub, loyalty program, or a POS system with token ID’s, it is a fairly simple matter to contract to get a customer profile.  Breaking this out by daypart, day of week, and high-value customers will give you insights that may change your perspective.  Knowing that your Thursday nights are professional couples, and your Saturdays are young singles, you can alter in-restaurant approaches and promotions appropriately.
  3. Know who your customers are, part II.  Is your loyalty program working?  Is your eclub actually driving traffic?  Are you testing messages and offers to see which ones work?  Tracking via promo codes or other mechanisms is a good first step.  However, you miss the customers who don’t use the promo code (which is most), and are subject to miscoding by servers.  POS data, with token ID’s, solves this problem.  With a little work, token ID’s can be utilized to build a marketing database that tracks behaviors.  This opens the world of marketing and provides a marketable universe of 7500 customers per location on average.  Then, promotions can be tested and evaluated for true impact.  And, you have a new marketing channel.
  4. What are they thinking?  How do your customers rate your food?  The latest menu item?  The new drink?  Service?  The wait time?  Music volume?  Did they have a problem at their last visit?  Technology exists, whether tableside or email, to know instantly what your customers think of the experience they had.  Successful guest satisfaction programs deliver hundreds of data points per location monthly, so that you have a handle on what is working, or, more importantly, what needs correcting, at each location.  This can even be filtered to know what your most valuable customers think, or first-time guests, or any other segment.

If you have not started a journey of understanding your customers and building your business around them, the time is now.  The financial gains have been substantial for brands that have invested in technology, marketing consulting, and execution to drive deeper customer relationships through better customer experiences.  Make 2018 your “Year of the Customer”.

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