What exactly is keeping your customers from getting their burger or burrito from the restaurant next door?
That’s a question all district managers should be able to answer. Because while it’s great to get new people in the door on a regular basis, you should keep in mind that regular, loyal customers are often your best source of revenue over the long haul.
The good news is that technology can be a huge help when it comes to building, maintaining and growing customer loyalty. The National Restaurant Association’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast even found that a quarter of consumers admit to being influenced by technology choices when it comes to deciding which restaurant to frequent.
Here are five areas where technology can help you increase the loyalty of your customers:
One great benefit of technology is that it’s very flexible. For example, adaptive digital menu boards allow restaurants to change up their offerings seasonally, daily and even for each individual customer if they want to.
Rather than pay for new menus or to makeover the ones you have on a regular basis, digital menu boards allow you to personalize the experience of ordering from your restaurant, showing customers the dishes that are most in-season, the ones they’ve ordered frequently before or new specials that they might want to try.
You can also use technology to simplify the process of putting together an order in the kitchen, which allows you to offer customers more choices. For example, if your order display technology in the kitchen shows chefs exactly what to put where and when, it’s no big deal for each order to be customized. And as Blaze Pizza has discovered, customers love being able to pick exactly what goes into their meals.
Another smart idea is to implement technology that lets you track things like customer birthdays, anniversaries and other important milestones. That way you can offer them something special at that point in time and give them a reason to visit you and a positive touchpoint with your brand via personalization.
Look for ways like this that you can use technology to personalize your customers’ experience. When customers feel like they are being catered to, they’re far more likely to continue to choose you over your competitors.
Another major benefit of the increasing availability of technology to restaurants is that it can make it far easier to stay top of mind with your customers. That’s because it’s never been easier to communicate with them. The key here is to figure out which mediums your customers like to communicate with you on. And remember that it won’t be the same across the board.
For example, some people may be willing to get a weekly email from you about specials. Others might prefer to access that information via your Facebook page. Still others will happily download your mobile app to get push notifications about special discounts or store events.
Take the time to figure out how your customers like to communicate with you and craft a customer realtions strategy that allows you to reach them when and where they want to be reached. This will help you stay top of mind and thus keep them coming back, building loyalty over time.
Restaurant technology also has the power to make the dining out experience ever more convenient. And diners approve.
Many restaurants today, like BJ’s, have discovered the benefits of offering customers order-ahead capabilities. This way, customers know that they won’t have to wait in line if they are getting take-out and that their food will be ready fast if they’re sitting down to eat. In today’s harried world, this can be a huge source of comfort for consumers.
Additionally, there are many apps available today that enable consumers to order at the table and even pay without handing their credit cards over to the waiter. This doubles as both a convenient dynamic and a more secure way to pay.
Tablets at the table can also offer more information about menu items, such as a full list of ingredients for health-conscious or allergy-afflicted patrons. They can also offer games and other forms of entertainment, which can make it easier for parents dining out with children to enjoy their meals.
Offering this level of convenience sends the message to your customers that you value their time, which leads to a stronger affinity with your brand.
4. Connection (with Younger Demographics)
Technology also has the benefit of appealing to younger demographics. Remember that many millennials (and other generations) rely heavily on review sites like Yelp to determine where they will eat. Keeping up with your score on these sites and doing what you can to encourage positive reviews can go a long way.
Often people are very tuned into what their friends are doing on social media, so a check-in or even just a simple mention of your restaurant on a social media site can also convince people to visit. They’re more likely to favor your restaurant if their friends like it too. To take advantage, make sure you are monitoring social media and review sites and taking note of trends and correlations in online and offline activity.
Also look into visually-driven mediums where it may make sense to post photos of your food. People love to photograph their meals and to look at “food porn.” It’s a great way to keep people thinking about your food and coming back for more.
For example, you could share images of new creations by your chefs or ask permission to re-post snapshots taken by your customers to spread the word about your food and drive loyalty among your fanbase.
Finally, one of the best ways to increase loyalty is to offer rewards to your customers for engaging with your brand online. The best rewards programs today are technology-driven because they rely on data to offer customers incentives that are personalized to their interests and preferences.
Some restaurants, like Yogurtland, have even gamified the experience of visiting their outlets, offering rewards for frequent visits or for trying new menu items. This can work especially well with younger generations.
It’s also important when it comes to rewards-based loyalty programs to be sure you understand what your target audience values and how they like to interact. For example, another gamification-based rewards app, Greene Turtle Rewards, has been particularly successful because they have themed their loyalty program around sports. Their competitive fanbase is more than happy to engage
The good news is that tons of rewards-based loyalty apps exist that you can take advantage of; there’s really no need to reinvent the wheel, as long as you rely on data about your customer base to offer them an experience that appeals to their tastes.
In addition to all of the customer-facing technologies that can be used to build loyalty, it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, you need to cover all your bases behind the scenes too.
Ultimately, you should look for opportunities to put tech to work improving your restaurant in ways that customers will both notice (think: tablets on tables) and not notice, but would appreciate if they did (think: clean, compliant kitchens.) This combination is a powerful way to ensure loyalty with your customers.