It’s estimated that there are nearly 200,000 quick-service restaurants in America. Big brands have bigger budgets and in this endless sea of competition smaller brands need to use all of their resources to keep their business top-of-mind and develop a loyal customer base. In order to succeed, businesses want to be the first place people think of when they are hungry and want customers who will return, again and again. Staying top-of-mind is the key to building lasting and meaningful relationships with your customers. Consistent communication is the easiest, quickest and least expensive way to build loyalty that can strategically impact spending habits and increase revenue.

Consistent communication doesn’t mean sending an email just for the sake of sending an email. It means getting to know your customers and emailing them with a clear purpose that is relevant to them and creatively attracts their attention. Consistency is achieved by emphasizing a recognizable look and feel for a business, alongside the emotional and functional benefits a brand evokes, and doing it on a regular basis. It means making sure every interaction, from email to social media to face-to-face, represents the brand. 

The good news is there are tons of reasons to reach out to customers and communicate with them. Here are five marketing ideas to help build those necessary relationships:

Create a Good First Impression

The saying “You only have one chance to make a first impression” holds true. And, once that impression is made, it’s very hard to change it. It’s extremely important to send an email to new customers saying hello and thank you. Subsequent emails can introduce employees with profiles of chefs, cashiers, waiters/waitresses, and more. Or, share the story of your business—why you opened your business, what services you offer and what makes you unique compared to competitors. It’s a chance to brag a little, and share a personal story.

Show Appreciation

Happy, satisfied, and informed customers are your best marketing tool. These customers have the most valuable opinions because they are based upon personal experience. You want these customers shouting their praise from the rooftops. They should be celebrated. Send an email with an exclusive discount on customers’ birthdays. Celebrate your business anniversary with a special deal.  Or, consider hosting a Friends and Family event where your most loyal customers are invited for a special party where they can mingle with employees and get special discounts.

Delight Customers with Special Days and Deals

Did you know there is a day celebrating every kind of food?  Pick a food holiday that ties in with your business like, “ice cream day,” “pizza day,” etc. and offer a special deal in its honor. Of course, traditional holidays should be acknowledged as well.  Make sure to let your customers know if you have special hours or if there are catering deadlines coming up for food-centric celebrations. And, don’t forget seasonal milestones like graduation, back-to-school and spring break.

Encourage Interaction

Engage with your customers is pretty common advice. But how exactly do you do that? Social media is an avenue that can help promote trust and transparency. Facebook and Twitter are fast ways to keep guests in the know about your restaurant. Keep social media pages up-to-date with information on new menu items, specials, holiday hours, events, etc. Guests should always be encouraged to leave reviews and post pictures about their experience. Business owners should respond apologetically to criticism and thankfully to compliments.

Turn your business into a community center

Make your business a place the community gathers. Local organizations and clubs are always looking for places large enough to host meetings and get togethers. Offer to hold community events in your restaurant and supply free coffee and desserts.  Explore partnerships with schools by offering to donate a percentage of proceeds one night to them. Everyone benefits from this strategy. You get extra publicity and you are doing good for your community.

When you consistently create a good first impression, show appreciation for your customers, delight them with holiday celebrations, encourage interaction and make your business a place people want to gather, you will naturally build loyalty and relationships with your customers. All of these strategies build on top of one another, adding to and increasing your credibility. Along with heartfelt communication, it’s the best way to stay top-of-mind.

RJ Horsley is the President of SpotOn Transact, LLC, a cutting-edge payments and software company redefining the merchant services industry. SpotOn brings together payment processing and customer engagement software, giving merchants richer data and tools that empower them to market more effectively to their customers. Before SpotOn he was the CFO of AXSY and an investment banker with Financial Technology Partners.  
Outside Insights, Story, Technology