Repeat and reward

In restaurant marketing, there is always a strong focus on getting new customers. But, the real “low hanging fruit” is the condition of the existing customer base. Existing customers are the most profitable part of any restaurant operation and marketing should be positioned to include them on a regular basis.

In fact, a recent Harvard study showed that bringing back just 5 percent of your existing customer base could result in a surge in revenue of 25 percent to 125 percent.

For savvy quick-service owners, knowing how to leverage that customer base can be the difference between a thriving business and one that is struggling.

Here are three ways to entice your existing quick-service customers to come back again and again:

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Email Marketing

According to industry statistics, only 26 percent of B2C companies use email marketing. It is likely much lower for restaurants. In any case, it means 74 percent of companies are not actively using email marketing.

And yet, the same research revealed that 77 percent of people prefer to receive promotions through email versus social media or text.

In other words, restaurant consumers want to receive promotions through email, but are likely not getting them on a regular basis, if at all. That means a loss of opportunity and sales for quick-service restaurant owners.

Email can be a powerful way to stay in front of existing customers. It can also be an effective tool to encourage first time visitors to return, which will help them get into the habit of visiting on a regular basis.

The most common question restaurant owners have about email marketing is: “What do I say in my emails?”  Luckily, there are many options beyond coupons. Sharing staff stories, announcing new menus, business networking events, promoting charity fundraisers—the list goes on and on. Email marketing can be used to position a restaurant as THE place in the community to come and eat and can help to build a reputation of a community partner.



Coupons are an obvious way to engage existing restaurant customers, but they only work with some cautions attached. Coupons can bring in customers that haven’t visited a restaurant in a while and that quick-service restaurant operators are attempting to reengage with. Providing a special offer to come in during a time when sales are needed (for most restaurants, this would be during the week), can help to bolster your cash flow. 

Another innovative way to use coupons is to give them to people who attempt to get a table on a weekend and have a long wait or for those who prefer to leave, rather than wait for a table to open up. A “try us again” coupon is a value-added piece for consumers who might not return if they feel like wait times are always too long.

That said, coupons should be used judiciously. Coupons can devalue the brand of a restaurant and can train customers to only come back where there is a special offer. Try offering coupons on a quarterly basis, at a maximum, to bring customers back with the change of seasons. 

And, there is an easy way leverage your coupons to find new customers, too. Create a “bring your friends” coupon and tell your existing customer that their coupon is only good when they bring two friends who have never been to your restaurant before.

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Menu Playoffs

One of the concerns that I hear from restaurant owners is in managing their menus. What if there was a way to drive traffic and test your new menu items at the same time?

There is. Create a menu playoff.

The reality is that everyone likes to be able to give their opinion—even your restaurant goers. Creating a menu playoff can be a powerful way to engage with your existing customers and test new menu items before committing to launching them.

All you need to do is to choose an item—burgers or pasta, let’s say—and create a bracket. The first week, pasta and meatballs is up against your new gluten-free veggie fettuccini. Some promotion via email and social media, possibly a prize for someone who comes each week and chooses the winner each time and you have created some buzz, have tested new items for your menu and brought in new traffic. A three to four-week timeline on this works best. 

Image credits:pexels/Daria Shevtsova

Wrapping It Up

While every restaurant owner loves new customers, the reality is that your existing customer base is far more likely to push your profitability for a lower cost than marketing to new customers. By leveraging email marketing, coupons and menu playoffs, you can bring in your base to help drive revenue.

Karen Kalis is the Chief Marketing Strategist of Blue Dingo Marketing. For more tips on how to increase your revenue, get the Double Your Restaurant Sales, Without More Customers cheat sheet at:

Image credits:Thinkstock
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