When customers decide to eat at your restaurant, they’re not just seeking delicious food. More often than not, they’re also hoping for a standout experience where their patronage is valued. At the end of the day, your customers are the reason you keep your doors open and kitchen bustling throughout the year — so why not brighten up their day with these customer appreciation ideas?

From handing out freebies to remembering first names, the little gestures you make can go a long way in garnering customer loyalty. According to Datassential, 53% of diners agree that local restaurants feel like part of their home—and 60% say that returning to in-person dining after the pandemic will make them feel connected to their community again. Frequenting local restaurants is a special part of your diners’ routines, and making their experiences a little more personal can work wonders for your restaurant’s customer retention. 

When diners feel good at your establishment, they’ll want to keep coming back and share their enthusiasm with friends and family. An added bonus? Doing something nice for diners might just brighten your day, too. Here are nine customer retention ideas to start implementing at your restaurant.

Learn your regular customers’ first names

Taking time to learn a customer’s name goes a long way in letting customers know they’re important to you. With work and social conversations increasingly taking place online instead of in-person, restaurants will become important hubs for interacting with other people, even if that’s something as small as customers chatting with your staff before making an order. Make your restaurant a place where customers feel welcome on a personal, human level. 

When you see a familiar face, strike up a conversation and let the person know you’re glad they made another visit. Even if you’re not good at recalling names, simply taking the time to show customers you remember them by saying “Welcome back again,” or “How are you? It’s good to see you,” will make them feel recognized and valued.

Reward your regulars through a loyalty program

With the daily hustle and bustle of running a restaurant, it can be challenging to find enough moments during the day to thank your regular customers. By implementing a loyalty program, you can let them know you value them with automatic perks and discounts. Best of all, there’s no right way to structure it — whether you opt for a simple punch card or a points system, you can build a loyalty program that perfectly complements your restaurant’s unique brand identity. 

Take Shari’s Restaurant, an Oregon-based cafe franchise, for example. With every purchase, Shari’s customers earn points that can be redeemed for a number of tasty perks, ranging from a slice of apple pie to a birthday meal for two. These delicious incentives entice customers to visit regularly, increasing the restaurant’s customer loyalty along the way. Learn about the program here. 

Celebrate birthdays with discounts and promotions

A birthday celebration isn’t complete without a special meal — and customers agree. Birthdays are the most popular reason people dine at full-service restaurants and the second-most popular reason people order food for delivery. Why not invite customers to celebrate with a birthday discount? 

Send texts or emails to customers on your mailing list as their birthdays approach, ensuring your restaurant is top of mind when it’s time to book a reservation or place an order for delivery. Once booked, make their celebration even more memorable by preparing a complimentary sweet treat, candles, and a special rendition of “Happy Birthday” — with masks on, of course!

Throw in freebies for a guaranteed smile

Looking for a surefire customer appreciation idea? Give diners a complimentary extra with their next purchase. In a survey of over 1,000 people, Toast found that 49% of customers prefer a freebie as their loyalty program perk. Simply throwing in a drink, bag of chips, or dessert on the house can make your restaurant an instant hit with new and regular customers alike. 

If you’d rather give a gift that lasts longer, branded merchandise is a thoughtful alternative with an extra perk — free marketing. From branded t-shirts to canvas totes, long-lasting giveaways will remind customers how awesome your restaurant is every time they use the swag, and help spread word among their social circles.

Connect with customers on social media

Your customers use social media to stay connected with their friends and family. Why not add your restaurant to that list of handles to follow? Running contests and giveaways on social media is a guaranteed way to generate buzz. Offer prizes to diners who upload photos of themselves wearing your branded merchandise or give a discount to a customer who posts a photo at your restaurant. Just remember to ask for permission before sharing their photos on your account.  

With 86% of millennials trying restaurants they discover on social media, upping engagement on your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter posts can ultimately drive more traffic through your doors. For more tips on improving your social media game, check out our social media marketing guide

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Leverage DoorDash marketing tools

Want a tool specifically designed to boost customer loyalty in the restaurant industry? With DoorDash Marketing, merchants can increase traffic and sales on the app through custom promotions. Browse a range of options that best fit your business, like first delivery free or repeat order discounts. 

Another simple way to show customers some appreciation is enrolling in DashPass through a DoorDash Plus or DoorDash Premier membership. By joining DashPass, you get featured real estate on the app while participating customers receive free delivery on orders from your restaurant. This saves your customers money on each DashPass order, and encourages them to order more often. In short, everyone wins.

Throw a customer appreciation party

Nothing says thank you to customers like a customer appreciation bash. Especially in the summer months, a party is the perfect opportunity to connect with patrons over food and fun. Reserve some space at a nearby park or simply set up tables in your parking lot for a barbecue. To make the experience even better, team up with other local businesses who can invite their customers and share the cost of live entertainment.  

If you’d rather keep it simple, declare a customer appreciation day when all diners can receive a special perk or discount at your restaurant. Remember to spread the word ahead of time on social media and through your other marketing channels so regulars know to swing by. 

Give back to your community

Rather than show gratitude to a few select customers, share the love with your entire community. Maybe there’s a little league team in need of a sponsor or a nearby school searching for gift cards to raffle off for a fundraiser. There’s no shortage of worthy causes to support in your immediate area and beyond. 

With enough advance planning, you can host a food drive for donations to a local pantry. Decide on a timeframe and goal, like a certain weight or numbers of cans, then spread the word around town to generate interest.

Listen to your customers

No one’s perfect — and no restaurant can offer perfect service every time. Showing a willingness to improve and accept feedback will go a long way with customers. For starters, consider monitoring comments on review platforms like Yelp and TripAdvisor. When a customer shares something negative, let them know their feedback has been heard and changes are being made. Likewise, when a customer shares something positive, thank them for taking the time to post. 

TripAdvisor surveyed nearly 10,000 people and found that 94% had read managers’ responses to reviews on the site. The majority agreed that the responses encouraged them to try the restaurant despite negative reviews. In addition to showing your customers some much deserved appreciation, working to address their concerns and boost your reviews can pay off in the long run. 

Growing customer loyalty

Of course, there’s no secret recipe explaining how to increase your restaurant’s customer loyalty. At the end of the day, loyalty is tied to how you make customers feel when they sit down to eat or order food for delivery. Investing a little effort into getting to know your patrons and showing them you care can make all the difference.  

Hungry for more customer appreciation ideas for your restaurant? Download our website marketing guide for more tips on reaching new diners and boosting your restaurant’s customer loyalty.

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ali-cottong
Ali Cottong
Copywriter
Ali is a freelance content marketer with a wide range of experience crafting content and strategy for brands that include a world-renowned design agency, a men's artisan boot company, that app you use to request money on your phone, and more. Ali originally earned her nerd cred as a world-class Quidditch player and has competed in the Quidditch World Cup twice. She currently lives in Oakland where she's traded her broomstick in for a bike.