Building a restaurant community

By Mila Holosha

To build relationships, boost your business, and retain a loyal customer base, you need to create a restaurant community. Rather than simply being a place to stop for a meal, operators need to focus on creating more than just delicious food – and that means taking a broader look at your operations and your guests.

Start by looking at your customers and deciding who you want to bring in. This could be centred around a theme, cuisine, a market segment (like families or businesses), or whatever you decide your business is about. The main thing here is to determine the basis of your community, what you want to convey, and who you want to visit your restaurant.

After you’ve decided on your ideal customer, think about how you can best reach those potential guests and what you’ll say to attract them to your restaurant.

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Increasing restaurant traffic may seem simple: tell potential customers about your restaurant, convey your message, and the guests will come. But it’s a little more complex than that – with so many different mediums, getting your message across can get lost in a sea of traffic. You need a strategy to reach your audience and interest them in your business.

Start with a plan for effective communication:

  1. Hook your potential customer with catchy images or videos, interesting headlines, or a compelling offer to get their attention.
  2. Describe their need with targeted messaging. In order to connect with your audience, they need to feel addressed and understood.
  3. Give them a reason to visit your restaurant establishment by explaining how you can satisfy their needs.
  4. Show them actual results with a video, imagery, or testimonial of the experience they will receive when they visit your restaurant.

It seems simple, right? However, there’s one mistake that’s commonly made that, from the very beginning, nullifies the impact of all efforts: a restaurant puts itself at the core of that communication.

Often when communicating with guests, a restaurant takes a self-centred approach, talking only about itself, listing its value, describing the cuisine, singing the praises of the team, outlining the ambience… But this type of communication leaves out the most important part of the equation – the customer!

So, how can you create effective customer communication?

Understand guest needs

Look at customer behaviour and analyze guest traffic in your restaurant. When are you the busiest? Start by making a list of the consumption situations that are most common in your restaurant.

This could include experiences like:

  • Grabbing a coffee to go in the morning
  • Coming for lunch
  • Relaxing after work
  • Having a romantic evening
  • Negotiating with a business partner

By understanding traffic patterns, you can predict what special offers and events will work best for your audience, what menu items to add, and a focus for your communication.

Put the customer first

People are primarily interested in themselves: their desires, ideas, and comforts. For example, people are not necessarily interested in a specific chair in a restaurant; they are interested in whether they will feel comfortable in this chair. Therefore, successful communication should revolve around addressing your audience’s needs and aspirations. Put yourself in their shoes and decide what would interest you, so you can prioritize their needs first in your communication.

Craft guest-centric communication

Demonstrate that customers are the heart of your restaurant by telling your story through your social channels. To do this, engage as much as possible with your guests by conducting interviews with them, interacting with them on social media, sharing positive reviews, and creating videos where they talk about what they like about your restaurant. To get guests participating, you can even launch a social media photo content, where you encourage guests to share images and stories from their recent visits.  This interaction shows that your customers are truly a part of your community and encourages potential customers to want to join your community, too.

Create relevance

Whether it is through social media posts, website content, or advertising campaigns, every piece of communication should be tailored to convey a sense of personal relevance. You need to relate to your audience. Instead of bombarding guests with self-praise, focus on highlighting the benefits and experiences specifically designed to cater to the desires of your audience. A potential customer should read a post and think, “Yes, this is about me. They offer exactly what I’m looking for.”

This personalized approach helps show how much you value your clientele and how important they are to your business. Rather than simply being part of the bottom line, your customers are the heart and soul of your business, as a loyal part of your restaurant family.

Implementing each of these strategies does not require a significant budget or effort. To build a community for your restaurant, the key lies in a customer-focused communication strategy to build loyalty and grow your returning guest list.

Mila Holosha is the Founder & CEO of Hospitality Marketing Strategies, an International Restaurant Marketer, and the Author of “More Than a Restaurant: Turn Customers into Fans.” She is also the Host of The Restaurant Marketing Insights Podcast.