5 Ways Restaurant Owners Can Turn Their Guests into Regulars

By Melinda Curle, Contributor

Regular guests form the base of any restaurant’s profit. According to a study by the Garnet Group, 20% of a company’s existing customers generate at least 80% of its future revenue. Focusing on creating regulars will increase future revenue.  

But how can you convert a one-time visitor into a regular

Restaurant owners and operators need to identify their core customers base and cater to them. They can do this by understanding the customers’ lifecycle, training staff to be guest-centric, rewarding repeat business, and building community.  

Understand Your Guests’ Lifecycle

Does your restaurant understand the customer lifecycle?

The restaurant customer lifecycle refers to the process customers go through to discover, engage with, and purchase a business’s product – in this case, your restaurant’s food. The specific steps of the guest lifecycle include awareness, conversion, purchase, repeat business, and referrals. 

A restaurant guests’ lifecycle begins with attracting the guest. It proceeds through the steps of engaging and feeding customers.

The attraction (awareness)  begins with your marketing plan. This can be done through creative campaigns, event or menu launches, social media, email marketing, signs, and word of mouth marketing. 

Once restaurant guests have awareness and interest in your restaurant, they often decide to test out your food. Creative dishes and quality ingredients will convert these customers. A great meal is easily forgotten. The best thing to do is stay top of mind with your guests. First and foremost, you want to ensure that the guest experience is top notch with excellent staff and delicious food. 

Exciting new menu items and holiday promotions will draw curiosity from customers. Rewarding customers for their repeat business will help to bring them back and encourage referrals

A solid loyalty program demonstrates to your guests that you appreciate their business and you want them to keep coming back.  

Train Your Restaurant’s Staff to Be Customer-Centric

Make sure your restaurant’s staff is trained in great customer service.

“Every contact we have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. We have to be great every time or we’ll lose them.” – Kevin Stirtz, author & marketing expert

Restaurant customer service is as important as the menu items. No one likes to go to a restaurant where the staff are rude or indifferent. In fact, people will avoid restaurants with great food if the staff are unfriendly or the service is bad.  

Make sure that your restaurant’s customer service wows your guests. Incorporate customer service training into your new-hiring on-boarding. Demonstrate to each new employee how you want your guests to be treated. 

During training sessions, encourage your staff to ask questions. This will ensure that the new employees understand what you expect from them. 

Have new employees shadow your star wait staff. Seeing a great employee in action helps the newbies understand what is expected of them faster.  

Teach your employees how to handle customer disputes. Customer disputes are unavoidable, but when handled in a positive manner they can make your restaurant shine. Teach staff to respectfully address customer’s issues. 

Continually teach employees the best customer service practices. It is easy to forget your training when you have been at your job for months or years. Find a monthly focus and continue your employee’s customer service education. 

Reward Recurring Purchases 

Reward your guests who purchase regularly.

Everyone likes to earn a reward. Loyalty programs work really well with restaurants. The reward can be as inexpensive as a coffee or as expensive as a free meal. Knowing your customer base will help you determine the best reward.  

Loyalty programs can be created with punch cards, however, these are frequently lost and easily ruined. More restaurants are starting to use digital loyalty programs. Digital loyalty programs can be tracked on the customer’s smartphone. You can communicate with the customer and let them know about promotions that you are running through push notification marketing. 

Encourage Customer Referrals

Encourage your restaurant’s guests to refer to friends and family.

“The purpose of a business is to create a customer who creates customers.” – Shiv Singh, CMO, Eargo

Once your guests love your restaurant, they will naturally want to share it with their friends and family. Referrals are a great way to grow your business because friends and family members are often the ones giving the endorsement. 

Brand loyalty is passed on through families, too. 63% of Millennials share the same brand loyalty as their parents. Getting a good reputation with a few families can skyrocket your business. 

It’s important to also remember that customers lead busy lives. They aren’t always thinking about referring their friends and family members to your restaurant. You can encourage them to refer their friends with referral bonuses and other perks. 

Guests who loved your restaurant will be more excited to give a coupon off to their friends if it means that they’ll earn $10 off their next meal.  

This is getting easier and easier to do with referral software that can be shared on social media and through email. One social media post can be seen by thousands of people depending on the customer’s social media following.  

Share Your Restaurant’s Vision with Guests and Build Community

Share your restaurant’s ideals and vision with the community.

People love to feel that they are part of a community. Restaurants are in a unique position to bring the community together. Food is a great way to bond with others in the neighborhood.

Restaurants can support a cause that is near and dear to many. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken supports breast cancer research. Pairing up with a charity or donating some of your proceeds to a cause will bring back those individuals who also support that cause.  

Restaurants can get involved in the community in strategic ways to generate repeat business. For example, the Italian pizza place in our neighborhood partnered with the local sports teams and offered discounts after games. This ensured a steady stream of hungry kids each week. 

The high school students often sell discount cards for their sports teams. Offering a promotion or free item on their discount card can show that you support the local high school and it can increase your restaurant’s awareness. 


Repeat business is more profitable than generating new customers. The more you get customers coming back, the greater the chance they will refer their friends and family members. If you create a space with excellent customer-service that is community centered, you should be able to create a steady stream of customers supporting your restaurant. 

About the Author:

Melinda Curle is a writer at ReferralCandy.