Five Steps for Converting Customers into Regulars

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Regular guests are the backbone of any successful bar or restaurant. Without a regular flow of repeat guests, operators are left scrambling to find new customers. Consistently having to find new guests to replace lost customers is a surefire way to run a business into the ground.

Efforts to attract new customers are costlier than those aimed at customer retention. A lack of regulars may also be indicative of another problem. If no one who visits a bar, nightclub or restaurant returns, it could be a sign that the guest experience an operator has committed to deliver is no longer being executed to their standards.

To make sure that a significant portion of the people patronizing a business are repeat guests, here are five things operators need to know.

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1. Consistency

No matter what the standard is, how consistently it’s delivered at that level is the foundation for repeat business. Repeat business is heavily influenced by prior positive experiences. When a person ponders whether to go to a particular establishment, their mind automatically replays past experiences to determine the most probable outcome.

If most of their prior experiences were positive, they will hold a positive view about a business. However, if there are no quality control measures in place, there is a high chance that guests are getting something different every time they visit.

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To ensure things are done consistently, good operators take the guesswork out of everything they do. Successful companies have written outlines and procedures for every position. Many successful chain companies take this to a higher level by having employee manuals that clearly outline responsibilities and procedures. This way they will know their operating standards have been effectively communicated to their staff and will be aware if something is not being executed at that level immediately.

2. Intrigue

Every bar needs an angle, that thing that differentiates it from their competition. In marketing, this is known as a unique selling proposition. A U.S.P. allows an operator to make a claim about their business that that nobody else can make.

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I have one client who is clear on his U.S.P.: “Good beer with good, cheap food and a safe environment for mature adults to play VLTs.” To stand out in a cluttered marketplace, a successful operator will develop their U.S.P. and communicate it regularly to their guests and staff. Doing so will increase the odds of repeat guests in their venue because they recognize what sets it apart from others.

3. Recognition

Successful operators ask themselves how their staff members interact with guests. They observe guest interactions in their venues. Ideally, guests should be greeted by name and conversations between staff and guests can pick up right where they left off last time.

When a staff member takes the extra step to learn a bit more about their regulars, it creates a deeper bond that ultimately leads to more repeat business. To turn occasional customers into repeat customers, good operators and staff members put more effort into getting to know their guests.

4. Community

Half the reason people go out to bars is to interact with other people. If they know there will be other guests with whom they can socialize, that’s one more reason for them to become a regular at a certain bar, nightclub or restaurant.

Operators can’t really control the interactions between guests. However, they can create an optimal environment to encourage positive interactions. For example, venues that have a bar located in the center of the room are great for this. Because everyone gravitates toward the center of the room for drinks, the tables surrounding the bar see all the action taking place, and guests sitting at the bar can watch what’s going on at the tables.

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Another strategy that works well to build community is hosting sporting events and activities that take place outside of the bar. These events not only give guests an opportunity to mingle with the staff they regularly visit, but also with other guests so they can form deeper connections. By incorporating strategies like this, an operator creates a greater sense of community between guests and their business, which will ultimately lead to more repeat visits.

5. Regular Communication

Consistent communication is what separates casual acquaintances from friends. And to stimulate repeat purchases, it’s wise for operators to treat their guests like they were friends.

That means a ton of consistent communication that is not directly related to an offer. This is why I always encourage everyone to write and send a newsletter with regularity. The content of a newsletter flows like a casual conversation that solidifies the bond between an operator and a guest. And the best part is it’s written just once but can be used to stay in contact with a list of hundreds or thousands of people. Regular communication establishes regular guests.

About the Author

Kevin is an operations consultant with over a decade of experience working directly with bar, restaurant and nightclub owners on all points of the spectrum: from family owned single bar operations to large companies with locations on an international scale. Kevin works with them all and understands the unique challenge each kind of company faces.

He is the author of a book entitled Night Club Marketing Systems – How to Get Customers for Your Bar. He is also a regular writer for Nightclub & Bar, providing information high-level operators seek to get the extra edge in their marketing, sales and operations.

He continues to write today, providing specialized information directly to nightclub, bar and restaurant owners from his workshops, newsletters and magazine articles. He is also active in the field, operating an inventory auditing practice with Sculpture Hospitality.