It’s no secret that relationships are at the heart of the hospitality business. In fact, the success of your restaurant is a direct result of the relationships you create and maintain with guests over time.
While the interactions diners have with their favorite bartenders and servers play a big role in how they feel about (and how often they visit) your restaurant, the connection goes way beyond what happens while they’re sitting at your table. It starts before they ever make a reservation, and continues long after they’ve dined with you.
Creating ongoing relationships with your guests makes good business sense: According to studies from Harvard Business Review, acquiring new customers can be anywhere from 5 to 25 times more expensive than retaining past customers. Plus, people love to talk up their favorite restaurant, and 81% of people trust recommendations from family and friends over those from companies, according to research from HubSpot. So your regulars are also a premier acquisition channel for your restaurant.
Check out these 13 fresh ways to turn any guest into a lifelong fan through building great relationships with them—before, during, and after their visit.
One secret to strong relationships is getting ready early—just like we all get extra pampered before those first dates we hope lead to third dates. But it actually doesn’t have to be as painful! Plus you can build great relationships with your guests by starting before they arrive in your restaurant—here’s how:
Confirm with all the info guests need
Customize and resend booking confirmations to keep your guests in the know before every reservation (remember: OpenTable automatically confirms reservations through text and email). This helps guests understand what to expect when coming to dine.
With relationship management tools like custom, automated emails, you can add that personal touch for returning guests, maybe reaching out in advance to share special happenings for the evening, like featured live music, or your new seasonal menu.
Stay in touch with guests directly before they step into your restaurant
Initiate or respond to guest messages before their reservation with direct messaging—whether it’s confirming menu preferences in advance, preparing for a special occasion, or they just want to let you know they’re running 5 minutes behind. Easily stay in touch with guests wherever they are to build strong connections they’ll come back for.
Connect with creative emails
Believe it or not, people who have signed up for your email list actually want to hear from you. It’s true! Weekly or monthly newsletters help keep your restaurant top of mind for subscribers.
Use your favorite email marketing tool to send messages that promote your current specials, talk up new menus, or announce upcoming events—anything that might draw a diner in will make a good email.
You can also use guest insights to power relevant, targeted engagement when you connect your email marketing system with OpenTable. A newsletter is a good place to explain any new policies, such as masking, turn times, and credit card holds, anticipating your diners’ questions before they even ask them.
Go the extra mile on your OpenTable profile
When someone visits your OpenTable profile page, it’s an opportunity to showcase all that your restaurant has to offer. This potential for connection goes untapped when you don’t give this page enough love.
Take some time to regularly update your menus, and let guests know about your latest takeout and delivery options. Make sure to upload photos that showcase your best-loved dishes and inviting atmosphere. While you’re at it, highlight your safety precautions, too.
Engage your followers on social media
Just as the people on your email list want to hear from you, the people following your social media accounts want to get to know you better. (Check out our crash course on how to use social media.) Yes, post photos of your food and glimpses into your kitchen. Use the platforms to promote events or special menus. But never forget that the keyword in social media is “social.” Interact with people. Ask questions, get feedback, and respond to comments on your posts. Social media can be a fun and surprisingly powerful tool for building relationships that may start online but end up playing out in your restaurant for years to come.
Train your staff on reading guests
Preparing your staff to talk to diners is important to maintaining relationships with your guests. After all, you probably can’t personally interact with every table. Your team represents you, and they should understand what you expect.
Provide training in the kind of hospitality that people come back for, including how to read nonverbal cues. Your servers should know how to gauge whether guests want to be walked through the menu and favorite dishes or they’d rather have some space, for example. Pre-shift reports can also help with keeping tabs on VIPs, influencers, and top spenders before they even arrive. Now you can personalize service with a deep understanding of guest preferences and dining history.
You know it’s game time when your guests arrive. But it’s easy to miss out on all the little opportunities during their time with you to connect and create special moments. Here’s what you need to know to build your relationships with diners during their visit:
Make your greeting count
Keep using your pre-shift report to greet your returning diners by name. This small element of personalization can go a long way toward making your guests feel important—a key part of any good relationship. This is also a good time to verbally remind them of any safety precautions they should keep in mind as well as any relevant policies, such as wearing masks.
Set expectations about wait times
No one likes to wait for a table at a restaurant, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. This experience can quickly sour your relationship with a guest if you tell them the wait will be 10 minutes and it turns out to be 30. With automatic table statusing, your hosts know exactly what’s happening at any given table, from appetizer to dessert. Now hosts can provide guests with accurate wait times and seat parties as quickly as possible, without needing to repeatedly walk the dining room.
When you’re able to recall details from a guest’s past visit and use this knowledge to customize service, it makes them feel like they’re being taken care of by a friend. Use in-depth guest profiles to gain a deeper understanding of preferences on wine, dishes they liked or didn’t like, and information about special occasions they’re celebrating soon. You may want to treat a regular to their dessert. It’s the little things that make a particular restaurant somebody’s favorite.
Ask them questions
Some diners want to focus on the food and enjoy their privacy, and your team will recognize that. But others like to dig in on the whole experience … and chat. Engage your talkative guests with asking questions that show you’re interested in them personally, and build a rapport. Train servers to keep track of valuable answers (like a love of that corner table!) using guest notes and tags, that way your whole team can personalize service the next time they visit.
Just because a guest finishes their dessert and coffee and walks out the door doesn’t mean it’s over. Far from it. In many ways this is just the beginning of building that lasting connection. Here’s how to keep a good thing going after diners leave the restaurant (and keep them coming back for more):
Let diners connect directly after their reservation
Sometimes guests leave things behind, or they want to remember the name of that incredible wine they had—with direct messaging you and your guests can connect with you directly up to 14 days after their reservation, so your restaurant never misses an opportunity to follow through.
Send a survey
One of the best ways to learn how to make your restaurant better is by proactively asking the source — it’s easy with a post-dining survey. You can customize this survey to get as specific as you like, and it’s always aligned to your branding, so your restaurant stays top of mind. It’s a powerful way to upgrade your hospitality and ultimately build stronger relationships with guests.
Follow up with a personal message
Use automated email campaigns based on behavior to reconnect with guests after they’ve dined with you. If you know a guest loves sports, you can reach out to tell them they can catch the game and draft beer specials on Sundays during football season. Did a couple get engaged at your place last year? Send an email inviting them back for their anniversary. When you have all these personal details saved in your guest profiles it’s easy to make them feel personally welcomed.
Share guests’ social media posts
You probably have a bigger audience on social media than most of your diners, and they love to see their photos shared in your feed. When a guest tags you in their own post sharing a crave-worthy photo or glowing comments about their recent meal with you, think about “liking it”, re-sharing it with their handle, or thanking them in the comments. It makes them feel special and creates more positive buzz for you, win-win!
Respond to feedback
Respond to reviews—positive and negative—in a way that can strengthen relationships with your guests. With the right reputation management tools, you can handle all incoming reviews from popular sources like OpenTable, Google, and Facebook, plus your custom surveys. That way, you can easily stay on top of what people are saying, and double down on what you’re doing right. It also gives you the opportunity to make things right with a dissatisfied diner, saving that relationship and hopefully reversing any less-than-stellar reviews.
Building outstanding relationships with your guests is one of the best things you can do to ensure your restaurant’s success, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes regular attention to nurture a strong connection, just as in all other relationships. Using these tips and tools can help you get your relationship with new diners off to a strong start and turn the once-a-year guest into an every-week regular.