Getting recent diners to come back is a recipe for success

Four simple restaurant marketing ideas to get people back for more

In business, they say it’s so much cheaper to keep a current customer than to get a new customer. Who knows HOW MUCH cheaper, especially in the restaurant world, but once you have them in your place and they’ve enjoyed your food, it’s definitely in your best interest to try to get them to come back again.

Obviously, you need a great experience, including great customer service and great food, to get them to come back. But even if you feed them well, there’s so much competition for their bellies out there that you’re in a bit of a fight to get them to come back to you.

So beyond wowing them with your food and your service, what can you do to get them to come back?

1. Loyalty Schemes

Shirts for a coffee shop

Loyalty program texts from a local coffee shop

My local coffee shop has a deal where after ten purchases, you get a free drip coffee. And the local sandwich place by my house has a similar deal, where after ten purchases, you get a credit for the average value of those ten orders, which is pretty sweet. So if I take my wife and kiddo ten times, it’s not just a free sandwich, it’s a whole free meal for us.

Those are good ideas, but they’re not groundbreaking.

What if you have something exclusive to give to frequent diners, that requires a lot of effort to get it? And it becomes something they really pursue? Like those weird light pink Cadillacs for Mary Kay saleswomen, but for your restaurant…

I read about a burrito place that gave a special **** restaurant shirt**** to people who ate a total of 50 burritos. Now I’ve certainly had burrito places in my life before that I was loyal to and loved and went to constantly (the burrito cart on 38th street in West Philadelphia, circa 2010, specifically) and I would have been honored to rock a shirt from there that I earned with my loyalty, and it very well may have made me go more often. That special shirt becomes a badge of honor, and will bring people back. You could consider a prize at a halfway point too, like custom tote bags with your restaurant logo on it

In Nashville, where I’m from originally, there’s the Flying Saucer, a cool bar downtown with good pool tables. They also have something crazy like 210 beers to try. And if that’s a bar you like, you can get a card that keeps track of all the beers you have tried, and if you do try all 210, you get a plate on the wall with your name on it. My friend Raymond did it, and I bet he wouldn’t have gone back to try all 210 if it weren’t for the challenge and the reward!

2. Timed Reminders

Restaurant staff t-shirts

Jets Pizza texted me on a Thursday afternoon, I asked my wife if we could just get a pizza for dinner since it was easy, and boom, dinner was figured out. How can you do this in your restaurant to bring people back?

Jets Pizza has about 400 locations, and it’s my favorite chain pizza place. They allow people to order via text, which makes it easy to get a tasty pizza on the way to my house with low effort.

But what’s really clever is that they will send me an automated text around 5pm sometimes on a weekday and offer me a discount if I order via text. And it’s not even really the discount that is the draw, it’s that that pizza is a solution to a problem now…

The problem at 5pm when I’m getting off work is “what is for dinner?” And if you can time a text like that in which you provide a solution, you’re set to get a repeat customer, because you’re not just a pizza at that point, you’re removing the problem of figuring out what you’re going to cook for dinner, if you need to pick any ingredients up on the way home for the recipe, and actually cook.

If you’ve gathered customer phone numbers via an online ordering system or via your reservation system etc, and especially if you’re fast casual or take out, try timed reminders to solve the problem of what’s for dinner. And if you can afford it in your margin, offer a discount, perhaps only if they order directly from you and not via Uber Eats or whatever takes a cut.

3. Your Own Diner Club Cards

Some restaurants sell diner’s club cards in order to get cash up front and get people to come back. This would appeal only to happy, current customers who already want to come back, but it can affect how much they come back and also how much they may spend when they do.

I saw this idea in a restaurant owner’s forum, and the guy said that his restaurant charges $100 up front and it gives the card owner ten BOGO entrees, valid for one year. Your math may vary, but for him, their average entree is $30, and it works. (He only allows one use per night.)

Since it doesn’t include drinks or desserts, you’re essentially comping a meal at a fixed cost of $10 in order to get at least two people in the door. And perhaps they bring another couple with them, or their kids? Sounds good to me.

It’s similar to a Groupon deal but you don’t have to get screwed by Groupon in order to get the benefits.

4. Be Front of Mind with Social Media

Mechanic shop shirts

Let diners know your special offers via Instagram, and remind them they should come eat at your place soon

Instagram takes time, and if you’re slammed running your restaurant, you may not want to fool with social media, but it really can help.

When your Instagram content is good enough to get your customers and regulars to follow you, posting frequently gets in front of their (hungry) eyeballs regularly and keeps you in their mind for the next time they order out or go out.

Beautiful shots of your food can be hard to pull off constantly, but give it your best shot. Use social media to announce specials, and anything that’s a limited offer (FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out, can work with a beautiful today-only sandwich as well as anything else!)

Encourage your customers to tag your restaurant in their own posts with a unique hashtag, and then just repost their content. It’s an easy way for you to have new material, and they’re  flattered by having a restaurant they enjoy share their food pic.

Bonus idea: Follow up email asking for reviews and feedback

This isn’t directly about bringing people back, though it does help the appearance of service, and it gives you a chance to fix people’s opinions if they had a bad experience.

If you’re gathered their email address (especially easy for take out places, or delivery), send them an automated email a few hours after they’ve dined with you, and ask how everything was.

When you, the owner or manager, sends out the email (automated, but make it look personal) asking for honest feedback on how everything was, you’ll probably get some less than happy customers telling you their thoughts, but this gives you a great opportunity to learn how to improve any flawed systems or services, and also salvage the relationship post-digestion. Because if you have that opportunity to placate the unpleased customer, you could win them back to your restaurant the next time.

What do you do?

What do you as a restauranteur do to keep people coming back to your restaurant? Email me at and let me know and I’ll add your idea to this article and link to your restaurant.