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20 Customer Appreciation Ideas For Your Restaurant

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AJ BeltisAuthor

How does your restaurant show appreciation to customers?

Whether it's through discounts, personal interactions, a loyalty program, or simply saying "thank you," customer appreciation is so important. If your customers don't feel appreciated, they won't come back. In fact, 68% of customers won't return because of perceived indifference.

In a time when people looking for a place to dine out have countless options, your restaurant needs to go above and beyond when it comes to customer appreciation. Here are some ideas you can start working on to make your customers feel appreciated, satisfied, and excited to come back.


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20 Restaurant Customer Appreciation Ideas

1. Appreciate Existing Customers

Keep in mind, customer appreciation should focus first on satisfying existing customers. It's more profitable (and 10x less expensive) than targeting new customers. More importantly, if you have amazing customer appreciation programs, your regulars will become enthusiastic advocates for your restaurant and your brand. Appreciate those who appreciate you.

2. Incorporate a Customer Loyalty Program

You should always be showing consistent appreciation for every customer who comes through your doors, but you can show a little extra love for the ones who join your restaurant loyalty program.

Loyalty programs also pave the way for other customer appreciation strategies.

3. Host Eating Contests

Whether you're known for selling a notorious two-pound burger, your city's biggest pizza, or the largest selection of desserts in the state, eating contests are a great way to engage your loyal customers.

Black Mountain Mill and Pizzeria in Black Mountain, North Carolina, serves a $150, 40-inch pizza that can feed 20–25 people. Convince a friend to complete the 40-inch Pizza Challenge, polishing off a two-topping monster pie without leaving the table. (No bathroom visits to "make room.") If you succeed, your duo wins $1000.

To show appreciation to even more customers, print out a certificate for everyone who participates and give trophies, medals, and/or gift cards to the winners. Go so far as to memorialize them with their name on a winners' plaque or a picture on your wall so that everyone who comes in knows how much you value your customers.

4. Send Emails with Exclusive Announcements and Offers

If you run your loyalty program through email, use your customer database as a tool to show appreciation. Send out surprise specials and deals exclusive to your email database, and whenever you get a new loyalty program member signup, remind them to be on the look out for these new emails.

Want to offer a mini 10% off sale for loyalty program members today only? What about giving away a free dessert just for this weekend, but only for those on your email list? Got a new beer on draft that loyalty members can have early access to before its official introduction to your menu?

When customers give you their email address, they'll want something in exchange. Give them these exclusive offers and they will certainly feel appreciated.

5. Remember Them

If you start to see a familiar face, acknowledge it! Don't feel pressured by the supposed boundaries between restaurateur and customer; you're both people.

Introduce yourself and express your thanks that they chose your restaurant to visit. Each time they come in, take the initiative to greet them by name and ask them how they are. Encourage your staff to do so as well. This reminds your customers that they're not just another credit card holder, but an appreciated guest in your establishment.

6. Give Social Media Shoutouts

Who won that eating contest? Did someone come in sporting some of your restaurant swag today? Is a family coming to your restaurant to celebrate a special occasion like a birthday or wedding anniversary?

With their permission, take their photo and post it on your social media page to shine a spotlight on your loyal customers. To show their appreciation (and to brag to their Facebook friends), they'll likely share this on their own social media pages, which helps expose your brand even further.

7. Customer of the Month

Use your loyalty program to compile a customer database. At the end of each month, check your sales records to see who spent the most at your restaurant. Email them a congratulatory message and thank them for their loyalty, and tell them that you'll be posting their Customer of the Month photo in your restaurant.

Not only will that customer feel appreciated and continue to come in, other loyal customers will soon be vying for their time as the Customer of the Month.

customer of the month

Restaurants can use SevenRooms, a guest management platform that pulls photos from Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, to help servers identify VIP customers, recalling their food preferences and tracking the number of times they’ve dined with the restaurant in the past.

8. Incorporate Customer Feedback

Customers always have suggestions, and sometimes you may choose to incorporate those changes into your day-to-day operations. If you think it's worth giving a try, incorporate the change! Maybe it's a new menu item or offering a new beer on draft.

If anyone asks about the new change, tell them the idea came from one of your customers. They'll be able to deduce that you appreciate your customers enough to listen to their suggestions and use the feedback to create a better customer experience.

9. Give Swag Away

We all love free stuff.

This is another way to leverage your loyalty program. For example, why not offer a loyalty deal tied in with restaurant merchandise? You can try these:

  • Spend over $100 in three months and earn a free hat branded with your restaurant logo.
  • Be a loyalty member for over a year with at least two visits per month and get a free T-shirt (like the one on the right).
  • Give away lower-priced swag items like custom pens, stickers, buttons, or bottle openers for free or with any takeout order.

10. Send Birthday Gifts

If your customer database keeps record of guests' birthdays, use this valuable information to show customer appreciation.

Email or text a coupon, digital gift card, or discount code valid during the week of that customer's birthday. A yearly gift will keep your restaurant fresh in their mind.

11. Encourage Conversation With Your Staff

Your guests interact mainly with one or two people when they come into your restaurant. The waiter or waitress, the bartender, the host or hostess, the cashier, etc. But just because they have one point of reference does not mean that single person should be their only source of interaction.

Make sure many staff members interact with customers. Instead of that awkward head nod when they walk by, tell them to smile and say hello. In the pizzeria I worked at, the chefs would always wave from the back kitchen and ask customers they recognized how they were doing. It led to a simple 5-10 second conversation – just enough to make them feel like they were a valued part of our day (which they are). Most restaurants don't instill this lesson into their staff, so this will set yours apart when it comes to customer appreciation.

12. Celebrate the Holidays

Every December, send over a thank-you present to people in your customer database. Showing customer appreciation around the holidays is smart; during the most sentimental time of year, you can paint your restaurant as positive and generous.

13. Team Up With Your Community

Discounted haunted hayride tickets? Free passes to the town fair? Entry into the high school raffle? All of these sound like great restaurant marketing ideas, especially when they're exclusive to your restaurant. Your customers – and your community – will take notice.

For example, Islands Burgers in Arizona gives away over half a million dollars each year supporting programs within their local communities, including school fundraisers and youth sports sponsorships. 

14. Offer More Ordering Options

I'm busy. You're busy. Everyone's busy.

Show your customers you value their time and schedule by offering more convenient ordering options like online ordering and kiosks. Online ordering lets customers skip the line and make things clear in a way they may not be able to over the phone. Kiosks let them make more specific order modifications by putting the restaurant experience in their hands.

15. Enter Loyalty Program Members Into Free Lunch Raffles

With your customer loyalty database, you'll have access to loyal customers' contact information. Enter them into a random, computerized drawing and pick winners for a quarterly or monthly free lunch special for them or their office. This is a method called "surprise and delight," showing appreciation when unexpected.

16. Host a Customer Appreciation Day

Use your social media pages to promote an upcoming Customer Appreciation Day. Raffle off twenty free shirts, offer half-price apps, discount drinks, give away $10 gift cards to the first 50 customers... Show your guests you appreciate them by devoting an entire day to them.

Jimmy John's gives away $1 sandwiches every year on May 2 for Customer Appreciation Day.

17. Give Unexpected Discounts and Freebies

On your slower nights, tell your servers or cashiers that they can each pick a random customer and give them a 20% discount. Alternatively, if your orders/tickets have assigned numbers, have the manager assign that number as "discount number;" every time the order number is 42, give them a discount.

It isn't too steep of a cut to shave 20% off one order, but it will take the guest back in a very positive way to create a fantastic image for your restaurant. This is another idea for "surprise and delight."

18. Send Personal Follow-Ups to New Loyalty Sign-Ups

If you acquire a new loyalty member's email address, take a minute to send them an email the next day. Introduce yourself, thank them for coming in, and ask if they had any comments, feedback, or suggestions from their visit. This shows you appreciate that customer as an individual and are open to their comments.

19. Say "Thank You"

Make sure you and your staff thank your customers whenever appropriate. Saying "thank you" is literally telling someone you appreciate them; never take this simple phrase for granted. Like I mentioned earlier, your customers have plenty of options when it comes to eating, and they chose your restaurant.

That's an awesome feeling.

Thank them. Let them know you appreciate their continued business!

20. Need More Ideas? Ask Your Customers!

Some people aren't too phased by random acts of kindness, or maybe they don't need free T-shirts. If you're struggling to find ways to show customer appreciation, pose the question to them! Pull some of your regular customers aside and explain that you'd like to start showing customer appreciation more actively and would love their advice on how they would like to be shown appreciation.

How does your restaurant show customer appreciation? 

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