Customer care

The lunch had been excellent, and as it drew to a close it was agreed we should make a return visit to the restaurant. At the door the maître handed out cards and pronounced the usual words of farewell. Did we go back? No, of course not, and indeed the statistics show that whatever their intentions when they leave a restaurant, only around 30% of customers actually do return.

Every business's objective is to convert first-time visitors to regulars, since it is apparently ten times easier to sell to a returning customer than to a new one. The relationship must be flawlessly promoted, but restaurants are rather bad at adopting this strategy. They mistakenly believe that it is enough to serve good food and the world will beat a regular path to the door. It is not as easy as that.

In many cultures the usual procedure is to make a table reservation, resulting in a connection being created. But how many times is it followed up? We have all made hundreds of bookings over the years, but I never remember a single case of a restaurant contacting me subsequently with any persuasive offer. Even in the restaurant promotion is feeble, however insignificant the potential cost; a glass of house wine represents pennies for the restaurant. Nor will a small glass of liquor, a chupito, make any serious inroads into overheads. The promise of a discount at the next visit will often get the punters coming back, and an undertaking to contribute a small percentage of the day's takings to a local charity is a popular gesture. The client could be told that there are regular wine tastings, with free tapas, and would the customer like to receive invitations? Free cigars used to be a guaranteed inducement, but regrettably now come with a social stigma attached. It goes almost without saying that social media is an invaluable tool, but rather impersonal. The bottom line in any circumstance is never to let a customer walk out of a restaurant without having obtained their contact details. It really can influence the bottom line very considerably.