Something that gets me through my double shifts over the weekend is seeing the faces of the regular customers that come out to eat on a weekly basis. Every restaurant has those regulars and if you’re lucky enough, they’ll often ask to be served by you.
Personally, I find that it helps me get through the day to spend a couple of minutes chatting with the woman who dines out on Sundays at lunch with a only a good book to keep her company or the family with four boys who come to eat after every soccer practice. It makes me happy to know these regulars and seeing them leave feeling content with the quality of the food and satisfied with the service leaves me with a great sense of accomplishment. I know for a fact that they’ll be coming back.
Restaurants don’t always train their servers how to treat their guests so that they keep coming back, even though it’s a very important part of being a server. They’ll tell you to up-sell, to take care of your customers, and to make sure your timings are right, and of course owners and managers want people to revisit the restaurant, but they don’t always give their servers the actual tools they need in order to keep reeling them back in. So, whether they’re already regular customers or new diners, here are a few tips on how to keep the customers coming back for more.
#1. Remember their faces
This is a pretty standard point, but important nonetheless. If you’re a new server, remembering guests’ faces will help you to notice which customers keep coming back time and time again. You may never end up serving them since they may already have a waiter or waitress that they prefer to be served by, but on the off chance that their server isn’t working one day you may want to remember them in case they’re seated in your section.
#2. Greet them – even if they aren’t in your section
Even if they aren’t seated at one of your tables, stop by and say hello. If you’re walking by their table with your hands full then give them a polite nod or a dazzling smile. Just the fact that you’re recognizing them as loyal customers makes them feel like special guests, which is one of the reasons why they’ll be returning to the restaurant.
#3. Learn their names
Once you start to really know the customers who dine frequently at your restaurant, they may start to address you by your first name. This is an incredible step forward for you. It means that they trust you and know that you are an excellent server. Once you’re comfortable enough with each other on a professional or even personal level, you may want to consider addressing them by name. Whether you’re on a first name or last name basis with them, it creates a bond between the two of you that reassures them as customers that you will be treating them with the utmost respect while serving them. A good way to get to know them by name without having to ask is to take a look at the name on their credit card. When you’re handing them back the bill, take a chance by saying “Thank you so much, Mr. Smith! I’ll see you next time.” Also, if they often make reservations, ask the hostess for their name so that you can take a look at the reservation list before you start your shifts to see if they’ve reserved for that day.
#4. Memorize their food and drink orders
If you have the type of memory as I have, this will be a piece of cake for you. Personally, I think it’s a challenge to remember customer’s specific demands while ordering and I treat it like a game of how many specific orders can I remember. Which wine did they really enjoy their last visit? She didn’t eat any of the croutons when she ordered her salad, maybe she doesn’t like them? He’s allergic to gluten, I’ll have to notify the kitchen. Noticing the little nuances about their preferences will set you apart from all the other waiters and waitresses you work with. Some customers ask for exactly the same meal each time they come, so take a mental note every time you take their order. The quicker you are at memorizing it, the faster you’ll be able to say “The usual?” They’ll be extremely impressed and you’ll see a certain smile creep up on their face that shows that they think “This is why I keep coming back here”.
#5. Teach other servers how to serve them
Don’t be greedy with regular customers. Once you’ve served new customers and you see that they’ve returned and are seated in another server’s section, share the knowledge that you have about them with their waiter or waitress. The point here is to keep them coming back to the restaurant. I understand, it’s a bit annoying that you did all the hard work to bring them back and now they are being served by someone else, but the whole idea is to bring in customers to the restaurant. If they ask to be served by you then it’s definitely a bonus, but if not…don’t sweat it. The last thing you want is for the guests to feel like the servers are fighting over them. They may get the impression that you’re all only in it for the tips and that is definitely not the way to go about making them feel special. So, let their server know how they prefer to be served, their favorite drinks, and any specifications about their order. Feel free to pass by the table, tell them you’re happy to see them again, and let them know that you’ve informed their server of their preferences. They’ll be touched that you went the extra mile, even if you aren’t their server. Who knows, they may ask for you the next time they dine out!
#6. Make recommendations, suggestions, and exceptions
A lot of people dine out not because of the food specifically, but for the experience. They want to be wined and dined. They take pleasure in trying new dishes, they live to savor different wines, and relish in the thought that their server is giving them an experience they’ll never forget. These customers will keep coming back if you are able to make them aware that you are genuinely concerned about their evening out. Depending on the restaurant, some things on the menu can be changed or modified on demand, special wines are sometimes kept in the back for V.I.P. customers, and exceptions can be made on prices. It often takes an experienced waiter or waitress to know the rules of the restaurant for exceptions, so it’s often best to approach a manager or a more experienced server about these things. For example, there is a regular customer who comes every Friday to be served by the same waiter. In a conversation one day, they told the waiter that they have a favorite bottle of wine (a very expensive bottle, might I add) and that they were disappointed that we didn’t have it on our menu. The waiter then informed the manager that he’d like to surprise them with that bottle the following week, so the manager ordered that specific bottle of wine especially for them. To say they were ecstatic is an understatement. Ever since then, the restaurant orders that one bottle for the Fridays that they come to eat, which keeps them coming back every week. Now that, my friends, is the way to wine and dine your customers. Know what you are able to suggest, recommend, and make exceptions for.
#7. Invite them to come back to see you
It’s a wonderful feeling when customers rave about the excellent service they received. When getting compliments such as “Thank you for the great service!” or “This is the best service we’ve had at a restaurant!” accept them graciously and inform them that they may always ask to be served by you. Make sure to give them your name so that they can ask for you before being seated, or better yet, write your name on the restaurant’s business card and let them know that they can reserve a table in your section the next time they come (if your restaurant allows that). Tell them that you’d be pleased to serve them and that you’ll see them at their next visit. By inviting them back to see you, you may get those few extra tables, making it a very rewarding day. Other servers will be wondering what makes customers keep coming back and asking for your section and the reason that they do is because you are doing your job perfectly. You are an exceptional server! An added bonus is if guests are frequently asking to be served specifically by you, the owners and mangers will notice and may start giving you better shifts and bigger sections. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. The customers are happy, the restaurant is happy, and you’re happy.
A Note to Managers and Owners
It’s important to provide your wait staff with the tips and tools they need in order to keep your customers coming back for more. If you do regular meetings with your staff, please take a moment to encourage them to follow certain steps of service and focus on how to get and to keep regular customers.