CRAVE Content Series: 5 Customer Retention Strategies that Actually Work

June 18, 2020
min read
Customer Retention
In the CRAVE Content Series, we’ll explore:
Customer Segments, Retention Strategies that Actually Work,
Automations that put Essential Outreach on Autopilot,
Value Growth over Time, and Experience = Omnichannel

e’re going to skip the warm-up and get right into the cardio section of this exercise. How many restaurant marketers have been tasked with the demand to “get more butts in seats”? Answer: every. single. one. It’s a classic industry challenge—brands certainly have a handful of loyal regulars who GMs and bartenders know by name, but beyond that—restaurant marketers, behind-the-scenes, are on a never-ending treasure hunt for new guests. 

So, where should brands be looking for valuable customers? The jewels are often right under your nose—your current customers—or anyone on the spectrum of loyal fans to one-off visitors.  

Following, we breakdown a tailored approach to reaching people at all the stages of the customer lifecycle. Creating such frameworks is well worth the effort—research tells us that increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by at least 25%.

Here are five customer retention strategies that actually work.

1. Use Data for Good (Especially When It Comes to Your Regulars)

For those you know well, personalization is no longer just a nice-to-have. Customers are beginning to understand the power of their data, and increasingly want brands to use their data to serve their interests via personalized offers, experiences, and suggested products. Tailoring what you sell to a customer’s purchase history, preferences, and what they have engaged with is a crucial strategy to build brand loyalty.

Framework You Can Use

If you’re not already looking to retail for inspo, start now. There’s a reason why the world's spotlight on who is doing personalized marketing best falls on retail. Treat a waitlist abandonment like an abandoned cart and send a strategic email to prompt them to try again (stats suggest a 48% open rate for emails like these). Make like retail giants and bundle items—when a customer orders tacos, trigger a campaign suggesting the tacos are frequently enjoyed with an agua fresca and your salsa trio. Best use case, A/B test different bundles to see what drives higher check averages and visit frequency.

2. Like Rome, Relationships Aren’t Built in a Day

When it comes to those you’re just getting to know, winning second and third visits is a leading indicator of a ‘customer for life.’ The means to that end is a structured cadence of personalized outreach—said differently, giving new guests more chances to engage increases your opportunity to build brand loyalty. Wisely’s data around engagement is clear—guests who engage are at least 8% more likely to return. And, consumer research shows that personalization increases visitor engagement by 55%

Framework You Can Use

Try this cadence:

  • First Visit/WiFi Signup/Online Order >> Welcome email promoting your insiders club (the more tailored you can make this to their experience the better, i.e. drilling down by location visited or the channel via which they first made contact)
  • After Second Visit >> Let them know you’re listening with a triggered survey “Hey Caleb, how’d we do? Would you recommend us to a friend?”
  • After 30 days >> Email campaign featuring occasion-based messaging “Did someone say Happy Hour? Right this way…”
  • After 3 months >> Email campaign featuring your most popular dishes on social media with an invitation to follow along and share “Tag your posts for a chance to be featured on our feed.”
  • After 6 months >> Seasonal menu reset with an invitation to get involved “Be one of the first to taste the new dishes on our menu at a special event for loyal fans…” 
  • After 1 year >> Anniversary perk “Have this cake...on us. And yes, please eat it too!”  

Punchline: build a scalable, repeatable framework for your new customers with a variety of ways to engage. Pay attention to what works, and tweak accordingly.

3. Go with the Flow (of Guest Frequency)

The Gartner Group found that the Pareto principle holds true with consumer behavior—80% of your future profits will come from just 20% of your current customers. It’s worth putting time, effort, and resources into customer retention, but not equally for all customers. The key here is segmenting by value and analyzing each segment’s frequency. With that, you can allocate time and resources according to value, and build outreach aimed to increase their known frequency.

Framework You Can Use

Guests with a high check average may be occasion-based guests with a twice per year frequency for birthdays and anniversaries. Send them a personal invite to join for a New Year’s Eve toast or Mother’s Day brunch, with the aim to increase their frequency to quarterly. 

Meanwhile, a segment of high value guests may have a lower check average and bi-monthly frequency. Aim to get them coming in once a month by sending them an easy-to-use offer that appeals to convenience.

4. Go Outside the Inbox  

To reach guests who have abandoned your brand, it’s time to try a structured cadence across multiple platforms. Research shows that companies using multiple channels to connect with customers increase satisfaction by 15-20% and boost growth by 20%.

Framework You Can Use

Build a cadence around lapsed guests that includes personalized email, targeted social, and paid search outreach. Keep your automated lapsed guest content up-to-date with regular maintenance. Every six months, pull the entire list and test new platforms. Make sure to track engagement so you know what works.

5. Tighten the Feedback Loop

While 72% of customers will share a positive experience, for every 26 unhappy customers only one is likely to say anything to you. Good, fast, empathic feedback management is crucial. In addition, being proactive about collecting feedback is a great loyalty builder—77% of consumers view brands more favorably if they seek out and apply customer feedback.

Framework You Can Use

Build trust with a multi-level Feedback strategy. 

  • When a customer reaches out with valuable feedback in any way (3rd party reviews, social media comments, survey responses), it’s essential to engage quickly. Acknowledge their experience, let them know from the beginning that you value their feedback, positive or negative. Take action to fix the problem. Say thank you. 
  • Continue to build relationships by proactively asking for feedback. When customers reply, thank them and reward them.
  • For the super loyalist, consider consumer panel special events. “You are an important part of growing our brand and your voice matters.” 
  • Take a moment for meta-feedback and ask how your engaged customers like to be contacted. Do they prefer a quick text survey, an email, social form, in person menu workshop? Are they okay being contacted after every visit, or do they prefer a couple of months between surveys? Make sure to contact them accordingly.

This is at its most effective if you have access to reviews from every source in one platform.


The cold truth is 70% of the people who visit your restaurant will never come back. You are guaranteeing that you are part of that statistic if you don’t test and implement strategies to retain the customers you have. 

Coming up in the CRAVE series:

We’ve keyed in to some strategies for better guest retention, next up—how to reduce your marketing workload while increasing a personal connection with customers.

Photo Credit Shirota Yuri

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