Building Guest Connections to Build Your Business

By Brian Murphy, Foodable Industry Expert

Consider the multitude of variables involved when your guests decide where to dine out. Are they celebrating a special occasion? Are you a destination establishment? Do you offer a value not found in other establishments in your neighborhood?

Your guests are entering your dining room for many reasons, and the sooner you know what those reasons are, the better you will be at building guest connections. These are important things to know and understand about your business and your target audience. Here are ways you can build those guest connections to build your business.

Find Out Why

The best way to find out about why your guests are choosing your establishment is to simply ask. Doing so will help servers, owners, and managers to build a rapport with them. When this is done organically throughout the course of the evening, you will have started a conversation with your customers, making them feel like they not only made the right choice, but that they also somehow belong in your restaurant.

Making a guest feel like they are important is a great step in retaining that guest, and perhaps everyone at the table that is associated with that guest. Keep track of your guest’s responses when you inquire about why they chose your restaurant and begin to analyze that data when you have enough to start tracking reasons. Along the way, treat each guest as though they are special, and attempt to build relationships. What you will find is that eventually the reasons become more about how they feel in your establishment and less about the value and flavors. If it were simply because of the food, they would have ordered for pick-up.

Bringing the Right Guests In

A common pitfall with newer establishments is the route taken in getting the word out and putting people in seats, as there are many ways to promote, and many philosophies on building sales. While you shouldn’t discount yourself out of business, at times, a discount of some sort — whether it is in the form of a coupon in a publication, or listing on a discount website like Groupon — is considered a safe way to let people try your cuisine.

For some guests, being a pioneer and trying the “new place” is too much of an adventure for guests who are more concerned with potentially wasting their money on the unknown. A discount makes these guests more at ease with trying something new. Still, this practice is simply increasing gross sales numbers, not building guest connections or business. You need to realize how difficult it is to “convert” the frequent coupon clipper. While it can be done, the typical guests using a discount of some sort will likely only be back when the next coupon or special offer hits, creating a dependency on a coupon service that is adding to your expenses, in more ways than one.

Building With Authenticity

Guests that choose your establishment for any reason other than specials or a discount deserve to be courted and shown that you truly appreciate their choice. These guests are a much better marketing tool that won’t cause you to get pennies back on the dollar when they pay the full menu price.

What these guests deserve is an investment of your time. Managers and owners need to greet these guests, welcome them to the establishment, understand why they are there, and give them an experience that is tailor-made for them and their experience. There is no need for a canned script, or the same, tired, corny joke they overheard you tell the table behind them earlier.

They will see through that, so just start a conversation. Give them the impression that you are truly interested in their visit and seriously happy they are there. Guests that feel you have welcomed them in an authentic way will leave happier, tell more people about the experience, bring people back, and leave higher tips. Staff will be happier, guests leave happier, and sales are improving without the use of a crutch that forces the establishment to struggle to break even.

Get to know your regulars, learn their names, likes, and dislikes. Deliver a welcoming, joyful experience whenever they are around. The way you treat a regular is attractive to other guests. When you suddenly have a dining room full of people that feel like rock stars or part of your family, everyone will have a better experience.