Retaining a customer is a lot easier and less expensive than attracting a new one. Once diners are in your seat, give them the opportunity to talk up your restaurant to their social network of friends before they even pay their bill. The potential reach can be priceless when raving fans spread the word for you.

Here are four enticing tips to engage with your customers:

1. Get Creative with Collateral

Give your customers something to hold their attention between putting down their menu and picking up a fork, such as an eye-catching table tent promoting an upcoming event or a menu insert containing interesting highlights or factoids about your restaurant’s humble beginnings. And before they head out the door, make sure they have souvenirs they can take with them—a check presenter insert with a special offer to encourage a repeat visit, a nicely designed loyalty program card or prominently-displayed takeout menus with your social media handles.  

2. Solicit Social Sharing

Invite your diners to snap a pic of their meal to share via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Invent a theme and create a #hashtag to engage a stream of comments. Or, get specific by tailoring a social media campaign.  Located in a college town neighborhood? Dive into Snapchat. Distribute custom coasters to promote your restaurant’s snapcode. Invite diners to follow your stories and ask them to snap back drool-worthy photos of their favorite menu items for a chance to win rewards, coupons and VIP invites to special events.

3. Openly Ask for Opinions

Since everyone has one (an opinion, that is), casually ask if the new charcuterie plate won them over or if the suggested pinot grigio complemented the clams, while their experience is still fresh.  Even if they enjoyed the atmosphere and the food, solicit ideas to help make their next dinner outing even more memorable.

4. Promptly Respond to Feedback

When customers leave feedback on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Urbanspoon and other social outlets, be sure to respond in a timely manner. Let them know you value their comments, whether positive or negative. The attention will keep your customers around for the long run, and could even turn a negative comment into a glowing review.

Repeat customers are a restaurant’s bread and butter, typically providing the majority of revenue for businesses and the bases for building loyalty. Loyal customers come back more frequently, bring their friends, spend more per visit, and voluntarily promote your restaurant, becoming the best brand ambassadors you could hope for.

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