3 Strategies to Understand Your Restaurant Customers Better

By Saleem Khatri | 5 min read

When it comes to understanding your restaurant customers, it’s easy to think there’s no real effective way to approach it. After all, what more can you do beyond simply interacting with them each day? But, believe it or not, there are multiple ways you can effectively (and accurately) learn about their experiences in your restaurant.

Some of these methods occur in natural, organic ways, while others can be collected as data to analyze. Regardless of the methods you use, it’s important to think about your customers and how your day-to-day operations impact them. After all, customer satisfaction is probably at the top of your priority list, right?

Here, we’ll discuss three key strategies to help you better understand your restaurant customers. Using technology and in-person interactions together are an impactful way to get to know them. Ready to take a look at these strategies in more detail? Let’s dive in!

1. Take advantage of POS software

Once you overcome any lingering fears about using restaurant software (like it being too complicated or time-consuming), these systems can prove to be incredibly useful in learning about your customers. With the right technology, you can actually track customer behaviors and use the data to not only improve your customer service but make adjustments to your operations, too.

This is where your POS (point-of-sale) software comes into play. POS systems can track all sorts of useful data. This includes information about your customers, such as their preferences and ordering history. With a robust restaurant POS system, you can leverage:

  • Your inventory data

    Track your restaurant inventory and see what’s selling well, in addition to what isn’t. For instance, if you’re running a pizza shop and certain toppings run out sooner than others, you’ll know to adjust your inventory to be sure you stock up on the most popular toppings. Similarly, if you’re running a bar, you can see what liquors run out the fastest and be sure you stock up on the most popular ones.

  • Customer database

    With the right POS software, you can view customer preferences, as well as access their order history and contact information. Keeping a customer database will provide you with plenty of information about how customers are patronizing your restaurant. Are they ordering the same items? Trying new ones? Use this data to learn more about popular dishes and engage your customers in conversation.

  • Loyalty program

    One of the most effective marketing tips for getting repeat customers is incorporating a loyalty program. Build a dedicated customer base by offering rewards based on what customers have ordered in the past and offering other incentives for them to take advantage of. For example, if a customer who is enrolled in your loyalty program regularly orders coffee and a sandwich, offer them a voucher for a free coffee with their sandwich purchase! They’ll appreciate the personalization and you’ll continue to earn their business.

By using the right POS software, you’ll be able to learn a lot about your customers that you might not have been able to capture otherwise.

2. Engage with your customers online

Part of learning more about your customers means engaging with them outside of your restaurant. You can go about this in a few ways, such as online, via social media, or through community events like a neighborhood festival. For our purposes, we’ll focus on online interactions.

Interacting with your customers online is a great method for understanding them better. While it’s not face-to-face, it still allows for plenty of insight.

Here are just a few of the online avenues you can explore:

  • Social media

    As a restaurant, it’s recommended that your business has a social media presence of some kind as a way to build sales. That means you may get tweeted at or reviewed on your Facebook page. Build on your social media presence by regularly posting and directly responding to messages from customers, whether the comments are positive or constructive. It’s important to show that you’re listening, which will reflect well on your restaurant overall.

  • Online reviews

    Apart from social media, review websites like Yelp are good platforms to use to learn about any potential complaints a customer may have and attempt to rectify them. When doing this, be sure you work to understand their grievance and respond in a cordial manner, taking action when it’s reasonable. Any online content about your restaurant is a direct reflection of your business, so it’s essential that you pay attention to the feedback.

  • Email

    You might not think of email marketing as a typical type of outreach a restaurant takes on, but many restaurants do offer mailing lists and newsletters. They’re a great way to showcase a new dish or advertise an ongoing promotion. They’re also a good way to get feedback from your customers and communicate directly with them about their experience. You could offer a survey in your emails (or on order receipts) in exchange for a coupon or an entry into a gift card giveaway.

Engaging with your customers online is a great way to put your professional foot forward and receive both positive and constructive feedback. By doing this, you’ll know more about your customers’ experiences in your restaurant and can work on making those experiences even better.

3. Connect with your customers in person

Of course, most of your interactions with your customers will take place in your actual restaurant. For this reason, connecting with your customers in person is an effective — and natural — way to learn more about them.

Having a polite conversation can go a long way, but taking this up a notch will help you even more. Here are some strategies to consider when interacting with your customers in person:

  • Show interest in their experience

    Aside from simply asking about their meal, inquire about your customers’ day or what their favorite all-time dish is. Simple questions like these can make your customer service stand out from the crowd while offering you helpful feedback. Moreover, showing genuine interest will make your customers feel valued.

  • Focus on customer acquisition

    It can be challenging to gain new customers, which is why it’s important to focus on turning your current customers into regulars. Once you’ve done that, you’ll continue enhancing your reputation, which will, in turn, help you acquire new patrons. As an additional resource, Swoop offers a helpful article about customer acquisition, focused on offering strong customer experience and support.

  • Listen to feedback

    Pay attention to what your customers say when you ask them about their meal and overall experience. Be empathetic but professional all the same, and incorporate the feedback whenever it’s reasonable to do so.

  • Leverage custom merchandise

    Try your hand at offering merchandise specific to your restaurant. If you’re running a coffee shop, for example, sell coffee beans in your venue. For any and all restaurant types, place a bulk order of custom shirts through a platform like this and sell them in your restaurant. You can tell if customers are happy with your service and want to purchase custom merchandise if they’re constantly buying more than just your food.

In-person interactions can be invaluable for understanding your restaurant’s customers. It’s the most natural and organic way to receive feedback, and it can help your staff feel great when that feedback is positive.

There are many ways to gauge your customers’ experiences in person, and these can all lead to more efficient day-to-day operations for your restaurant. Be sure your customers are satisfied, learn how to fix the moments when they aren’t, and thrive on the positive feedback you receive!

While robust software can enhance your data and give you accurate records of past customers, interacting with your customers in other ways can also be effective. At the end of the day, technology and old-fashioned interactions go hand-in-hand when it comes to learning about your restaurant customers.

Saleem Khatri
Saleem Khatri
Guest Contributor

Saleem Khatri is Lavu's Chief Executive Officer. Saleem has a "founders mentality," with a track record of working with high-growth software companies. Prior to Lavu, Saleem successfully launched software and hardware products at start-ups via Y Combinator and managed a $79 billion investment portfolio on behalf of the United States Department of the Treasury. Saleem earned his MBA from the Harvard Business School and his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.

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