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There are few industries that run on thin margins like the restaurant industry. After food cost, salaries, and overhead, the average restaurant takes home between 3 – 5 percent in profit margin. Not a whole lot to work with. If your restaurant is trying to increase its margins, start by exploring ways to increase your repeat diner rate.

If you’re struggling with new ways to increase your repeat diner rate, consider implementing an advocacy marketing program. Here’s why.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was written before the onslaught of COVID-19. We’ve updated this blog post to include best practices for engaging repeat customers in a post-COVID world. See the bolded section at the end of the post. 

Why Repeat Diners Are So Important to Restaurants

In general, it costs a business anywhere from 5 – 25X more to win over a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one. Repeat customers are simply cheaper to service. The less you can spend getting a diner into your restaurant, the greater the profit margin you can make off that diner.

Not only is there less cost involved in focusing on repeat diners, but they also spend 67% more on average than a new customer.

There are two ways to increase profit: you can either reduce cost or you can boost revenue. Marketing to existing customers can help you do both.

The Power of Advocacy Marketing

So, what makes advocacy marketing an ideal tool for increasing your repeat diner rate?

Plenty.

As a quick overview, an advocacy marketing program is a structured program that leverages the social sharing power of your biggest fans to drive awareness and engagement with both your brand and your content.

Benefits of Advocacy Marketing

A) Drive Sales

First and foremost, the top benefit of an advocacy marketing program is that it drives sales. All marketing should be expected to generate an ROI, and advocacy marketing is no exception.  Conversion rates from earned media (which includes advocacy marketing by the way) average at 5%, higher than average benchmarks of 2%.

Even more astounding, 67% of consumers say that they’re more likely to make a purchase after seeing a branded post on their social media feed. The more content your advocates share about your restaurant, the more likely their network is to dine at your establishment.

B) Foster Consumer Trust

Customers trust recommendations from their social networks more than any other media source. This includes both paid advertising and sponsored content.

If your biggest fans are singing the praises of your restaurant, their social network is going to be more likely to check out your restaurant.

C) Increase Content Visibility and Engagement

What’s the point of creating delicious, eye-catching content if no one sees it? The average person is connected to roughly 600 people on social media. This means that every time one of your advocates shares your content, it can potentially be seen by 600 customers.

100 advocates? That’s a potential reach of 60,000.

1,000 advocates? You’re looking at hitting 600,000 new diners.

The more exposure your content has, the more likely it is to drive a new or repeat diner through your doors.

5 Content Pieces Sure to Drive Repeat Diners

Ready to increase your repeat diner rate through the power of advocacy marketing? Start by creating these types of content pieces.

1) Showcase Daily Specials

Whether it’s a recurring Taco Tuesday or weekly draft special sometimes the easiest way to drive a repeat customer visit is to simply remind the diner-to-be why they should come to your restaurant on that specific day.  

You can’t expect every diner to memorize your specials. Creating content that focuses on your daily specials can both educate your clientele on your regular offerings and can help to engrain your restaurant as part of a diner’s weekly routine.

2) Tease New Menus and Menu Options

Even the most loyal customer can get a little tired of the same-old-same-old.

If your restaurant is regularly adding new menu items or completely revamping its menu, create content that shows off these new tasty treats. Give your loyal diners a reason to become reacquainted with your establishment.   

3) Brag a Bit

Did you recently get featured in a local publication or blog?

Highlighted on a TV show?

5-Starred on Yelp?

Use your advocates to share your accolades with their world. As we talked about earlier in this post, third-party credibility can go a long way towards turning a casual customer into a rabid fan.

4) Get Your Customers Involved

Struggling to find great content to share? Turn to your existing customers! Chances are your restaurant has been hashtagged scores of time. Each of these posts represents a piece of user-generated content that you can reshare, repost, and repin through your advocates.

User-generated content is a powerful content type. Posts that feature user-generated content see an average of 2X increase in shares and engagement, which in turn helps to increase the visibility of both the content and, by extension, your restaurant.

The more people that see your content, the more likely you are to entice your fans to pop into your restaurant for dinner.

5) Provide Some Freebies

Last, but certainly not least, you can use your advocates to help distribute coupons or other promotional items with their audience. Sometimes the perfect way to incentivize someone to try your establishment over another is to provide them with a discount or even an opportunity to eat a free dessert.

Driving Repeat Diners in a Post-COVID World

Even with the mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and the resurgence of the Delta variant, people are heading back to the restaurants they love. A recent survey by Morning Consult found that 64% of U.S. adults said they feel comfortable going out to eat at a restaurant – up significantly compared to last September’s ~35%. 

So, how can your restaurant take advantage of America’s rekindled relationship with restaurants to increase repeat diners? 

Comfort and Security Drive Repeat Visits

Now, more than ever, guests must have an ideal first experience if you want to convert them into a repeat diner. In addition to delicious food and a hospitable server, health and safety are critical to ensuring a positive guest experience. The more COVID-safe a guest feels during their dining experience (whether for takeout or dine-in), the more likely they will dine at your location again. They’re also more likely to choose your restaurant over restaurants where they didn’t feel safe. 

How can Advocacy Marketing Help?

Use your advocates to share your safety measures with their network. Have you implemented touchless payment? Online ordering? Frequent handwashing and hygiene requirements? Whatever your COVID-specific updates, use your advocates to educate your audience on these measures.  

Indoor or Outdoor 

While 64% of adults are comfortable eating at a restaurant, there is a significant portion of this group that would prefer outdoor seating versus indoor seating. Outdoor seating is fairly easy to accommodate during the summertime, but with winter months coming soon, more planning and forethought needs to go into how your space will accommodate outdoor guests during the colder months.

Consider rearranging your floor plan for indoor diners or introducing limited seating in certain sections to help guests feel more safe and secure. As we said earlier, the safer a guest feels in your establishment, the more likely they are to return. 

How can Advocacy Marketing Help? 

Are you investing in more heaters? Partially covered patios? Private yurts? Whatever investment you’re making leading into the winter months, be sure to let your advocates know. Take pictures or videos of these new assets and explain how they will help to make a more inviting outdoor dining experience.

Double-Down on Takeaway

Even if your audience as a whole isn’t comfortable eating out at a restaurant yet, that doesn’t mean they aren’t ordering takeout. According to Upserve, 60% of U.S. consumers order delivery or takeout once a week

Takeout revenue is driven by two key factors: 

  1. The ordering/receipt experience (how easy it is to place and pick up an order). 
  2. The food itself (having a reason to order from a specific establishment). 

Conduct an audit of your current takeout order data.

Do you find that the majority of your orders are from first-time guests that never revisit? This could be a sign that your current system isn’t meeting the expectations and needs of your base. 

Do you earn multiple repeat guests, but they only order a few times a month or do they always order the same  thing? This is almost always a sign that you haven’t given your guest a reason to order from you more often. 

How Can Advocacy Help?

Variety is the spice of life! If you regulars are ordering the same chicken sandwich from you twice a month, consider using your advocates to share more content focusing on daily specials or newer menu items. Give your repeat guest a reason to sway from a regular order that they might not be in the mood for and try something new from a restaurant they love and trust. Daily features and specials are especially effective at creating a sense of urgency and driving impulse day-of-dining decisions.  

It All Starts With a Single Advocate

Ready to take action to increase your repeat diner rate through an advocacy marketing program? It all starts with a single advocate. Use your fans to showcase both your restaurant’s content and its delicious offerings. Give your existing clientele a reason to walk back through your doors and enjoy another meal.

Not sure how to get started? We can help. Our team of expert advocacy marketing strategists are ready to help you launch the advocacy marketing program you need to start driving more patrons to your restaurant. Call us today at 443.393.2600 or send us an email to schedule a free demo.