How to Earn Repeat Customers and Build a Community of Regulars

Regular customers are who keep your restaurant or bar alive; whether it's generating traffic in the slow hours or bringing their friends along and increasing business. Find out how to keep your customers coming back.

Earning repeat customers on a regular basis is extremely important for restaurateurs and bar owners. When compared to attracting new customers, it’s a lot more profitable to keep people who’ve already visited your small pub, restaurant or bar coming back. 

For this reason, returning customers should be a top priority and the main focus for restaurant and bar owners. The ability to keep these customers loyal to your business really goes a long way to increasing sales, and can be a great boost to your business. As outlined by AJ Agrawal for Forbes in this article, repeat customers are easier to market to, provide more value per head, and are a lot less maintenance than new customers.

Likewise, Melinda Curle for The Rail cites research from the Garnet Group that found “20% of a company’s existing customers generate at least 80% of its future revenue” and concludes that creating regulars is essential to increasing future revenue.

Repeat customers also help to spread positive reviews about your business in the local community through word-of-mouth marketing. These returning customers can be a great source of new clientele too, as they can encourage their family and friends to come along to your independent bar or restaurant.

With this in mind, here are our top 10 tips to help get repeat customers and build a community of regulars for your independent pub, restaurant, or bar:

1. Have Stellar Customer Service

Though having great food supplied by top-quality food distributors such as Sysco or Food is vital to ensure customers want to come back to your restaurant for food quality, what’s even more important is the customer service that they receive.

The customer experience you provide will be the most important factor in deciding whether someone returns to your small pub/restaurant in the future. As The Rail notes again, restaurant customer service is as important as the menu. If these customers had a great experience at your independent restaurant, pub, or bar, then they’ll want to come back again and again. The reverse is also true: if they had a bad experience at your restaurant, the likelihood of them returning is very slim.

But how do you go about improving your customer experience?

In large part, it comes down to your staff and how they interact with these customers visiting your small bar, pub, or restaurant. To ensure stellar customer service is served, you need to train your waiting staff and bartenders on how to interact with your clientele.

This could include:

  • How to greet customers – for example, ensuring staff greets customers as soon as possible after they enter the establishment, asking them how they are and smiling warmly at them.
  • How to deal with complaints/negative feedback from customers – a.k.a. not rising to provocation and offering apologies and a token such as a free dessert.
  • Ensuring they know to collect orders and serve food as quickly as possible – you could even set a target for a particular time.
  • How to upsell food/ drink items to increase sales whilst building a rapport with customers.
  • What to say when a customer is leaving to ensure they leave with a positive perception of the restaurant or bar they just visited.

To ensure they’ve got the hang of things, have your staff try out some practice scenarios since most people learn by doing, rather than just absorbing information. This also gives you the opportunity to identify the customer service behaviours that your staff might need a little more practice with. Beyond just training up your employees once when onboarding, consider that over time they might need a refresher. 

As such, you should think about how you can keep your staff’s skills up to scratch. Perhaps you could write the most important procedures on a blackboard in clear view of your staff in the staff room, or provide training sessions monthly, quarterly or annually to all staff members. This helps to ensure that your customers will receive great customer service each time they visit your establishment.

2. Reward Loyalty

Earning your customers’ loyalty is incredibly important for a small bar, pub, or restaurant, and one way to encourage your clientele to stay loyal and encourage them to keep coming back. To do this, you could introduce punch cards that allow your customers to get a free drink, side, or dessert. 

Customers could be rewarded after buying a certain number of meals or drinks through a loyalty reward program. Additionally, you could consider giving the occasional freebie to your most loyal customers, which they’re sure to tell their friends and family about. Not only will this make your regulars happy, but it will help to ensure they stay regular. This is the power of word-of-mouth marketing and ‘delighting’ your customers. As summarised by Sophia Bernazzani for Hubspot, “a delightful customer experience” is essential to retaining and gaining customers.

3. Plan For Busy Periods

As we’ve already touched upon, a stellar customer experience is vital to turning customers into regulars of your independent pub, bar, or restaurant, and is even more important than having lower food costs than your competitors.

Numerous sources cite one of the most common complaints made by customers about restaurants is waiting times, from having to wait too long to be seated, to waiting endlessly for their food to arrive once they’ve ordered. It makes sense then, that to improve your customer experience, you should ensure that each shift is equipped with the appropriate amount of staff so that there are enough people to cook, bartend and serve customers in a timely manner.

To hone this system over time, it’s a good idea to note down times when your establishment seemed understaffed and/or you received complaints from customers, so you can try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Obviously, you can’t predict exactly how busy every shift is going to be, but you can make an educated guess and plan accordingly to reduce the number of customers who have an unsatisfactory experience at your restaurant, pub, or bar.

4. Collect & Use Customer Feedback

To make your small bar, pub or restaurant even better, you need to learn from the insight of your customers. After all, you might think you’ve done everything you can to perfect your customer experience, but your clientele may pick up on things that you’ve missed.

As such, it’s a good idea to collect feedback wherever possible, from having your servers ask customers how their experience was at the end of their meal, to using surveys, to perusing reviews online and reading comments and messages on your establishment’s social media. This intel can then be used to improve your independent pub, bar, or restaurant from things that may be deterring customers from returning.

To help you to improve your customer relations, address any potential customer complaints, and deal with unexpected customer scenarios download Hailo Data’s Customer Relations Template.

5. Harness The Power of Social Media

One of the hallmarks of the last few years has been the rapid shift of our world to online, where most of our lives took place during the pandemic. This means that while an active social media presence was important before the pandemic, it has now become crucial in a world after the pandemic. For many businesses, the ability to keep their customers engaged online can be the make or break of their business in the new digital era. 

The Restaurant Times advises that all small restaurant owners create social media pages and update them regularly to develop a strong personality and brand image online and stay connected with their customers. This increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to transform your customers into regulars, as you develop a relationship with them outside of them visiting your brick and mortar bar, pub or restaurant.

Social media provides a single location for your customers to check on the latest promotions, menu features and events offered by your establishment. Finally, social media is all about relationships as it’s where friends stay in touch, family members connect and brands interact with their fans and followers. Similarly, you can grow relationships with your customers by interacting with them via social media, replying to their messages and comments on your posts, and liking any content of theirs that relates to your independent restaurant, pub or bar.

A strong social media presence will drive loyalty to your establishment and make your relationship feel more personal than transactional. In turn, making customers more likely to come back to your small bar, pub or restaurant over a new establishment that they have no connection with.

6. Offering Promotions

There’s nothing better than a good promotion to entice customers to return to your independent bar, pub, or restaurant. At the end of their visit, you could give customers a voucher to receive savings on meals or drinks in the future that can be redeemed within a narrow time frame to encourage them to come back sooner than they would have otherwise. Alternatively, you could offer promotions to previous customers via email, and utilise email marketing to entice these customers back to your restaurant or bar. 

Additionally, you could train your staff to make customers aware of any ongoing promotions, such as deals going on later that week or month. As Ryan Andrews suggests on the Eat blog, you could introduce and promote a plat ju jour on your menu, giving customers the opportunity to buy a bargain meal package, and perhaps include a reduced price meal side and drink on a specific day of the week.

After all, people love value for money and might shy away from getting sides and extras if they’re being frugal. This gives them the perfect opportunity to treat themselves by trying something they usually wouldn’t on a regular menu offering and may encourage them to buy the particular food option again outside of these promotions if they enjoy what they had.

7. Consider Introducing Happy Hour

Having a particular time of day or day of the week when your customers can reduce costs while enjoying their usual drinks gives them a reason to return regularly to your establishment. If you don’t serve alcohol, you could lower food costs on your menu at a certain time of day or offer buy-one-get-one-free deals to reduce costs for customers and make them more likely to visit.

Not only will this give you the opportunity to turn customers into frequently visiting regulars, but since happy hours take place when business is slow anyway, they can help to significantly boost sales, increasing your overall turnover.

8. Plan & Promote Fun Events

Sometimes, your customers need a reason to go out. To give them that reason, how about planning some fun events or activities that they can look forward to throughout the year?

For example, you could plan an event to celebrate new food or drink items on your menu, host a match night, or facilitate a games night or karaoke party to give your repeat customers something new to enjoy from your independent pub, bar or restaurant.

Remember to promote these events via your social media so your customers know when they should rock up to join in on the fun.

9. Build a Sense of Community

Part of the experience of going out to eat or drink is being around and interacting with other people. With this in mind, there are a number of strategies you can use to build a community around your establishment.

One of the simplest things you can do is to encourage your staff to develop relationships with the customers: asking them to make an effort to remember their names, have real conversations, and note down any key information about them that will help you provide personalised customer service to them in the future.

Likewise, as described earlier, you can use social media to develop a friendly rapport between your small restaurant, bar, or pub and your customers by replying to all their messages and comments. More than having meaningful interactions with your staff, giving your customers the opportunity to interact with each other will make them want to come back to continue growing these new connections.

You can encourage this in a couple of ways. Kevin Tam at Bar & Restaurant suggests placing a bar in the middle of the room, as a design space that fosters socialisation and brings people to the middle of the room to interact. As well as making it easier to see all the tables so people can spot others they know. However, for those who aren’t open to doing a complete renovation of their space, there are other ways you can encourage your customers to engage with each other. Events that encourage socialisation, such as darts or beer pong nights, provide the perfect opportunity for different groups of your small bar’s customers to interact and engage with one another.

It’s also a good idea to remember that the people most likely to become your regulars are going to be those who live closest to your independent restaurant, pub, or bar. As such, delivering flyers–or running online marketing campaigns that target those closest to you and perhaps offering them special promotions, is a great way to bring in new customers. 

10. Switch Things Up

When you turn customers into repeat customers, and then repeat customers into regulars, it shows that you’ve done a great job of making your restaurant or bar a place where people want to be and interact. However, no matter how good your bar or restaurant is, experiencing the same options all the time can get boring. So, to ensure you keep your regulars interested, it might be worth having a strategy to change things up every now and then.

You could do this by adding different meal or drink options to the menu every quarter, or adding seasonal or festival specials around different holidays, to make your regulars come back to try something new. Not to mention, you’ll attract customers both old and new.


As stated by McKinsey, “The restaurant industry’s greatest challenge to date” is earning repeat customers and regulars, as it becomes vital to the success of small restaurants and bars over time and how they succeed in their local community. Try these tips out and let us know what crowds and fun you draw to your bar or restaurant.

Interested more tips, tricks and advice on all things restaurants? Halio Data is a free resource for hospitality businesses, where you can learn how to run a more profitable and successful business based on our expert industry advice. 

Be sure to bookmark this page, or follow us on social media to keep up to date with our latest posts. 


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