Seven Steps to Building Repeat Business

Want to quickly double the volume of business you’re currently doing at the bar? Gimmicks and slick promotional schemes won’t get you there. The only tried-and-true way to accomplish your goal is to convert first-time visitors into regular clientele. Regulars create a sustainable residual income that you wouldn’t have realized otherwise, often providing the financial boost needed to keep the doors open. Every operator likely shares the same ambition: to become a popular destination venue.

Building a loyal core of repeat guests depends entirely on doing a great job the first time those people come in; today’s regular guest was yesterday’s newbie. Following are seven key steps to building repeat business:

1) Acknowledge regulars. The staff and managers should make a concerted effort to acknowledge guests they recognize as having been in before. A quick “welcome back” is like money in the bank. It also gives the impression that if newcomers return they too will be acknowledged. The next step is to capture guests’ contact information. Any type of weekly or monthly drawing will quickly develop an email mailing list. Staying in contact with your core constituency is a proven means of building repeat business.

2) Serve hospitably. Your staff should welcome people into the business like they welcome guests into their homes. Hospitable service is a learned skill that is performed gracefully and naturally. It requires concentration to remain hospitable under pressure. Regardless of how demanding guests may behave, they deserve the staff’s hospitable best.

3) Streamline sales. People shouldn’t have to beg to be served. Staff a sufficient number of people to handle anticipated demand — wasting a few labor dollars is better than losing potential sales and making good people wait for bad service. Instruct the staff to ask guests questions. Are they celebrating a special occasion? Are they hungry? Guests will nearly always heed menu suggestions or beverage recommendations. But make them get rid of the canned delivery. The staff should offer suggestions like they were feeding guests insider information. People love the personal attention.

4) Price fairly. Gouging people on the price of drinks is a thing of the past. Competition is high; it is better to ratchet down prices a quarter or two than try to grab every dollar possible. High perceived value is an essential element of getting quality patrons to return another night. Value is as powerful of a force as gravity. Who doesn’t want to think they are getting the most for their hard-earned money? Don’t you?

5) Slam-dunk drinks. Marketing Olympic-caliber drinks is essential to the strategy. You need to offer drinks so intriguing that, once smitten, guests will have to come to your venue to find them. The process of creating a spectacular beverage lineup isn’t particularly complicated; in fact, it can be rendered down to four elements. Your drinks must be original, exhibiting a singularly delicious taste and bouquet. Pawned-off replicas of the drinks poured down the street won’t cut it. A beverage lineup also must be built on quality ingredients. Top-shelf spirits are an unbridled growth category; one reason is that they make significantly better drinks. Your specialties must be visually appealing. Presentation counts. And finally, you need to offer your clientele an interesting mix of drinks from which to choose. The range should include hot drinks, cocktails, iced libations, blended specialties and alcohol-free.

6) Prevent stagnancy. There’s no room at the top for the complacent and uninspired. Step over the rut; don’t fall in it. Shake things up. Regularly change how your place looks. Move a mirror, or paint a wall. Even subtle changes can make a difference in the feel of the place. Guests will appreciate the scenery change, as will the staff. Give your people a new look. Wearing the same clothes to work gets old and takes a toll on staff morale. Put a bounce in their step with a uniform change.

7) Be unpredictable. What if you periodically bought people in your establishment their dinners? Or sent a bottle of wine to a table compliments of the management? Or bought a party a round of drinks? There’d be a massive outbreak of goodwill. Perhaps change decades now and again and go “retro.” It’s a blast for the staff, a novel change for the clientele and a boost for business. Pick a decade and work with it — music, costumes, vintage drinks, period decor, etc. Have fun; it’s contagious.


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