Engaging with both new and returning customers is crucial to growing your bar or restaurant’s customer base. Here are four marketing tactics that build lasting relationships.

1. Loyalty programs:

Restaurant Owner

Loyalty programs reward customers for their repeat business with discounts, rewards points or special events. They can be as simple as a paper punch card or as high-tech as a mobile app tied to a computer database. Make sure your loyalty rewards reflect your restaurant’s brand and motivate your target customer. For instance, “Buy 10 meals, get one free” might work for a family restaurant, but an upscale eatery would have more success by rewarding members with special events such as a private meal with the chef. Capture customer data like emails, addresses and phone numbers as part of your loyalty program. Offering regular customers free appetizers, meals or drinks on special occasions such as holidays or birthdays is always a loyalty-booster. You can also use geolocation websites to offer loyalty rewards; see our article on social media.

2.  Socially responsible marketing:

Aligning your restaurant or bar with a social cause can increase loyalty by convincing customers you care about the same issues they do. Choose a cause relevant to your bar or restaurant and to your customers. For instance, if your restaurant features healthy, organic food, you could support programs to teach schoolchildren about healthy eating, or align with a health-related organization or charity. If you own a sports bar, consider sponsoring community sports leagues. If your pub attracts members of the military, why not get involved in charities for veterans. Can’t decide on a cause? Ask your customers for suggestions. Remember, it doesn’t have to be a big, global movement—in fact, since restaurants and bars rely on local clientele, supporting small community organizations can be more effective.

Research the organization to make sure it’s legitimate. Then decide how you will support it—whether by collecting donations from customers, hosting a fund-raiser, providing food at events or donating a percentage of your sales or profits. Publicize your relationship with the cause in all of your bar or restaurant’s marketing materials, on your menus or table cards, and online. Also let local media know about your charitable activities.

3.  Customer service:

Customer service can make or break your bar or restaurant. Regularly examine your business with an impartial eye, or recruit a friend or relative to do it for you. Start outside and pretend you’re a new customer: Is your bar or restaurant easy to find, with adequate parking? Is the parking lot well lit? Does it look welcoming from the outside, and clean and appealing once inside? Does the hostess or bartender greet new arrivals? How quickly do guests get a menu, and how do servers treat them? Are your servers familiar with all menu items? How do they respond to special requests? Do groups of women visiting your bar feel comfortable there? Are the restrooms clean and stocked?

Call your restaurant or bar and see what kind of response you get. Is the phone answered quickly or does it ring and ring? Does the employee on the other end sound happy and excited, or glum, bored and disengaged?

Today, customer service starts online, so don’t forget to check out your website. Do the links work? Are the menu and special offers current? Is your contact information (phone and email address) up to date? Does the online reservation system work?

4.  Apps:

Creating a smartphone application (app) for your business is the latest way to stay in touch with customers. Apps enable you to “push” information out to customers who signal they want to hear from you by downloading your app. Apps also help you reach the crucial audience of consumers who are on the go and looking for information to help them decide what bar or restaurant to visit.

There are many companies that provide custom apps for the bar and restaurant industry. Popular features in restaurant and bar apps include “phone us” or “email us” buttons, online reservations features, menu displays, embedding your restaurant or bar’s Facebook or Twitter feed, discount codes or coupons, and interactive maps and directions. Apps can also be used in conjunction with loyalty programs to help customers track rewards points. You can even create apps to let customers place orders for pickup or order food to be delivered.


These marketing methods are increasingly important to customers who want to feel that companies care about them.


These marketing methods can be complex, so make sure you have the resources to do them right.

To learn more about Groupon’s merchant solutions and how to work with Groupon, visit www.GrouponWorks.com.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and SmallBizDaily.com.

CEO, GrowBiz Media