Years ago, I came across a study called “The Spirit of Service.” It was done by a foodservice industry association that is no longer around, but the information it provided me became a platform for explaining the importance of systems to restaurant owners and managers. In the study, they detailed six main reasons why customers don’t come back. I have found this list to be timeless and it held up in every restaurant. Here they are with ideas to counteract them.

Reason No. 6

When you look at your customer attrition, you can count on the fact that you’re losing around
1 percent of your customers to death. This is just the reality of it all. It’s the one thing you can’t do anything about.

Reason No. 5

3 percent of your customers will move out of the area. If the customer moves hundreds of miles away, there’s not much you can do. But in large metropolitan areas, moving may mean moving to a neighboring city that is still within an hour driving distance.

If your customer moves 45 minutes away, you have a choice: lose their business for good or fight like heck to get them in at least four times a year. Staying in touch becomes extremely important.

Let’s look at the economics of this. Let’s say this customer used to come into your restaurant only 10 times a year. They’d always come in with at least one other person and spend an average of $40 a visit. Every year they would spend at least $400.

If you’ve had them in your marketing database and have created a system where they can update their information with you and continue to receive your newsletter by mail and your e-mails, you might be able to get them to continue to come into the restaurant at least four times a year. So instead of losing $400 a year, you’ve managed to keep $160.

While that may not seem like a lot of money, when you multiply that over the lifetime of visits by that customer and then by the rest of the 3 percent who move, that can be a lot of money. Also look into new mover advertising in your surrounding community to capture those coming into the neighborhood. 

Reason No. 4

5 percent find new interests or friends. OK, I know you’re thinking, “That’s completely out of my control.” While this is true, if you follow the example given in Reason No. 5, you will again magnify the importance of building up your customer database and staying in constant contact. Just remember interests and friends change, and they may come back.

Reason No. 3

9 percent change for competitive reasons. This reason is the one most restaurant operators lose the most sleep over. But if you’ve done your job right and have a restaurant that is clean, has great service and great food, they will come back and usually do. It doesn’t hurt to keep communicating with them with your monthly newsletter and e-mails. Remind them that they matter and continue to invite them back into your restaurant.

Reason No. 2

14 percent change because they are dissatisfied with the restaurant. Let’s cover a little bit of Restaurant 101 here. If you’re doing these things, continuing that communication with your customers will likely bring them back in a few times. 

• Make sure your restaurant is in clean working order. 

• Make sure hot food is hot, cold food is cold and ticket times are in an acceptable range for your restaurant. 

• Make sure every employee is trained and ready to give your customers the best experience they could possibly desire. 

If you aren’t confident that you’re meeting these basics, there are a couple things you can do. 

• Send your customers a survey via email, if you have their contact information. If you don’t, you could hand them out at the end of meals and offer an incentive to complete the survey. 

• Monitor your social media comments and reviews on apps like Yelp. People tend not to be shy about sharing their experiences. If you find a consistent theme in reviews, don’t be defensive. Embrace it and resolve the issue. 

Reason No. 1

68 percent encounter an attitude of indifference or unconcern by one or more employees.

This means 68 out of 100 customers aren’t coming back because of how your employees conducted themselves. 68!

Your training program has to not only cover the basics from food safety to steps of service, you need to make sure you train hospitality and the idea that the customer comes first!

If you do nothing more than tackle Reason No. 1, “encounter an attitude of indifference,” your business will literally explode!