For almost 30 years, Bernie Pitzel has created and directed award-winning advertising for clients such as McDonald’s, Long John Silver’s and Coors Light. He is Creative in Residence at Jacobs Agency, where he is using his talents to help the agency deliver on the promise of its new branding effort.

Not long ago, I was working with a large, regional, all-you-can-eat chain — a chain that devoted $1 million to research why people came to them. They would then use the research and revelations to attract new customers. You know what they found? They learned that people came to them, for (million-dollar drum roll, please) freedom of choice!

Really?

Who would’ve thought that Middle America went to an all-you–can-eat buffet for the all-you-can-eat buffet?

Seems to me that there are better ways to spend a million dollars. Seems to me that a lot of organizations keep searching to find out what they are not, instead of deeply branding into the American psyche what they actually are.

Why does everyone want to be someone else?

If food purveyors just gave their devoted repeaters one more weekly or monthly reason to repeat, most would be golden. How about working on a little loyalty instead of lunging for the target du jour?

From the agency side, the hardest thing to get clients to realize is who they are and who they are not. Who is attracted to them and why? Who won’t give them the time of day? (Why does everything relate back to high school?)

Lots of money is tossed away chasing rainbows instead of encouraging repeat business.

As a veteran in the agency world, and as someone who has collaborated with a number of restaurants in my tenure, my advice is to spend some time in your own restaurants. Getting that first-hand, quality research is more advantageous and valuable than observing focus groups while you stuff yourself with stale crackers and bad chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not slamming research. It’s a known fact that most things that have tested well in research have worked well in the marketplace. But really, it doesn’t take much more than common sense to realize that foodies aren’t going to flock to buffets and that buffet lovers are looking at prices before anything au poivre.

I love the restaurant business. There is nothing more satisfying than sitting in one of my client’s restaurants on a Monday or Tuesday night observing a full house and knowing I helped pack them in.

And I love restaurants. All restaurants: from drive-thru-tacos-for-under-a-buck joints to dine-in-at-the-peril-of-your-monthly-mortgage eateries. But I’m not normal and I live in Chicago (which is kind of like saying the same thing). I am lucky enough to have all of those options at my disposal — sometimes right next to each other — so I savor them all.

But in other places, people either don’t have many restaurant choices or they choose not to patronize them. Most folks have a few go-to places for specific occasions. They like what they like. And lot of them don’t like what you’re serving. For a ton of reasons. So let them go. Focus on your objectives.

Treat your lovers like, well lovers. Just keep giving them more reasons to keep loving you.

The Beatles were right. All you do need is love. That and a decent price point.

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2 Responses to “Love is the answer to keeping your customers coming back”

  1. Rod Brant says:

    Well said.

    When you say "loyalty" I think many independent restaurant owners hear "expensive, plastic-card, big hassle system."

    But, loyalty certainly doesn't need to start there. A simple VIP / Birthday club is a great place to start, and it doesn't have to be expensive, involve plastic cards, or be a big hassle. And, it builds the all-important customer list!

  2. [...] one reason to attract customers, but how much time do restaurateurs devote to customer retention? This guest blog post highlights the importance of giving the time of day to your customers. They are, after all, the [...]

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