One of the few absolute rules of marketing, regardless of industry, is that it costs more to get a new customer than it does to keep a current one. Return customers are the life blood of any business, but it is especially true for the restaurant industry. Happy customers will not only willingly re-choose your restaurant; they will also recommend it to friends and keep you in mind when going out for large group dinners for business or with family.
Of course to food is going to play a big role in why patrons keep coming back, but there is something to be said for the “atmosphere” of a place. People go out to eat because they don’t want to/don’t have the time to cook at home. So part of taking care of your regulars is creating an atmosphere where they feel like they are at home, without the hassle of preparing dinner or dealing with the cleanup. The environment needs to be welcoming. For some patrons this means a plush couch where they can read a paper in peace. For others it’s a bar where the bartender knows exactly how they like their drink.
If you recognize one of your patrons as a regular, why not show them your gratitude for their continued business? If the same guy has been coming in to your restaurant every morning for coffee and eggs for the last two years, why not slip him a piece of pie on the house one of these days? A little thank you goes a long way and makes the regular feel like you appreciate them. Or you can always make sure their favorite seat is open and waiting when they come in for their daily lunch run. It doesn’t have to be a sweeping gesture to make a regular that much more attached to your restaurant.