5 Easy Ways Restaurants Can Deliver Personalized Dining Experiences

Make your restaurant a local favorite by getting to know your customers and incentivizing them to come back


So far, 2023 is looking good for restaurateurs. According to the National Restaurant Association, the restaurant industry in the United States is on track to make almost $1 trillion this year. While revenue has declined at gas stations, clothing stores, and furniture retailers, customers are now routinely spending more at restaurants than they have in the past three years. In other words, now is the time to attract new customers — and turn them into regulars. That's where a concept called "restaurant personalization" comes into play.

Over the past few years, every aspect of the tech industry has evolved with a customer's individual preferences in mind. By collecting pertinent data and applying the appropriate algorithms, Amazon can predict what we want to buy, Netflix can predict what we want to watch, and Instagram can predict what we want to see. Restaurants can adopt this mindset as well, from recommending the perfect meal to streamlining the payment process.

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Benefits of restaurant personalization

Restaurant sales are growing right now, but the food service industry is a notoriously fickle one. This year, high food costs, intense competition, and potential staffing shortages could create a challenging environment for even experienced owners, managers, and employees. The best defense against these conditions is a large contingent of loyal customers.

However, a customer can be loyal to only so many restaurants, particularly with an economic recession on the horizon. Simply offering excellent food and service may not be enough. According to a study from digital media strategy firm Khoros, customers value a holistic experience with a company even more than the company's product itself.

With restaurant personalization, customers could start to view your establishment less as a place to eat and drink, and more as an integral part of their communities. As a wise man once said, "you wanna go where everybody knows your name."

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How to personalize your restaurant's dining experience

A personalized dining experience doesn't have to involve elaborate menus or waitstaff with eidetic memories. In fact, all you need to create bespoke experiences for your patrons is an attentive mindset — and a judicious application of technology.

Learn about your customers

If you want your customers to feel like valued community members rather than walking wallets, you need to learn who they are, what they like, and why they came to your restaurant in the first place.

The first way to do this is the time-tested method of simply talking to them and getting to know them over time. Restaurant employees have been doing this for hundreds of years, establishing relationships with regulars through observation and conversation.

Modern technology can offer a significant shortcut to this process. For instance, when customers find your business on the CityCheers app, they can easily sign up for push notifications and other communications from your brand. In exchange, you get customer data straight from the people it applies to — a treasure trove of useful and ethically sourced information that tech-minded marketers refer to as “zero-party data.” While none of this can replace a genuine smile and a sympathetic ear, it can act as a powerful complement.

Build choices into your menu

Restaurant personalization doesn't have to involve bespoke tasting menus or other high-effort initiatives. In fact, one of the simplest ways to personalize a dining experience is to give a patron exactly what they want to eat. Fast-casual chain Chipotle essentially built a whole business model on this premise, presenting customers with a few core options and letting them customize from there.

Not every restaurant needs to be a build-your-own burrito bar, of course. It's often enough to give customers some autonomy when it comes to selecting toppings and side dishes. As an easy example, a menu that advertises a hamburger with lettuce, tomato, cheese, bacon, and a side of French fries has already alienated a whole host of potential customers. Letting customers choose their own extras and side dishes ensures they get a personalized experience — and cuts down on confusing substitutions for your waitstaff.

Granted, custom orders can use up your supplies at variable rates. As such, it's important to utilize the right POS software to track your supplies and know when to restock.

Incentivize patrons with custom offers

Nothing gets a customer through your front door faster than a good deal. However, what constitutes a good deal varies significantly from person to person. A "kids eat free" deal won't do much to entice a child-free couple, while a half-priced bottle of wine is useless to a teetotaler.

As such, once you've gathered data about your customers, use it to create personalized offers. A tried-and-true method is sending out a coupon for a customer's birthday, but a clever restaurateur could go far beyond that. If a patron has already eaten every sandwich on the menu, they might be thrilled to try a new one, especially at a discount. A lapsed customer might appreciate a "we've missed you" e-mail with a coupon attached. You could even set up events and send out invites based on niche events — a TV show's midseason finale, for example, or an amateur sports league's big game.

Let diners pay how they want

Settling your tab at a restaurant can be a real pain. From surrendering your credit card for an extended period to waiting while a harried server tries to process a dozen other checks, it's a surprisingly convoluted way to end a fun outing. Compare and contrast to online shopping, which stores a customer's payment information, and lets them pay with a credit card, a bank account, or even a smartphone.

Luckily, payment apps such as ExpressCheck from CityCheers mean restaurants are no longer the one place where customers are still expected to hand over their card. These apps let customers order without flagging down a server, settle up whenever they feel like it, use a payment method that's already on file, and calculate a tip without having to do mental math.

Become a "third place"

If you're not familiar with the concept of the "third place," it's an amazingly useful one for restaurateurs. Essentially, the third place is a comfortable, inviting, and lively place where patrons aren't subject to the pressures of their homes (the "first place") or workplaces (the "second place"). If you make your restaurant into a third place, customers won't simply come to eat; they'll come because it's part of their routine.

There's no shortcut to creating a third place, but offering a personalized experience is key. Greeting customers by name, knowing their preferences, and incentivizing them to come back again and again can transform a simple eatery into a neighborhood fixture. With the right data, you can even offer patrons the opportunity to share experiences with like-minded individuals. Restaurant personalization isn't just about menus and apps; it's also about making the customers themselves feel invested in a restaurant's success.

CityCheers has the personalization tools you need

If you're ready to elevate your customers' dining experience, then CityCheers can help. We provide a variety of tools for bars and restaurants, including two-way marketing services and contactless payments. We also offer free listings on our CityCheers app, which can connect you with both new and returning customers. Book a demo with us today to learn how CityCheers can give your establishment a more personal touch.