Loyalty is unquestioning trust but restaurant owners and hospitality operators need more than that to keep their customers coming back. Emotional sentiment is the secret sauce to consumer loyalty, and when a dollop of positive emotional feeling is added to trust, it can elicit more than just repeat business – you may even have gained a valuable social brand ambassador.

Many people recognise that they make decisions based on emotion rather than logic. That’s why we buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have to impress people who don’t care. Emotions are also nature’s decision-making shortcut. When we’re bombarded with too much choice and not enough time to consider all the facts, we turn to how we feel to make a call. Studies show that positive emotions toward a brand have a far greater influence on consumer loyalty than trust and other judgements that are based on a brand’s attributes. So how can hospitality operators harness the power of emotions to keep their guests coming back?

Knowing me, knowing you.
Knowledge is power so really get to know your customers. Nothing fosters positive emotions more than guests feeling like you know them and making them feel special. Many restaurants do this successfully by capturing customer data either automatically when they order via mobile, web or tablet; or manually using their loyalty card; or even through customer surveys. Once analysed, the data can be used to send out highly personalised offers and promotions to members.

Taking a bespoke experience from the sublime to the ridiculous, London based Ceviche offers personalised menus based on a wide spectrum of customers’ data. Ceviche’s app asks customers questions about their favourite colours, holiday activities, accesses their social accounts and even searches the web for things guests have written. From this, the customer is greeted by name, led to their table and presented with a completely tailored taster menu.

Social creatures
As well as making guests feel special with relevant, personalised offers and service, restaurant owners and operators can also foster positive sentiment towards their brand by making customers feel like they’re part of a group.

For example, Baskin-Robbins does a great job at keeping their customers engaged and entertained on their Facebook page by actively encouraging customers to upload photos and responding to their posts. Their relaxed and fun tone also helps followers feel like part of a group and makes it easier for them to comment and interact with the brand.

Although it might be time consuming to create a social media strategy and execute it effectively, when done right, it’s well worth the investment. The sooner customers start seeing you as a friendly, relaxing place to dine at and interact with rather than a faceless brand, the more you’ll see them return again and again to enjoy the experience. As the icing on the cake, you’ll see them acting as your own personal social brand ambassadors, promoting your restaurant through their social media channels too!

You’re never too old to be young
Another way to turn up the heat on that positive sentiment is by allowing customers to interact with your brand through their preferred medium. For Millennials, this medium is of course mobile.

Did you know that Millennials have an estimated $200 billion of direct purchasing power according to a recent US report? They also spend, on average, a staggering 4 hours on their phone each day and research by Solmozone found that 75% of them would switch to brands that deliver real-time discounts and promotions to their smartphones while shopping. This means that if you want a slice of that $200 billion pie, you need to put a mobile strategy at the top of that list.

Henry’s Café Bar in London recognises the value of the mobile channel when it launched its mobile order and payment application in a bid to engage and build loyalty with its customers. Ben Levick, director of operations for the brand said, “Ordering and paying by mobile phone gives customers the option to remain at their table all night, rather than leave their friends to replenish drinks. We’re sure it’s going to be popular, making service more efficient and leaving bartenders and waiters free to focus on the customer experience that is so important in Henry’s Café Bars.”

Food for thought: The takeaway here then is that if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach then restaurants are halfway there because it seems anything that makes your customers feel warm and happy when they think of your brand plays an important role in keeping them loyal. So whether it’s personalised offers, social inclusion or offering a convenient means of connecting, interacting and transacting with you; spend some time thinking about what emotions you’ll be serving up rather than just what dish!