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Affinity: The secret weapon

Affinity means having a feeling of belonging. In a restaurant setting, it means an intense loyalty because of this feeling of belonging.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to capture lightning in a bottle with all your customers? If every customer that walked in your door had such a great experience that they would go nowhere else and tell all their friends and acquaintances about your place, how powerful would that be? How great would that feel and how big would your bank account be?

I often talk about creating a brand, not a restaurant. A brand is something instantly recognizable, widely known and shared. It’s the qualities of your restaurant that become loved, sought after and desirable to experience again and again. They create a magnetic attraction between your restaurant and your customer.

Affinity starts with your staff. If you’ve done and continue to do a great job training, pretty soon the staff become a tight, singular unit with shared goals: great service, high tips, but most of all fun. You can be sure if the staff is having fun, your guests are having fun. This spirit of your restaurant soon translates to loyalty and your base of regulars grows as the buzz about your restaurant spreads.

Once you have them, you have to figure out how to keep them. Simple basics are greeting regulars by name at the door, the bar or their table and training your front-of-house team to give truly personal service. But you must never forget the power of value added and perceived value. Even if your customers are not looking for more, you must always deliver more.

Most POS systems are compatible with stored value and affinity cards. Affinity cards have replaced the frequent diner card and now restaurants can track their best customer’s spending habits and routinely reward them at will. There’s truth and power in the Cheers’ formula that “You want to go where everybody knows your name.”

Shifting gears, think about this. You probably have many beer or wine aficionados in your restaurant. In my place, we built a tremendously popular mug club that eventually grew to 750 members, each of whom paid $38 up front for the privilege. The benefits were either a 20 oz. personalized ceramic mug or a 14 oz. goblet of wine with special club pricing, a t-shirt and highly personal service. The bar and waitstaff got to know the club members and even as the club grew, it was not uncommon for a member to be recognized as soon as they walked in the door and have their favorite beer or wine poured and delivered through the crowd before they even reached our bar. That’s personal service and a powerful competitive advantage that no one else was doing at the time.

But here’s where the affinity angle really came on strong: Each member’s card not only allowed them free VIP admission to all of our concerts and special events (without waiting in line), but each time their card was swiped through our POS system during a purchase, year-to-date spending was tracked and each season’s top spender was rewarded with a personalized hand-carved wooden barstool with our restaurant’s logo. On top of this, each time a card was swiped, that member had a one in five chance of winning other great prizes: a branded logo item from our retail store, a gift card for dinner and so on. It didn't take long for our mug club to really take off and build serious affinity for the restaurant.

All these ideas increased the power of the brand as well the number of regular customers coming in the door and singing our praises.

As long as you’re going to be in the restaurant business, you should also be in the brand-building business. Creating affinity can be your secret weapon.

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