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Six Ways to Build Lasting Local Relationships and Create Customer Loyalty

For restaurants creating lasting relationships with guests could mean a major boost to the bottom line.

Restaurants are always going to compete for guests’ dollars, no matter how the economy is doing. Today, with the average consumer eating out nearly five meals a week, and spending on average $36.40 each time, creating lasting relationships with your guests could mean a major boost to your bottom line.

As a local restaurant, you have a competitive edge over chains because you can build relationships with your community from the inside out. Being a member of the community positions you to build stronger ties with local customers. Here are six great ways to show off your local pride, stand out from chains and national brands, and build a loyal following:

  1. Source local products

Partnering with local farmers and producers strengthens your ties to the community. Customers love seeing regionally sourced goods on the menu, too — a whopping 75 percent say they’re drawn to food that comes from their area. And the bonus? Your produce will be fresher and your offerings more environmentally friendly. Highlight your local partnerships through callouts on the menu, on a chalkboard map, or in tabletop signage.

  1. Make it a family affair

Your restaurant probably already hires from within the community — but going ultra-local by staffing family members creates a sense of home for everyone. When Dion Falzon bought Kelly’s Chic-A-Boom Room in Dunedin, Florida, he recruited his brother as chef, his mother to help with desserts and florals, his father to play music, and his cousin to serve as bar manager. This reflects the mom-and-pop nature of local businesses in Dunedin.

  1. Offer rewards that matter

Know what matters to your guests. Consumers want incentives that are flexible, convenient, and easy to earn. Supporting a local restaurant while earning travel points can motivate your guests to return often. You might, for instance, tap into a card-linked loyalty program that allows customers to seamlessly earn meaningful rewards with national brands that matter to them.

  1. Develop your local social media presence

Many of your customers follow restaurants and chefs online. Take advantage of the opportunity to engage them outside of four walls. Share specials through your community’s Facebook Groups, offer customer incentives for social media follows, and create staff takeover days on your Instagram account. Tell your story and show your restaurant behind-the-scenes — don’t be afraid to let your restaurant’s personality shine through.

  1. Add a local delivery option

Yes, it’s important to get guests in the door. But adding local delivery or pick-up as an option can create a whole new customer base and offer incentives to those who already are familiar with your food. Off-premise channels — delivery, take out, and catering — are anticipated to surpass $300 billion by 2023, trending toward becoming more than a third of all restaurant sales. This is a boom local restaurants can’t afford to ignore. If your restaurant doesn’t have the bandwidth to offer delivery, consider partnering with a third-party service.

  1. Join and support your community

Strengthen ties with current and potential customers by becoming engaged in the community. Join, and be active in, your local chamber of commerce. They’ll help you identify opportunities to build a strong local presence beyond your doors. You could set up a table at the farmer’s market, run a booth at a street fair, sponsor a Little League or other sports team, donate gift certificates to charity events, or cater an event at a nearby school. People are likely to see you as a loyal member of the community, and could be more inclined to reward your involvement by dining at your restaurant. 

By leaning into local relationships, you’ll develop a better bond with your guests and drive loyal, repeat business. Use the tips above to develop a local-first strategy that will cultivate loyalty with new and existing customers alike, elevate the brand of your restaurant, and ultimately increase sales.


Steve Fusco

About the Author
Steve Fusco is president of Rewards Network, a fintech company providing marketing, loyalty rewards programs, and capital for the restaurant industry.

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