A new customer costs a business up to 25X more than an old customer returning. A loyal customer tends to order more and spend more time in your restaurant – and besides that, they bring their friends and relatives, saving your marketing budget.
Ninni Barone and Angelo Barbera came to Denmark in 1977 and six years later they opened Ristorante Nino e Franco in Copenhagen. Inspired by traditional southern Italian and Nordic cuisine, they created a favorite place for several generations of Danes. Especially for the Workee blog they have shared their tips on how they have retained their customers over almost 40 years.
1. Personal Touch
“Of course, my friend! №. 27 will be waiting for you, as will all of us.” Ninni hangs up the phone and puts the “reserved” sign on one of the tables. “Our old client. He and his wife have been coming to our restaurant for many years and already know the numbers of all the tables. Their favorites are 27 and 7.”
Ninni sees the guests through the window and waves a greeting to them.
“We often meet our guests near the entrance. We usually shake hands or give hugs – always absolutely sincerely. Over so many decades they’ve become our friends and guests who are always welcome.” Ninni greets a couple who have just arrived. He says it’s one of the most important points of customer retention. “Guests should know that they are always welcome here.”
“Angelo and I worked together in a Sicilian restaurant. We used to watch how guests kissed the cooks after the meal – that’s how they expressed their gratitude for delicious food and a warm welcome. We loved that friendship with customers, which was built over the years and was absolutely extraordinary. We wanted to create the same atmosphere here in Denmark.”
Ristorante Nino e Franco looks like a traditional Italian restaurant. Walls, furniture, interior, music – everything here is reminiscent of the restaurant owners’ home: Sicily.
“We have about 40 people a day coming here, and about 1000 a month. We love chatting with our guests, getting acquainted with them and asking if they like everything,” Ninni tells us. A minute later he goes over to some other guests and after a warm hug clarifies: “As usual?” They don’t need the menu, as they have been ordering the same dishes for years.”
2.Outstanding Customer Service
Ninni started working at the restaurant when he was 20 years old. At first he was a dishwasher, then he worked as a bartender, and after that he was cooking pizza. He and his partner Angelo are sure: to provide excellent service, you should be ready to do any work at any time.
“Sometimes we have a big group arriving unexpectedly. Both Angelo and I can work as waiters or cooks anytime – the main thing is not to make guests wait. Most of the restaurant staff have been working here for many years. For example, our cook. He is Italian and has worked here for more than ten years,” says Ninni. “It’s also important for our regular guests to come here and meet the same people who are always glad to see them. Over the years they have become friends with whom we can drink wine and chat. They feel like they belong to this place.”
The main visitors at the restaurant are local residents and employees of the nearby university and hospital.
“There’s a family that lives not far from here where four generations have been guests at our restaurant,” Ninni smiles. “Firstly a father came to us with his sixteen-year-old son in 1984, and after some time the boy had his own son, who has now grown up and become a dad too. I can’t even describe my emotions when he came here for the first time with his little son. Four generations, unbelievable!”
Ninni’s wife Olga joins the conversation.
“And recently a young man came here with his girlfriend on their first date. It turned out that twenty years ago his parents came here for their first date and sat at the same table. At moments like these you feel a special connection with your visitors,” Olga tells us.
But it’s not only happy moments that make them close to their customers.
“Last summer an American came for dinner with us. It turned out that he and his wife were travelling on a cruise ship when she had a stroke. She was hospitalized nearby,” Olga says. “He was coming here every day and was really depressed. We knew that he was absolutely alone in a foreign country and it was important for us to support him, at least having a little chat with him. I think he came to us not only to have dinner but also for some moral support.”
The inspiration for the food art at Ristorante Nino e Franco is traditional southern Italian cuisine. Food art and food traditions have been carefully preserved for decades, with recipes from both Ninni’s and Angelo’s fathers being further developed and adapted to taste.
“We always serve food made from fresh ingredients, at reasonable prices – that’s a simple secret of customer retention,” Ninni says. “The most popular dishes are tornado with truffles [tender meat tenderloin with truffle sauce] and antipasti – we make it with shrimps, peach sauce, fish, vitello tonnato and bresaola.”
Ninni tells us that customers’ tastes have changed over the years. “And we must take that into account on our menu, otherwise people would go to some other place to eat. For example, a few decades ago tiramisu wasn’t so popular, but it is now. People are happy to order carpaccio, dishes with rucola, all kinds of canapés.”
“We carefully monitor what people order – it is important to adjust the menu,” Ninni continues. “My professional habit is to remember everything that regular customers order, but not only them. Ten years ago a German and world football star Rudi Völler came to us and I still remember that he ordered very spicy spaghetti with bacon and cheese.”
4.Loyalty Programs and Offers
At Ristorante Nino e Franco, regular clients get discounts of up to 20% depending on their average check. For those who usually have dinner out, it’s an additional reason to come to the restaurant again. A 15% discount works for those who order takeaway food.
“From time to time we post advertisements on social media – for instance, we offer a 25% discount for a group of people if they come tonight or tomorrow. Of course, people like it. Besides, they usually bring friends and relatives who often become our customers too. So, it works,” Ninni resumes.
Ninni and Angelo recommend keeping information about their regular clients’ food preferences and about dates that are important to them.
“For instance, we save information about their birthdays, and when they come on this special day, we always give them a present – a bottle of wine. That gives a positive impression and warm feelings they will remember.”
5.Gathering Customer Feedback
“The most important source of information for you as a restaurant owner is your own clients. Listen to them, ask them questions. You can’t even imagine how many important details you can miss. But if you are attentive it will always be rewarded,” Ninni advises. “Once our client from northern Italy finished his dinner and suddenly started to sing really well, like Pavarotti. People were surprised and I was too. But he said, “I had a good day and now I have had a very good dinner. So, I just want to thank you for that.” That’s really touching.