Building customer loyalty for restaurants is the key to modern restaurant branding. Traditional advertising strategies that emphasize talking points and catch phrases only work if diners tune-in. Customer loyalty has become harder to build because people have so many choices and exposure to advertising over their computers, televisions and cellphones. Bridging the trust divide takes personal interaction between restaurants and their customers. Great stories and dialogs stimulate the imagination, strengthen loyalty, provide valuable information and encourage customers to support local eateries.

Restaurateurs can ignite publicity, generate interest among regular customers and targeted prospects and strengthen customer loyalty by providing entertaining back-stories about signature foods and beverages.

Sharing Socially Generates Intimacy and Trust

Answering diners’ questions—even if the answers are unfavorable to the restaurant—helps a restaurant or bar become a big part of its customers’ lives. Restaurant websites that answer questions honestly receive higher rankings—if not with all search engines, then certainly with customers. Telling a human-interest story that exposes both the warts and beauty marks proves to customers that a restaurant is human and satisfies people’s desire for inside information. Telling a good story to strengthen loyalty and inspire social sharing might take the following forms:

Biographical Human Interest

Biographies of restaurants, founders, chefs, popular servers and unsung-hero staff members are tremendously popular with people. Controlling the restaurant’s story involves creating a narrative that generates interest, entertains or even scandalizes customers in a pleasant way.

Food and Nutrition Information

Informational stories might include how-to instruction on choosing or eating lobster and shellfish or comparisons between dry and wet rubs in barbecue cooking. Depending on the restaurant’s cuisine and clients, useful stories might involve making dark roux for gumbos and etouffées, smoking meat until it’s fall-off-the-bone tender, substituting ingredients for special diets or reducing calories and fat from traditional favorite foods. How-to-cook stories persuade people to try recipes but also encourage more sales of the items despite telling customers how to cook the foods at home.

Useful Information

Restaurants aren’t confined to food topics when providing useful information. In fact, restaurants can provide community information, write about the charities that they support, advocate political points-of-views or espouse favorite local or national causes. The only caveat is that restaurants should try to avoid supporting positions that aren’t popular with most of their base customers.

Behind-the-scenes Looks

At one time, people didn’t want to know where the sausage came from or how it was made. Open kitchens have gained popularity, and new cooking shows on cable television and the Internet have raised the culinary arts to celebrity status. Today, diners want to know how their foods are made, the restaurant’s history and something about the culture of ethnic cuisines and specialty dishes. Detailed stories about food preparation find an eager audience.

Sustainability, Organic Food and Local Sourcing

Stories about organic food, local suppliers, nearby food industries and area farms have become incredibly influential with restaurant patrons. Relocalizing the food chain has become mainstream across the country, and national chains—traditional supporters of big agribusiness—now use more local suppliers and support the evolving trend. Stories about local farms, dairies, orchards or meat manufacturers generate publicity for the restaurant and supplier and create opportunities for cross-promotions.

Transparency Earns Respect

Years of horror stories about restaurant practices—some true and some not—influenced today’s culture of greater transparency and accountability. Restaurant transparency is the best way to counter unflattering reviews, criticism and mistaken or malignant comments made online.

Human brains are wired to appreciate a good story, and people love to share interesting tidbits, whether they come from sustainable ingredients or trustworthy informational sources. Restaurants occupy a rarefied position where they can take advantage of both kinds of tidbits. Restaurants that tell a good yarn inspire loyalty, encourage social sharing and sell more tidbits, appetizers, soups, entrées and desserts.

Photo: “Customer Loyalty Crossword On White Background” by Jeanne Claire Maarbes from