How do I retain existing customers?

You might know that I’m a big fan of spending time with Kay, my wife. We make a concerted effort every week to have, what we call, date night.

Sometimes, it’s date hours, but that’s not the point.  We consciously make an effort to plan it, schedule it and implement it.

It’s really important to me, so I make it happen.  It would be easier to bump it for other priorities (usually work), but we don’t do that. It’s occasionally tough, but it means I’m always reminded of one of the key reasons that I work and have a business.

After all, if I can’t prioritise Kay and not be prepared to work to schedule the time, I don’t really have an effective business.

Anyway, that’s not the point of this blog.  The point of this blog is an occurrence that happened during date night a couple of weeks back.

There’s a gastropub in the village, and we wanted to give it a try. We’d noticed that the food they were serving was a “make it yourself at the table” type thing.


So we booked a table and popped along.

First impressions…

The first thing we noticed is that outside the pub were a bunch of lads having a few beers after work on a Thursday evening. That’s fine – it’s a pub.  They were a group of obviously local tradesmen.  Again not a problem, why should it be?

We go in, and it was really lovely. It had proper wooden floors and simple but cosy decor.  We could see there were tables through the back tucked away in the restaurant area and tables in the bar area as well.

We were met by really friendly and attentive staff who,  although young, were efficient and smiley—everything you want for a lovely relaxing evening for a couple.

The girl looking after us showed us to a table by the window and took us through the menu.  The concept was really cool.  You pick steak, fish, veg and they bring it to you on a volcanic slab so you can cook it yourself at the table.

It’s an entertaining thing to do as it creates an interaction with the food and each other.  We loved it.

Our waitress looked after us without bothering us.  She took the time to explain how everything worked; that the stones were hot (obviously but good to be reminded) and that the chips and salad were unlimited – better and better.

It was also really pricey.  I suspect some people would say “if you’re going to charge this much for a steak, at least cook the bloody thing first”.

We don’t mind.  Some people spend their money on cars or bigger houses or expensive shoes; we spend ours on excellent food in lovely places.

And this was really good.

What the customer wants

But… the kind of people who spend that sort of money on food will want to eat in an atmosphere that is congruent with the quality of the food.  We were seated by the window, and all we could hear while trying to have a quiet conversation was the swearing and coarse conversation of the group of lads outside.

Now, wait…

Don’t get me wrong.  Any of you who’ve been out with me, especially watching QPR, will know I can throw expletives around like Jessica Ennis-Hill throws a javelin.

This isn’t about them.  In fact, I’d have happily rocked up at that pub, introduced myself and got involved.

This is about the pub getting it wrong. They’ve got this really lovely food concept, but the restaurant is plopped in the middle of a local.

Again, that’s fine, but they don’t understand that they are tapping into two completely different markets.

Consider all your customers

All they had to do was give us the option of sitting in the restaurant area at the back.  After all, we’d dressed up a bit and had clearly made an effort.  We weren’t wearing torn jeans with paint all over them. I’d even combed my hair.

By not giving us that choice and assuming or directing us to the front, they changed the whole dynamic of the evening for us.

I could tell Kay was uncomfortable.  I found it tough to focus as I was partly listening to the football conversation going on behind me, and it was actually quite difficult to hear her.

She’s not a snob, but this was supposed to be date night.  We could have asked to move, but that’s like admitting you’re maybe a bit snobby?

It just didn’t feel right.

It meant that we rushed a little. It meant we didn’t have dessert or an extra drink after our meal.  The frustrating bit was watching other people come in and being shown to the back of the restaurant where it was quiet and intimate.

We want to go back.  The food was lovely, but instead of thinking about the food, we’re talking about how they got that bit wrong. I’m even writing about it.

Don’t be lazy…

The trouble is that they made assumptions and didn’t give us a choice.  They assumed that the two clientele mixed.  Maybe they didn’t even think about the fact they have different clientele.

It’s lazy.

It’s a shame as they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into the product, service and the decor.  The food is all locally sourced and organic – hence the pricing. They’ve even thought about the experience of cooking it yourself.  But they’ve not gone far enough.

All they had to do was ask.  Find out what their customers wanted and give it to them. That’s what we would want.  They didn’t even give us the opportunity for feedback after the meal, which means they still don’t know what we want.

It’s a shame as it’s a great concept and the food was spectacular.

Don’t assume you know best!

I see this all the time, simple things to implement that are not being done by business owners.

Worse, I keep coming across business owners who make assumptions that they know best.  This isn’t about whether the ‘customer is right’.  This is about whether the customer is valued.

This is about taking time out to ask the right questions, or perhaps just one question, to find out what your customers think, feel and want, and give it to them.

Asking questions creates opportunity – all you have to do is ask (and implement). Will we go back?  Well over the weekend, Josie asked me that question.

My answer?

“Not anytime soon.”


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