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How to Fix the No. 1 Reason Your Customers Don’t Come Back

How to Fix the No. 1 Reason Your Customers Don’t Come Back

By David Scott Peters


Restaurant owners often think they’re losing customers because of the competition. But what if I told you that while you might be losing a few to competition, it only accounts for about 9% of lost customers? Let’s talk about all the reasons you lose customers, the number one reason 68% of your customers don’t come back and what you need to do to fix it.

The main purpose of the hospitality industry is to create memorable experiences for your guests. Everything we do on the restaurant floor is to successfully achieve this result. What is happening when customers don’t come back?

Here are the six main reasons why your customers don’t come back, finishing with the number one reason and what you need do to fix it.


No. 6 – 1% of your customers die. That is a sad reality of life, and this may affect some restaurants more than others, say if you serve a primarily elderly population. Do know that you’re going to need to replace customers just through that alone.

No. 5 ­– 3% of your customers move out of the area. Now, this could be as simple as getting a job completely across country or as simple moving from one side of the freeway to the other. Often, train tracks, freeways, bridges, things like that can be barriers that keep people on one side or the other. So even if it’s blocks away, it could change your customer’s pattern. This may not be anything to do with what you’ve done or not done, just that people move.

No. 4 – 5% find new interests or friends. This is a big one that we often don’t look at. For instance, when I was younger, I’d go to restaurants that had a bar component and maybe even just a bar, for that matter. As I got a little older, sports bars became more appealing, where I could hang out with my buddies, have a good time. Then when I had a girlfriend, we started going out to restaurants with couples and then as I had kids, we didn’t have any friends. No! Just kidding. When people get married, have kids, they change where they go. With kids you’re looking for speed and for an environment that adapts to kids. I’m sure you’ve had a similar experience as your life changed and it’s happening in your population as well.

No. 3 – 9% change for competitive reasons. This is the one you probably attribute more impact to than what is really happening. If a new restaurant opens down the street, independent or chain, people might try them out, but the truth is, if you do a good job in your restaurant, your customers are going to come back. Usually that loss is temporary unless you didn’t do a good job. And that’s where the top two reasons really come into play.

No. 2 – 14% of your customers don’t come back because they’re dissatisfied with the restaurant. This means poor service, poor food quality, temperature, portions, cleanliness, you name it. You did a bad job executing the restaurant experience or offering great hospitality and people didn’t want to give you another shot.

No. 1 – 68% of your customers don’t come back because they encounter an attitude of indifference or unconcern by one or more employees. For example, not hand-holding the customer such as pointing to where to go in the restaurant vs taking them there, or not giving customers the right of way and forcing them to jump out of the way when a bus boy with a big bin of dishes comes barreling toward them. Not caring to contribute to the guest experience and focusing more on the task at hand.


If you think about it, the number two reason was 14% of why your customers don’t come back and number one reason accounts for why 68% of our customers don’t come back. That number together is 82%, which means 82% of your customers don’t come back because of the people you have on your team. That means 82 out of every 100 customers don’t come back because of how your employees conducted themselves or how they’ve done their jobs – or not done their jobs.

How do you fix this 82%? Build a better training program. Training is critical. If you want to change, you need training. Your training should cover the basics from food safety to steps of service, hospitality and the idea that the customer comes first, that we’re all here for the guest, not for ourselves. If we do a good job for the guests, we make more money as employees, as a restaurant and as a whole. There’s no front of house vs back of house. We’re all here for one purpose: to take care of the guest.

If you do nothing more than tackle these two reasons and properly train your employees to fix them, your business will literally explode.

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