The Secret To Creating Regulars

By Ben Leventhal
Co-founder and CEO of Resy, co-founder of Eater

At Resy, we are beginning to see statistically meaningful patterns in our data and we look for ways of using data to make our restaurants better. For example, we see that the most consistent restaurants in terms of daily covers are the ones with the highest percentage of seats filled by repeat customers. They also consistently rank in the top 50 of all restaurants on overall customer rating. And they’re really busy. In short, you want to be doing a lotof repeat business. So, then, what drives regulars? To figure this out, we teamed up with our friends at Renzell and looked at two very successful restaurants with very high repeat customer rates, both in the top 15 when all of our restaurants are ranked: I Sodi and Charlie Bird.

Renzell tracks guest experience data for 180 restaurants across NYC, SF and Chicago, 72 of which are in NYC. Renzell’s data is based on a proprietary panel of high-end diners vetted for their experience and lack of conflicts. Renzell then deploys an algorithm that uses each diner’s personal preferences to root out subjectivity and human bias. It’s Renzell’s deep understanding of diner preferences that allowed us to see the answer to our question in their data. 
Spoiler Alert: Charlie Bird and I Sodi have a lot of regulars because they make a very specific promise to guests and deliver on it relentlessly. To be clear, that’s not to say that everyone likes these restaurants. In fact, quite the opposite. We were surprised by how low some of I Sodi’s and Charlie Bird’s Renzell scores are. But, when we filtered the data to focus only on the guests that value the particular dining experience that these restaurants promise, their guest experience scores skyrocket.

A little more on Renzell: They tracks eight categories of the dining experience — cocktails, design, food, hospitality, service, wine, value and vibe. When you examine the digital footprint of Charlie Bird and I Sodi you quickly realize that Charlie Bird’s messaging focuses on Vibe and Wine and I Sodi’s on Food and Cocktails. These restaurants make a very specific promise to guests that if they value these aspects of dining they will enjoy their experience. And these two restaurants receive the highest guest experience scores among all New York City restaurants from guests whose preferences align with the restaurant’s promise.

Shortly after the restaurant opened in 2013, bartender Charlie Reyes took over the music selection and created a base of 14 playlists on streaming-music service Tidal, naming them things like Chicken and Barolo (Friday Dinner). He updates them with about an hour’s worth of changes a week. Mr. Reyes, 35, doesn’t shuffle songs randomly. Instead, he organizes playlists in phases, from somewhat mellow to most energetic, to correspond with the ebbs and flows of service through the evening…
Jonathan Heines, a 36-year-old strategist at UBS Wealth Management and a diner at Charlie Bird, was excited to hear music from A Tribe Called Quest, a high-school favorite of his, upon a recent arrival. “I wouldn’t come back here if the food wasn’t great, but you get the friendly bartenders, you get the great music, it’s an all-around good vibe,” he says.
Wall Street Journal
“The current food scene rewards egotistic gestures of novel techniques or ingredient pairings above rigorous devotion to tradition like Ms. Sodi’s. But there can’t be any doubt that she is one of the city’s great pasta practitioners when you eat I Sodi’s square little chestnut-filled chestnut-flour tortelli in a sauce of butter and grated cheese, or butter-slicked ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach under fried sage leaves, or spaghetti cacio e pepe, noodles that twirl up into your mouth with a wiggle, carrying a black-pepper bite that lingers on and on.”
 — New York Times

Charlie Bird and I Sodi not only deliver on their promises, they do it more than any other restaurant Renzell tracks. I Sodi’s overall guest experience scores are 18% higher when the diner lists either Food or Cocktails in their top three categories. When both are in the top three the scores jump by 26%. Charlie Bird’s numbers are even more pronounced. Its overall guest experience scores are 22% higher for guests that list either Vibe or Wine in their top three categories, and when both are listed the scores jump by 34%! Delivering on their promise correlates directly to generating regular diners, giving a clear indication of one of the keys is to a lasting establishment.

So how do you get regulars? There are probably many ways. But, actually, you don’t have to do everything well. You just have to do the things you say you’re going to do very well.

Resy is reinventing hospitality using technology. Read about our software here.