Want to learn how to become a restaurant that people return to time and time again? We asked San Francisco’s most prominent restaurateurs to share their best advice on getting customers to fall in love with their restaurants. Here’s what they had to say. 

Lana Porcello, owner, Outerlands

Credit: Rachelle Derouin

I would say creating a warm environment – time again, we hear from guests that they come back because they feel welcomed and remembered. We want our space to communicate to staff and guests alike, everyone who is participating in the service exchange that this is a place where you can feel at home.

Jennifer Bennett, owner, Zazie

Consistency of service and food! Becoming someone’s “go-to” place requires keeping things very much the same. Often, restaurateurs think they need to change the menu frequently to keep guests interested. I find it’s much the opposite – people want to come back to the same thing they had before: recognize the staff and feel at home and comfortable.

We change our menus seasonally, of course, but rotate through much the same things. Keeping your staff steady is also crucial – guest like to see the same servers/hosts on every visit and keeping consistency with your meals is only possible if the same guys are cooking it year after year (and you have a good, detailed recipe book).

Oh, and for god’s sake, keep consistent hours! Closing early because it’s slow or changing your hours throughout the year confuses and annoys people who want to be your regulars. People find us online – Yelp and Trip Adviser have made a huge difference in how people find restaurants. We don’t do any advertising.

Giovanni Joris, General Manager, a Mano

There is really no secret. I believe that the love for the industry will make diners love your restaurant as much as the people working in it love serving them, through transmitting their true passion for hospitality. It’s really about your passion for the product that can be felt by diners.

It is an everyday commitment and a team effort, so building excitement in your team is key. Once you become a popular restaurant, the pressure to do better and better grows. The key is to be focused on guests’ feedback and find a way for your team to put a collective effort in to growing and getting better at what we do on a daily basis, which is to provide an excellent dining experience that people are eager to talk about and want to go back to.

Anne Stoll, co-founder and oc-owner, Delfina

Credit: Eric Wolfinger

The secret is simple: craveable food, warm and genuine staff, and true hospitality. At Delfina (and all Delfina Restaurant Group restaurants – Delfina, Locanda, and our four Pizzeria Delfina locations), we create genuine connections with guests. Every night is like throwing a dinner party for friends and family.

Evan Kidera, CEO, Señor Sisig

What we do is make sure we treat everybody like family. That means creating a quality product, being consistent, good customer service and create an overall great experience. When you get to the front of the window, we want to make sure you feel like family because the food all comes from love.

It’s really encompassed around all that. It’s the passion and love behind it all. We don’t do any special marketing outside of the box, but we use social media tools and have been able to adapt with them as they’ve grown. Instagram, now being able to have pictures and videos, is a pretty strong tool – it’s like what Twitter used to be back in the day.

Gayle Pirie, chef/owner, Foreign Cinema

Credit: Ghost Media

The art of seduction is alive and well in our hearts and minds as restaurateurs. Getting guests to fall in love with Foreign Cinema is our foremost desired goal. We like to think of the whole Foreign Cinema experience as a seduction of sorts. Our guests are invited to escape from the daily grind, allow themselves to enjoy a mini-vacation.

This invite is enhanced by the natural environment of our location: the romantic and complex Mission corridor locale, the mysterious portal glass doors, the long walk down the hallway leading guests into the enchanted open courtyard, the open lively kitchen, the roaring fireplace, long, sexy bar; our art gallery, Modernism West, and DJ bar, Laszlo, is all quite unexpected, and we love that. We seek to continuously evolve and elevate the guest experience.

Our dynamic spaces must be continually evolving and harmonize effortlessly to create the vibe of a relaxing, happening spot, where food, drink, nourishment, and good times flow without an attitude. Our menu changes daily, with the best we can find in plant, animal and fish products, and that keeps the mood of our menu intimate, for such a large establishment as ours; we thrive on daily changes.

The oyster selection is a sense of pride and speaks to our commitment to the terroir of our regional gifts. The service we prefer is humble, genuine, and warm. We do not want to educate our diners. We prefer to follow the guests’ lead. Our cocktail menu is evolving at all times, as is the wine list.

Some 40 wines grace our by-the-glass program, ranging in prices for both ease and hard to find vintages, changes daily as well. The wine list is a point of pride with nearly 2000 bottles. We have arrived at this mindset after nearly twenty years in business with our hearts, preferring to give rather than receive, and keeping the experience generous.