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How to build customer and brand loyalty for your restaurant

Published September 21, 2021

These restaurants created a loyal customer base using methods you can apply in your restaurant. Learn how.

Restaurants love their regulars. In addition to being a consistent source of revenue, they’re also often the nicest customers and best tippers to your staff. 

That’s why customers who are loyal to your brand should be rewarded, and the best way to do that is through a customer loyalty program for your restaurant. We spoke to a few restaurants around the country and dug a little deeper into why restaurant customer loyalty programs work.

Building brand loyalty for your restaurant

What are the key elements that create restaurant brand loyalty and how do you increase customer loyalty

The things that keep your regulars and new guests coming through the door are the same things that make any restaurant is successful: delicious food, friendly service and a pleasant atmosphere.

But these aspects alone may not guarantee a regular stream of customers coming in.  To encourage repeat business, it’s important for restaurants to market themselves to new guests, build loyalty with existing customers and create incentives for return visits. A lot of this can be accomplished through a restaurant customer loyalty program.

The key stages of brand loyalty

Brand loyalty refers to the way customers think about your restaurant. It’s all about perception. 

Meanwhile, customer loyalty depends on more tangible things, like quality food and service that’s consistent visit after visit.

So what’s the difference between brand loyalty and customer loyalty, and what does it mean for you? 

Diners who focus more on brand loyalty are willing to try anything on the menu, whereas diners who focus more on customer loyalty will come back time and again for the dishes they know and love. Both kinds of customers are worth having, but for the purposes of a customer loyalty program, focusing on what keeps visitors coming back is key. 

With this in mind, how do you approach a customer loyalty program?  The five key stages of customer loyalty are often touted by digital marketers as benchmarks to track the consumer journey, from how a customer hears about a restaurant or product all the way to the point of sale. The stages include:

  • Awareness - How did the customer find out about your restaurant or product?
  • Exploration - Where and how is the customer searching online for your restaurant?
  • Benefits - What is your restaurant offering that the competition isn’t?  What aren’t you offering that customers can get elsewhere?
  • Familiarity - What did customers think of your restaurant? Will they come back?
  • Commitment - How often will they come to your restaurant?  Weekly? Monthly? 

It’s fair to say that if you’ve made it to the Commitment stage, you’ve found a loyal customer.

At this point you can focus on getting the customer to your restaurant on a monthly basis or even more frequently. One of the best ways to do this is by implementing a customer loyalty reward program.

Building a fan base on social media

One of the best ways to cultivate a fan base is by leveraging social media.

Whether you’re working with a social media management company or having someone from your staff manage your restaurant's social channels, posting regularly  will drive engagement on your channels, which leads to a more dedicated fan base. 

One way to reward your fans on social is by leveraging the platform to make exclusive announcements so that your followers are the first to know about holiday specials, menu changes or upcoming events. Folks discovering you on social media are more likely to bring guests. Any dollar spent on paid promotions should lead to more sales. Check out our guide for using social media to connect with loyal customers.

Related: Are restaurant loyalty programs really customer focused?

The benefits of a customer loyalty app

Punch cards are a thing of the past. App-based ordering programs allow customers to easily pull up their regular orders and initiate pickup or delivery at the touch of a button, all while earning points towards their next meal. 

This technology also helped restaurants seamlessly transition to curbside, takeout and delivery services during the pandemic. 

Alex Brounstein, owner of Atlanta’s Grindhouse Burgers, said, “During the pandemic, our to-go orders went up and every time you order on our app it counts towards your loyalty, so it's very seamless for people. So I think now they like it whereas it used to be punch cards. Everybody's like, ‘Oh I forgot my card.’ Now on the app, you can scan your barcode at our register, so if it works well and it's easy, I think people like it. Ours is pretty straightforward: it's 10 visits and you get a free burger.”

How do you build brand loyalty for a restaurant? By doing what you do best and creating incentives for customers to keep coming back. Whether you’re focusing on growing your fan base through social media or using the key stages of brand loyalty to track the journey your customers take to reach your restaurant, there are many tools, approaches and strategies you can use to build up your customer loyalty program. For more great restaurant resources, head to

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