Increase loyalty for your restaurant with a robust incentive program

Published March 27, 2021

This year has really tested restaurant owners’ and operators’ customer loyalty—the backbone to the success of every restaurant. And with many restaurants adjusting their operations by adopting more off-premise services, adding more outdoor dining, closing at least for a few weeks and changing store hours there was a lot for your customers to keep up with. But hopefully as you adjusted your operations you were able to reconnect with your loyal customers and re-build relationships that keep them coming back. For restaurants that are still in the process of getting their loyal customers to come back, here are some tips.

So what are the key components of a successful loyalty program?


Decide which type is best for you and your customers

Keeping in mind that today’s loyalty program should focus on engaging your customers, there are many types to choose from.

Adding up the points. One of the most common loyalty programs gives customers points for purchases. When they reach a certain number of points, they get a reward. There are a couple of key things to keep in mind with a point system.

First, make sure you really give them something they truly value. Do you have an item that they always order, maybe a signature dish they love to tell their friends and family about? Giving them a free item could be the perfect reward after they’ve earned a certain number of points. On the other hand, if, after months of accumulating points, they’re rewarded with something they don’t want or value it could affect their adoption and their loyalty.  

Second, have a good tracking system and frequently let them know how many points they have. It’s a great way to stay connected with them and good communication will strengthen your loyalty program and should increase the amount of times they visit your restaurant.

Celebrating special days of the year. A lot of customer loyalty programs give customers something on their birthday—and often during the month of their birthday, but why not go further and help them celebrate other milestones? Some examples are: anniversaries (from wedding to the date of their first meal with you), graduations, holidays, new jobs and moves (It’s been a year since they moved to your city? Let them know you care). The biggest advantage of this type of program is the personalized component. When you mark their important dates you’re showing them that you care. And when they get something for free on top of that, you’ll be making loyalty strides. Of course, you’ll need to ensure that any personal information they provide you can be used for these purposes.

Give them an experience. Consumers, especially millennials and Gen Z’s, value experiences. So, you could build a plan that offers them something unique that other customers don’t get. For example, a chef’s tasting menu—that gives customers a more personalized sampling at the chef’s discretion.  Or how about a virtual cocktail mixing class with tailored recipes and 20 screens to share with your customer’s crew? The element of surprise will drive them to order more to get that reward. And when you make the experience amazing your customers, especially millennials, are likely to share their experience with a social post—strengthening your mutual connection.

Other rewards to consider:

  • Preferential treatment—Busy day of the year? Give them the chance to make reservations before other customers
  • Set times—Give your customers rewards using particular times like “this week” or “for the next five days” or “over the weekend”
  • Create something unique—Why not do a mixture of various loyalty program types to delight your customers in many ways? Use your imagination and knowledge of what your customers like to guide you.

Tell them about it!

You can put together the best customer loyalty program that blows your competitor’s out of the water, but if you don’t let your customers know about it, it won’t mean a thing. And, it’s never been easier to contact them. With all the ways they now share their personal information it’s not difficult to create a customer database. But keep in mind that trust is still key for your customers so it’s important to let them know what information you’re collecting and how it will be shared. Big Hospitality offers some general guidance how to manage data collection for restaurants.

While you’re busy creating your robust customer database, make sure you communicate with your existing and new customers. Put together a teaser marketing campaign to let them know that something new is on the way. Are you sure that you have some of the best steaks in town? Tell them you are ‘staking’ your reputation on it and include an additional offer (money back guarantee, free side dish or dessert).

Make it social. Once you’re ready to roll out a new or updated customer loyalty plan, use social media to generate excitement. Yes, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are still the big guys, but other popular social media apps and sites shouldn’t be over looked. For example, Nation’s Restaurant News says restaurants should get in on the TikTok action. Just look at what Chiptole, with their “Less Tok, More Guac” TikTok tagline, has done. With over two million likes and 212,000 followers, they’re upping their customer engagement game. Last year for Halloween they used the hashtag #Boorito for a contest that rewarded “directors” of the top five most liked TikTok videos with free Chiptole for a year (the top video got over two million likes and the hashtag was huge hit with more than three billion views). 

Keep track of how it’s going

Once you have a clear customer loyalty program plan and have gotten the word out, you’ll want to make sure that it’s being adopted. A loyalty app is a good way to gauge that, plus it’s your customers preferred way to engage with your program—plastic, and punch cards, are becoming a thing of the past.

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