Congratulations! You’ve visited ten times and now your eleventh purchase is free!
Does this sound familiar? Chances are, if your business has a loyalty program, you offer something similar to consumers dining at your restaurant. Once you’ve established your restaurant loyalty program, and customers are enrolling and earning rewards, how can you expand your consumer list?
Loyalty programs allow you to build and strengthen your relationship with consumers. A successful rewards system will encourage consumers to visit your restaurant more frequently, grow brand loyalty, and increase the amount consumers are spending per visit.
The types of loyalty programs you can develop for your restaurant is ever-growing. Perhaps the most simple rewards program is business stamp/punch cards. Larger, more complex systems often require consumers to earn points through purchases, mobile apps and social media. There is no one-size-fits all rewards program. Rather, finding the right system for your restaurant requires understanding your business’s goals and ability to manage the rewards program.
At its very core, your restaurant loyalty program is a marketing tool and must be able to adapt and grow with your business, trends and consumer wants. It’s important to make sure that the loyalty program you choose can easily be integrated into your current business plan and everyday operations.
Take time to evaluate your current rewards program and ensure that you are offering consumers the opportunity to earn rewards they want and can reasonably achieve. If you notice that your current program isn’t performing as well, never be afraid to upgrade or change it. As long as the structure of your loyalty program is simple to understand and consumers are capable of achieving rewards, you’re headed in the right direction.
Building and maintaining a relationship with consumers requires communication. In order to adapt your reward program to changing consumer wants and needs, you must check-in and see how your consumers are doing.
Start the communication process when customers enroll in your restaurant loyalty program. It is easiest to communicate with consumers through email and telephone, so start with that information first. You can also collect consumers’ birthdays and anniversaries for future promotions. From there, you can integrate your loyalty program communication into your automated marketing strategy.
Emails are a great tool for communication because you can vary the content and segment consumers based on their interests, consumption habits and demographics. It is also a great way to transfer rewards, coupons and other promotions to consumers because it can be accessed through their computer at home or on a mobile device.
When consumers enroll in your loyalty program, send them an automated thank you email. This can be followed up other emails to continue communication after the initial sign up:
Thank you’s after each visit that include the amount of points, visits or other means earned towards rewards
Periodic rewards statements (think of it like a bank or credit card statement)
Member’s-only promotions and offers
Birthday, anniversary and holiday offers
There’s no denying that the reach of the Internet far surpasses that of other mediums. As your restaurant expands and migrates to the web, you should adapt your restaurant loyalty program to go digital.
One of your biggest online assets is social media. Reward your consumers when they follow your restaurant on social media and interact with it online. For example, consider offering 10 percent off an order when consumers like your page on Facebook or share an experience at your restaurant on social media.
The best aspect of social media is that it promotes communication between consumers. Although word-of-mouth is considered a traditional marketing technique, it has proven to be one of the most effective both on the web and offline. Consumers respond best to content provided by other consumers (e.g. reviews, social media posts, etc.), which is easily found and shared on social media.
Some of the most successful loyalty programs offer rewards for referrals. Dunkin Donuts (DD), for example, bases their DD Perks Program through a mobile application. Consumers link a giftcard to their DD account and can reload money onto it.
Each purchase earns consumers points, which, once 200 are earned, can be used for a free drink of any size. Through the app, consumers can refer their friends, and for each referral sign up, earn a free drink.
The most important factor in a successful restaurant loyalty program is consumer happiness. You want to ensure that your loyalty program offers rewards that your consumers want. According to a Vantiv survey, when asked what types of rewards they liked best, consumers responded that:
79% liked discounts
71% liked cashback offers
70% liked rebates
62% liked the ability to earn status
Perhaps two of the best examples of this are Applebee's and Starbucks. In 2014, Applebee’s introduced its Applebee’s Perks Rewards Program, which allows consumers to earn points for rewards. When enough points have been earned, consumers receive an email with a coupon for free appetizers, desserts or other items. Customers can also earn cooking and bartending tips, access to special Applebee’s events, recipe books and more.
Starbucks, like Dunkin Donuts, utilizes a mobile application to manage their consumer loyalty program. Starbucks Rewards unleashed an updated system in 2016, which allows consumers to earn stars for each purchase and exchange them for free drinks. If consumers earn 300 stars in one calendar year, they move from green status to gold, which provides consumers with additional gold member-only perks and promotions.
Building a strong, successful restaurant loyalty program ultimately depends on your restaurant, business goals and consumers. It’s important to know your restaurant’s strengths and match them with a rewards program that will help you achieve your goals.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to start small and build up. Some of the most successful loyalty programs are the most simple. You need to know your consumers and provide them with offers, rewards and promotions that will encourage visits and increase sales. Once you’ve established a place in consumers’ minds, the only way to go with your loyalty program is up!