Treat the Loyal Like Royals

Treat the Loyal Like Royals

The Latest in Loyalty

Foodservice guests are looking for deals and freebies. In fact, two-thirds of them download restaurant apps and/or sign up for loyalty programs.1 Since so many of them are participating, at first glance it may seem like all operations should offer one to keep customers coming back. But, these programs need to be an intentional element of the marketing strategy—not just printing coupons and giving them out to anyone who passes through the doors.2 It’s also important to keep them relevant. In 2023, nearly 8 out of 10 companies are reevaluating what they’ve been doing and planning to revamp their loyalty programs in the next three years.3


Taking an intentional approach to loyalty programs starts with defining what successful programs are and what they aren’t. They are a structured approach to rewarding behaviors that benefit the company. These incentives can be discounts, rewards, free merchandise, exclusive access, and more.2 What successful loyalty programs are not is basic coupons or programs based only on transactional behaviors (i.e., earning points for purchases). In fact, 77% of such programs fail within two years of launch.4


Loyalty programs should be designed to maximize revenue at each interaction. Operators need to ask themselves what types of customers they are offering rewards to and why. They’ll need to consider how they want to build relationships with customers and how to make them feel appreciated.2 Taking the time to think about what keeps customers coming back and interacting with brands is critical. Gathering customer data helps create more relevant and personalized offers to drive customer retention and engagement.2 In addition, operators will want to keep track of what the loyalty programs are doing to their bottom line so that they’re cost effective.2


Once the outline of the loyalty program is designed, it’s time to figure out how to differentiate it from the competition. In foodservice, the concept of “surprise and delight” is taking programs beyond traditional discounts and points goals.4 While points accumulation is something consumers prefer, as well as the ability to understand and track them5, a surprise keeps them engaged. Here are three ideas for differentiating a loyalty program.

1. Offer a two-tier loyalty program with one that’s free and mainly centered around points. The other is paid like a membership and includes exclusive experiences along with opportunities to get free merchandise and perhaps first access to new menu items.2

2. Give guests chances to win. Even small things can help increase enrollment and engagement.2

3. Surprise guests with random rewards that encourage them to come back. These can be at the discretion of whoever is behind the counter to help build rapport beyond a traditional points system.2

Best Practices for the Best Guests

Whether you’re looking to start a loyalty program or you already have one but would like to make it more effective, here are the top tips for a successful program that will keep your guests coming back to you like boomerangs.

● Go easy. Don’t create barriers to joining by asking for too much information or making the online form too hard to fill out.6

● Be accessible. Allow customers access online, on mobile, and in person at the register or table.6

● Remember birthdays. Capture birthdates (month & day) on the sign-up form and reward loyalty program customers with a birthday gift.6

● Keep it fresh. Offer occasional surprise rewards to promote a limited-time offer, a new item, or to jumpstart engagement.6

● Tier up. Offer levels that incrementally increase reward values so that the more points the customer earns, the better the perks.6




1 The State of Restaurants: Demand, Price and a Race for Loyalty 9/22

2 NRN, 2022 (what makes a good loyalty program, building a better loyalty program)

3 Forbes, Global Customer Loyalty Report 2023, 4/14/23

4 NRN 6/26/23, Bringing a Twist to Points-Based Loyalty

5 2022 Gartner Consumer Priorities Research