Establishing a Restaurant Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are a great way to reward your most loyal customers. While these programs usually don’t lure in huge numbers of new customers, they are great for increasing the amount of business you receive from current customers. Loyalty programs are a great idea for just about any restaurant, so listen closely!

Loyalty programs boil down to treating the customer right. That might simply mean taking the time to learn a customer’s name or it could mean creating punch cards or installing a card scanning system to track customers and their purchases. With these more advanced systems if a customer racks up enough points or visits they will usually receive either a discount or a free item off the menu.

The Different Types of Loyalty Programs
While all loyalty programs center around treating the customer right and rewarding them for their repeat business, there are many different ways you can set up such a program. In the following section we will go over some of the basic methods and tools.

The Classic Punch Card.
The punch card system is one of the oldest and most widely used loyalty systems. Basically, customers are given a cardboard card, similar to a business card, and each time they come in they receive either a “stamp” or a “punch” on their card. After a predetermined number of punches the customer is treated to a free item off of the menu or another free gift, such as T-shirt. By giving away items like t-shirts you can even turn your customers into walking billboards!

The Loyalty Card.
Similar to the punch card but instead of dealing with messy punches and stamps, you simply scan the card. This can be done through most Point-of-Sale systems or you can purchase specialized loyalty software programs to take care of the tracking for you.

These systems can be used not only to track visits and purchases but also to store birthdays and even monitor consumer preferences. This allows you to give customers treats on their birthdays and to offer them special promotions featuring their favorite items. For example, maybe Michelle Jacks never orders any appetizers. This could prompt you to offer Ms. Jacks a free appetizer and should she find out she really enjoys it, she might by an appetizer during her next visit.

You can also reward customers after a certain number of visits or after they spend a certain amount of money.

Create a Card Filing System.
So what if you launch this awesome card based loyalty system but customers keep forgetting their cards? Well, one option is to create a filing system where you can hold onto the customer’s card for them. This might sound like a hassle but with the right alphabetical system it doesn’t create too much extra work. Best of all, customers are sure to appreciate you and your efforts. Of course if you have an electronic system you can probably do it all electronically which is even easier!

VIP Customer Rewards.
By using your customer rewards software you can track who your top customers are. Once you have a list of 10 to 20 “super customers” you should invite them for a free VIP dinner or offer other perks, such as a free party room reservation, or a branded coffee mug. This is a great way to make sure your very best customers are always taken care of!

Automated Rewards Systems.
Does all of the above sound like a hassle? Don’t feel like dealing with cards and stamps and everything else? You can also build your system around customer names or credit card numbers. This way you can skip the hassle of scanning and punching but reward customers all the same.

The basic idea is still the same, frequent customers should be given free gifts and perks. Automated reward systems help you build a strong relationship with your customer while avoiding the hassle of the aforementioned programs. And make sure you let customers know when they are getting close to earning a free gift or treat! This could get them back through your door more quickly.


Building the Database.
So now that you have all of this information coming in, what should you do with it? Build a database! This database can include things like email addresses and birthdays, which will help your rewards program and can also be used to support other campaigns, such as email marketing.

Give Options for Rewards
Loyalty programs are great. Unfortunately, they are so great that now just about every restaurant has one. In fact, the average customer belongs to somewhere between 7 and 10 reward programs How do you make yours unique? One option is to give customers more choice and control over their rewards.

Partnership & Network Awards.
A unique spin on the traditional award system, partnership awards involve teaming together with other businesses to offer joint award programs. This could involve a restaurant and hotel chain, for example, teaming up to offer both of their customers benefits to the hotel and the restaurant.

Or it could mean networking together with nearby businesses to create a sort of “reward zone.” For example, maybe your restaurant is located by the beach, along with numerous other shops, pubs, and other restaurants. You could team together with these businesses to create a “Village Beachside” reward program that will give customers a 10% discount at any “Village Beachside” businesses after so many purchases from any of the participating businesses.

The Random Gift.
While a bit more difficult to properly manage, one great idea is to simply give out random gifts to familiar faces from time to time. Maybe the same guy comes into your shop two or three times a week to buy coffee on his way to work. It’d be a great idea to offer him a free pastry out of the blue. You can also use your reward program to monitor how often customers visit and simply give them a gift if they are frequent customers. This method is great because it adds an element of surprise and can go a long way in building relationships with customers.

Reward Program
Festive Occasion gifts.
Giving your most loyal customers gifts on birthdays and holidays is a great way to show appreciation! Most tracking systems will allow you to easily put in the customer’s birthday and so when you see the special day approaching you can simply send them an email and let them know that their next cup of coffee or a free slice of cake is on you! You can also give New Year’s gifts and other such things to frequent customers.

Other Tips
Now that you have a good idea of what you can do to build a loyalty program we will give you some pointers for maintaining your rewards program.

Clear and Concise Guidelines
Make sure your reward program’s guidelines are easy to access and easy to understand. Many customers will want to read the fine print and that’s fine!

Make Sure Rewards Are Obtainable
A reward program that gives a customer a free cup of coffee after 100 visits isn’t going to attract a lot of people. Make sure the rewards occur frequently enough to entice customers!

Don’t Overuse General Discounts
The occasional “ten percent off” discount is okay, but don’t give those out too often or people will begin to doubt the value of your products! And when you do give general discounts it should be on special occasions. For example, you could give a 50% percent discount after the 50th visit.

Customer Specific Rewards
Does one of your best customers always order a slice of blueberry pie? That’s great, the next time she goes to order a slice, let her know that this slice is on the house! This shows that you pay attention to your customer and your customer gets one of their favorite items for free.

The Reward Should Fit Your Brand
If you are an expensive and formal restaurant then your gifts should also be expensive and formal. For example, maybe you can offer loyal customers a few free glasses of wine. If you run a pizza shop, on the other hand, then you could offer customers free home delivery on their next purchase. Either way your reward should fit in with your brand.

Use Points, Not Dollars
You don’t want customers to feel like it’s all about money, so don’t use money as the basis of your reward system. Instead use either a set number of visits or create a points system to track customers and their repeat business. Thus, if customers spend ten dollars they can receive 100 “points.”

Extra Rewards During Slow Hours
Are the afternoons from 2pm to 5pm slow for your business? If so, you can offer customers double points if they make purchases during these times! This fills up your seats during your slowest hours and gives the customers extra incentives.

As you can see launching an awesome rewards program is no easy task but if you carefully hone your program it can generate a ton of business! Follow the above guidelines and you will be well on your way to success!





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