The Right Way to Start a Loyalty Program

Restaurant loyalty programs have gotten a bad rep in recent years. Many people have advised restaurants not to use these programs at all, as most programs fail. However, having repeat business at a restaurant is vital for its success, and loyalty programs can help businesses achieve more regular customers than without a program in place and incentivize them to come in more frequently. Instead of skipping over the entire rewards concept, create a refined program your customers will love – we will show you how.

Loyalty programs are put in place to incentivize your regular customers to return again and again. When designing your loyalty program, ensure the program has easily defined rewards. If you say that 15 points equals two dollars in rewards, and every 10 dollars equals a five dollar gift card, the calculation process becomes more difficult than the reward is worth it. Instead, make the reward easy to understand. A program that offers a 15% discount on the 10th visit, or a 50 dollar gift card after spending 500 dollars requires no thinking on the consumer’s part and gives them a clear incentive to return.

If you want a more elaborate loyalty program that rewards customers who spend more, look to Chick-Fil-A’s tiered membership. The program is tracked with an app, and rewards members more points per dollar spent once they reach new tiers based on how much they have spent throughout the year. The rewards are still clear-cut and convenient for customers while enticing them to spend more to save more.

Give Your Customers Options

A sushi restaurant that offers free edamame after five visits may be a great promotion for some customers. But for those who do not care for the popular Asian legume, the incentive is as good as no incentive at all. Instead, give your customers the option to choose an appetizer of their choice. Another option is to give different incentives for incremental visits. So, edamame may be a five visit incentive, but a free sushi roll is a fifteen visit incentive. This gives the customer more options and more reasons to continue to return.

Some loyalty programs offer to keep rolling your points towards a better prize or cash out your points for something small. For instance, say your customer has 10 points and can get a free drink, or they can choose to stack up those points to 100 for a free entrée instead.

Use Technology to Your Advantage

At this point, flimsy, easily lost loyalty punch cards should not be in your restaurant’s vocabulary. There are too many easy-to-use websites and mobile apps that make calculating points and incentives a breeze. Consider apps like SpotOn or Belly, where a customer simply checks into a restaurant via a mobile app to gain points. Both the customer and restaurant can then view how many check-ins they have, and what they need to get a reward.

Because restaurant-goers are more apt to use an app than a website to use their loyalty rewards, having an app in place can help boost your enrollment. App-based loyalty programs drive clients to share socially, interface on unique events, acquire customized rewards, and get benefits without expecting to acquire endless punch cards and keep them on hand at all times.

Apps for Loyalty Members and How They Work

Lavu’s Loyalty App

The Lavu loyalty platform powers exquisite, all-inclusive loyalty programs to enchant customers to return again and again. The program features benefits such as pay-in-app and prepaying for meals for loyalty members, saving them time and hassle.  Customers also have the option to check-in to your location through the app to earn loyalty points. The program is flexible enough to work with existing email lists, CRMs, and payment gateways that your restaurant already has in place. Using our loyalty program integrated with our already extensive reporting system in conjunction with our POS will help you get to know your customers better and upsell their favorite items to them.


Belly’s restaurant loyalty program enables customers to access multiple loyalty programs in one app. By joining their network your business and loyalty program will be visible to local shoppers who haven’t visited your eatery in the past, expanding your reach beyond customers who are already loyal to your business. Using their integrated app loyalty program also provides added benefits such as automated email marketing, Facebook integrations, and customer list builders. The reporting provided through their platform allows you to analyze the success of your programs and adapt changes.

Spot On

SpotOn has devoted a long time to creating and idealizing a reliability prizes program planned explicitly for private companies. They offer multiple options to service your loyalty members. The SpotOn client achievement group will work with you to set up an equipment arrangement that is streamlined for your business needs and the sort of program you need to run. Spot on offers engaging apps to track loyalty points, and also provides marketing suited to your food-service business’s loyalty program.

Use Customer Data to Gain Insights into Your Regulars

Having a loyalty program can have many advantages, aside from repeat business. In particular, a loyalty program can give you insights into your most frequent guests’ age, sex, and the type of menu items they enjoy.

While with your restaurant’s POS system, you can see trends in items being ordered off the menu; with a loyalty program, you will receive more detailed reporting. Take your digital data to the next level by utilizing this information to make the most of your menu and your loyalty program. Combining a POS system with an integrated loyalty program will show optimized reporting that gives you a more in-depth look at customer profiles in order to cater to their wants and needs.

 If you discover, for instance, that your most loyal customers are women ages 21-35, adding a ladies’ night with discounted beverages may help you to further leverage that audience. The data from these programs will also help you to analyze how many customers return, and how many customers actually use their rewards.

 If you find that customers are not using their rewards, you may want to modify the reward incentives. A good place to start when considering any reward modification is to speak to your most loyal base. For instance, you could send a survey to all loyalty members asking their thoughts on the current program. When doing so, be sure also to offer some sort of incentive for filling out the survey, such as a free appetizer or five dollars off their next purchase. This should help increase the number of participants in the survey, and in turn, give you a better idea of your customers’ desire.

You have seen these types of surveys used by fast-food companies for a free burger, shake, or fries, and these companies don’t even offer a loyalty program in most cases. Don’t let their shortcomings be like yours, instead take advantage of the perks of a loyalty program while combining that with the information a short survey can provide while offering a low-cost menu item in return. Giving an option of more than one item to “win” for participating in the survey can also prove valuable results when trying to see which item is liked more.

Don’t Forget Birthdays

Many restaurants have thrown in the towel with birthday rewards for loyal customers. But here’s the thing, many customers love them. Make your customers feel extra special during their birthday month by offering special promotions during that month. This type of incentive is sure to work in your restaurant’s favor, as over 70 percent of people visit restaurants during their birthday, and tend to spend more when visiting than any normal day. /

Celebrate the Holidays with Loyalty Members

Celebrating holidays with your customers and loyalty members makes them feel connected to your brand. Adding in awareness months and lesser celebrated holidays shows which issues your restaurant stands up for and can build loyalty with your customers. Take a page out of Wendy’s book, who offer discounted Frostys during National Adoption Month and take a stand year-round to help children in foster care. Find the cause that speaks to your organization and get your customers excited to celebrate the holidays at your establishment.

Give your loyalty members incentive to visit you during the holidays such as a free drink with their meal. Doing so will get them in the door on days when they feel the most giving and ready to spend.

Popular Holidays to celebrate with customers

  •   New Years
  •   Valentine’s Day
  •   St. Patrick’s Day
  •   Mother’s Day
  •   Father’s Day
  •   Fourth of July
  •   Veteran’s Day
  •   Thanksgiving
  •   Christmas

Awareness Months, weeks, and lesser-known Holidays to get your customers excited to visit:

  •   January: Poverty in America Awareness Month, Healthy Weight Awareness Month
  •  February: Pride in Food Service Week   Feb. 3, – Feb. 7, American Heart Association Month
  •  March: National Peanut Month, National Nutrition Month, Women’s History Month
  •  April: Donate Life Month, Earth Day Apr. 22, Stress Awareness Month
  •  May: National Barbecue Month, Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
  •  June: Dairy Month, Women’s Healthcare Month
  •  July: National Culinary Arts Month, National Family Reunion Month
  •  August: World Breastfeeding Week    Aug. 1 – Aug. 7
  •  September: National Food Safety Month, Healthy Aging Month
  •  October: Vegetarian Awareness Month, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Book Month
  •  November: Adoption Awareness Month, American Diabetes Month
  •  December: Drunk Driving Awareness, Hanukkah

Offer Unique Rewards to Your Most Loyal Customers

Follow the footsteps of hyper-successful restaurants like Starbucks and TGI Fridays by giving your VIPs access to unique rewards. Allow your most loyal customers the opportunity to come in for a complimentary tasting of your new fall menu, or to have a cocktail named after them. This allows customers to feel like they are more than just a number, and incentivizes them to continue to come back.

Get personal with their reward choices by letting them pick their favorite type of dish, and earn points towards receiving a free pasta if that’s what they choose. Maybe your customers love a certain tea you offer, giving them choices for their loyalty rewards will provide insight to what your loyal customers want to see more of on the menu, as well as keep them coming back.

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