10 Restaurant Loyalty Programs Ideas for Small Businesses [2020]

table full with food

Whether you’ve just recently opened a restaurant or have been in operation for many years, the downturn in practically every industry that has been brought about by COVID has made it difficult for all types of businesses to stay open. To make sure that your restaurant survives in the current economy and eventually thrives in a post-COVID world, it’s recommended that you create a loyalty program that will provide your customers with numerous rewards. When implemented correctly, these programs are known to increase customer loyalty, boost customer conversion rates, and push customers to spend more. However, it’s important that the restaurant loyalty program you create is appealing to your customers and provides them with the kind of rewards they would want from a rewards program.

10 Customer Loyalty Program Ideas for Restaurants You Should Look Into

The two core principles of creating a customer loyalty program include reinforcement and reward. When a customer’s behavior is rewarded, they are more likely to continue doing business with your restaurant. The decision that they make to continue providing you with their business should be reinforced with additional rewards along the way. The following details 10 of the top loyalty program ideas that you can integrate into your business.

1. Reward Networks

Among the more popular loyalty programs that restaurants can take on are reward networks, which are very similar to the loyalty point system with the main difference being that the program will be handled by a network. Restaurant directories are responsible for handling the network of restaurants, which means that you won’t need to do much work to provide your customers with rewards.

The main issue with using a network-based rewards system is that some customers will become loyal to the overall network as opposed to individual restaurants. There’s always a possibility that your restaurant would be overlooked even if the network was relatively popular. Keep in mind that rewards programs don’t support any dine-in loyalty programs. If you don’t want to do the work to create your own loyalty program, joining a reward network might be among the best restaurant loyalty programs ideas available to you.

2. Loyalty Points

Likely the most effective loyalty program is the provision of loyalty points when customers spend their money at their preferred establishments. The points that you provide to these customers depend on how much they spend at your restaurant. Higher bills equate to a higher number of points that they receive. These programs are considered to be the most effective because customers will sometimes spend more money to receive additional points that they can eventually use to obtain rewards.

You could also think about providing more reward points than usual with a customer’s first visit, which could entice them to continue doing business with your restaurant. Customers who become loyal to your restaurant will earn more points and more rewards, which is a good incentive for these customers as long as the rewards you provide are sufficient. Make sure that you pair this loyalty program with some stylish branding if you want the program to be successful. If you currently maintain a customer database and would like to grow this database, loyalty points are highly beneficial.

3. Tiered Loyalty Programs

If you want your rewards program to increase customer loyalty while also bringing in more first-time customers, a tiered loyalty program may be the way to go. First-time customers will sign up because of the overall simplicity of this type of program. You will also gain more loyal customers who continue to provide you with their business because they can obtain better rewards by doing so. While you could include any tiers you want, a great way to introduced different tiers is by separating these tiers into categories for different numbers of orders.

Customers could earn a small number of points for their first few orders and more points for any additional orders. By offering tiers of rewards, you should be able to convince prospective and current customers to continue dining at your restaurant and ordering food online while COVID is ongoing. This is one of the restaurant loyalty programs ideas that accommodates customers who want to order food online or dine in.

4. Referral Programs

No matter what type of loyalty program you create, it’s highly recommended that you pair it with a referral program, which can help you increase the number of customers who decide to order from your restaurant. Customers invariably recommend the good experiences that they have to their close friends and family members.

While providing your customers with great food and easy ordering will assuredly get some of your customers to refer your restaurant to their friends, adding a referral program provides an additional incentive to do so. You should provide rewards to your customers for referring your restaurant to new customers. When you implement this kind of loyalty program, you’re helping to create positive word-of-mouth that has tangible rewards supporting it.

5. Discounts and Free Items for Special Days

If you decide to use a tiered loyalty program or any type of reward program that allows you to build a customer database, one type of loyalty program that you can add to your rewards is the inclusion of free items/discounts for special days during the year. For instance, you can provide customers who are a part of your loyalty program with a discount or free menu item to celebrate their birthday or wedding anniversary. While this particular program can only be used a few times each year, it helps to foster more loyalty with your customers.

6. Free Delivery

While COVID is ongoing, it’s important that your loyalty program offers rewards that can be used by customers who order online. Free delivery is a great way to entice customers to order food from your restaurant. However, it’s recommended that you don’t offer free delivery for every order. Instead, you could offer free delivery if the customer orders a certain amount of food. For instance, free delivery could be available to all orders over $25. You could also provide free delivery to customers who have obtained a specific amount of points. This type of loyalty program should be an add-on for a broader rewards program.

7. Digital Restaurant Loyalty Program

When searching for the right customer loyalty program ideas for restaurants, a top consideration should be to make sure that your loyalty program is a digital one. Plastic loyalty cards no longer appeal to the modern customer and will be particularly unpopular during COVID. Any loyalty program that you create should include a paperless option where customers can earn rewards even when they don’t have a physical card. The program that you create can run through emails, text messages, and a mobile application that represents your restaurant.

8. Focus on Promoting Your Loyalty Program

No matter which of these restaurant loyalty programs ideas you decide to use, it’s essential that you heavily promote them once you introduce the programs to the market. Along with making sure that you provide rewards for referrals, it’s also recommended that you promote the loyalty program online via other forms of local online marketing.

You might want to think about doing some cross promotion with a local business in your area or an online influencer, which may help you reach a wider audience. Even the best restaurant loyalty programs ideas require substantial amounts of promotion to gain long-term success.

9. Experiential Rewards

Whether you create a point-based loyalty program or another kind of rewards program, one type of reward that you can offer is an experiential reward, which provides members with rewards that go further than standard transactions. These rewards can provide your customers with unique experiences that they may not have easy access to.

For instance, you can provide your loyal customers with early access to new menu items if they have a certain number of points. If your restaurant hosts any events in the future, members could enter the event for free. While experiential rewards may be difficult to create, they can help you provide customers with experiences that they can’t get with other restaurants.

10. Secret Menu

If you decide to create a restaurant loyalty program that’s based on reward points, one of the higher reward tiers could be centered around a secret menu, which is popular at restaurants like Shake Shack. The secret menu you create could include twists on your top menu items or other food items that wouldn’t quite fit on your standard menu. Secret menus can be anything you want them to be. To make your customers even more engaged with your brand, consider swapping out secret menus every month or two.

Additional Tips for Success When Creating a Restaurant Loyalty Program

If you want the restaurant loyalty program idea that you use to gain traction with your core customers, there are some additional tips that you might want to adhere to. For instance, make sure that you advertise what customers are missing by not signing up for your rewards program. You could post an image of your secret menu on Instagram or send reminders of the top rewards that you offer by tapping into your email list.

Your restaurant staff should know exactly what to say when customers inquire about your rewards program. These staff members must be able to explain membership benefits in a clear and concise manner. It’s also important that the sign-up process for your rewards program is simple and straightforward. While all of the aforementioned customer loyalty program ideas for restaurant might seem appealing, make sure that you avoid creating a complicated loyalty program. The best and most popular programs are easy to understand for all customers.

With the ideas mentioned previously, you should be able to build a loyalty program that increases customer loyalty while also bringing in new customers who are willing to eat at your restaurant because of the rewards they can get for doing so. These restaurant loyalty programs ideas are highly varied and should be able to provide you with what you need to build a strong and effective loyalty program during COVID.

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