Loyalty Programs Keep Regulars Coming Back, Attract New Patrons

Incorporate loyalty programs into marketing plan, experts say.

Let’s be honest: Those ratty, ripped, and misplaced punch cards aren’t doing much to bolster operators’ bottom line, and customers are tired of digging through their wallets to find them. That’s why true loyalty programs are worth considering, experts say. 

Loyalty programs aren’t a new concept, but they have really evolved over the years. Today, more effective strategies are replacing the traditional paper punch cards, largely due to technology that’s made it more accessible, according to Back of House.

Teresa Berman, a Gordon Food Service® business solutions specialist in Ontario, said now there are many effective and simple ways to build a program.Today’s strategies tend to be less expensive than traditional advertising, which focuses more on first-time diners, she said. 

“Having an easy-to-use platform like a QR code may appeal to tech-savvy diners who crave a deal but want seamless interaction to gain it,” Berman said. “A good loyalty program will give operators access to their customer base via contact information that the patron provides.”

creating a loyalty program

This enables the operation to be able to push notifications to an email or as a text– and that costs an operator nothing. “This is a very cost effective way to promote features, launch a new menu or promote the opening of their patio,” Berman said. 

Schamp, based in Indiana, said the right loyalty programs can result in very useful data for operators. And that data can help them grow in other areas.

“Loyalty programs that utilize technology…are able to analyze data to help them run their business,” Schamp said. Some systems allow operators to generate data showing the average dollar amount of guest checks with a loyalty member versus a non-loyalty member, for example, to see if the program is increasing check average. 

“They can also analyze how often loyalty members are visiting and what they are purchasing,” he said. 

But it does take time – and training – to really understand the data, he said.

“It is critical that the team members are trained on the program so they are comfortable with how it works and can help explain the program to their guests,” he said. “If they don’t understand it they won’t sell it.”

Build a Program That Lasts

The goal of a loyalty program is to get those customers coming back and to do that, they need to feel valued, Berman said. “Customers like to feel appreciated and a loyalty program can give them exclusive access to new cocktails or to preview a dessert sampler or even an opportunity to get into a private event, like a new menu launch party,” Berman said. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s imperative for operators to consider a loyalty program part of their “overall marketing plan,” she said.  

A loyalty program today should target frequent patrons who already “know your operation,” Berman said. 

“It’s a promotion to reward your regular customers by enticing them to visit more often and to give them a reason to put your establishment top-of-mind when they are deciding where to go to dine or meet up with friends,” she said.

Nearly 80-percent of consumers say loyalty programs make them more likely to continue doing business with brands, and members spend 27-percent more when the brand establishes a positive emotional connection, according to Back of House.

That’s all good news for operators, Berman said. 

The bottom line? Loyalty programs should create excitement and should be easy for the customer to use and gain the rewards, she said. 

“People are looking for value deals these days and a loyalty program can offer something that your customer wants.”

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