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A well-executed loyalty program will increase revenue, brand sustainability, and growth, while also helping you better understand your customers. A badly executed one could do the exact opposite.

Before you dive into the ideas below, first make sure you know exactly what outcome you’re aiming for and how you’re going to measure it. As with any marketing exercise, aim for SMART goals, so you have a clear timeline and achievable criteria. So often the assumed outcome of a loyalty program is different to reality. Without a plan to collect success data, evaluate it, and then learn from it, you’re flying blind.

5 creative loyalty program ideas for restaurants

Loyalty through your app

Having your own app is incredibly convenient for both restaurants and one of the best options for gathering customer insights. Customers simply download the app, create an account and start redeeming rewards.

The key benefits and features of creating an app for your loyalty program:

  • Voucher management. You can offer your customers a variety of discounts and promotions using a customised voucher code when they order.
  • Return customers.  Digital loyalty is consistent and helps you grow your return customers by developing positive habits. Customers know where to find rewards, and they can choose to receive prompts for any great offers you push out.
  • Digital stamp cards. Say goodbye to your traditional paper stamp card. Stamps and rewards can be based on any combination of products purchased or dollars spent, and no one needs to hunt through their wallet to find them.
  • Grow with integrated loyalty. Let customers earn and spend points both digitally and in-store with a custom barcode or QR code within your mobile app.
  • First order discount. Offer first time customers a discount on their initial order with you to encourage sign ups. This is a great way to grow your database.
  • Create a loyalty club. Ask customers a few questions to join your loyalty club — like their birthday or favourite product.

Edo Japan are a prime example of this at work. They have their own app built with our platform and offer a comprehensive loyalty program through it – Promoting extra deals and offers to a growing loyal customer base.

Edo Japan loyalty program

Print loyalty cards

Paper loyalty cards are an old favourite due to their simplicity and effectiveness. Simply hand out a card in-store and the customer gets a stamp with every purchase above $X. After 5 – 10 purchases, they get the next one free.

While certainly still a popular option they can be a hassle to keep track of (for you and your customers), and success with print cards is hard to measure. This being said it’s a simple place to start and there’s no reason you can’t develop a more complex rewards system at a later date.

We recommended if you are going this route, you at the very least collect email addresses with these cards so that you can communicate any additional special offers, special events, or updates to the loyalty program.

Offer a referral incentive

People listen to their friends. To promote referrals you can offer points to be redeemed as a discount or even to enter them into a monthly prize draw. The more friends who use their referral code the more points or entries the loyal customer gets. To entice people to use the referral codes, it’s a good idea to offer rewards to both parties. “Use my code and we both get X” is a lot easier to sell than “use my card and I get X.”

Cash-back towards your next meal

Instead of the more traditional, buy 10 get your next meal free type deal, you could offer a percentage cash-back reward which can be redeemed against any of their following purchases. It has the same overall cost to you, but is slightly more adaptable for customers. 

For example, some people will redeem only when they have a free meal available. Some will save up their credit for a more expensive ticket item or even save up to treat their friends or family. Others will routinely redeem their 10% off every other meal. Either way, you’ll have people coming back time and again and more likely to bring friends with them.

reduce steps to checkout

Encourage social sharing

For restaurants and brands wanting to build their online presence, this is a pretty cost and time-effective strategy which will keep customers coming back.

An example might be a loyalty offer for your top ten social media friends. The people that share the best posts or encourage the most engagement around your restaurant on your chosen channel could be eligible for a monthly deal. Alternatively, it could be a simple “follow and like us” for a discount in-store.

Read: How to successfully use social media to market your restaurant

Local friends

We’ve seen a number of variations of this type of program. This is when you encourage local residents and workers to dine in with you. Because they are local they are more likely to come and eat repeatedly.

Examples might include a discount for local businesses or other hospitality staff in the area. Or it could be a loyalty program specific to local apartment buildings or office blocks.

It’s important if you do go down this route that you set up a process to properly identify those qualifying individuals. There is no point in giving a loyalty discount to someone who only comes in once.

Tips for launching an effective loyalty program

Integrate with your POS

For your loyalty program to be a success you need to make sure it runs through your POS system properly. Your staff need to be able to comp your loyal customers without messing up your books. For any freebie or discount, you’ll see an impact on your margins (however slight) and you need to be able to associate the cost properly. If you can’t, there is the additional risk the offer will be abused.

Market it on your website

Your loyalty program will be a draw for a lot of people. Whether you are a local lunchtime spot for business professional or a favourite gourmet restaurant, people love a good deal. However, if nobody knows that you offer a loyalty program then it’s not going to make the impact you want it to.

If we take a look at Edo Japan again you can clearly see that they not only promote their loyalty program through their website but they make it simple and clear as to how customers can easily redeem the loyalty offering.

Edo Japan loyalty app

Promote it through your outbound marketing channels

Along the same lines as the last point, people need to know about your loyalty program if you want them to take up the offer.

Share happy customer stories on social media of people with their redeemed freebie, for example. This has the added benefit of letting your staff get to know your loyal customers and building a friendly environment that goes beyond business and customer.

If you have an app, use push notifications and in-app design to promote your loyalty program and any special deals. 

Additionally, if you sign people up in-store, why not collect email addresses at the same time and promote loyalty specific deals to them over email?

Train your staff (and listen to their feedback!)

Finally, no loyalty program can succeed if the staff aren’t properly trained. They need to be able to sign people up, assist in designing special offers related to the loyalty program, and they need to be able to easily and effectively redeem loyalty points through the POS system.

For example, if you are running a stamp card loyalty program make sure everyone knows where the cards and stamps are kept, and how to log a redeemed offer.

Most importantly, pay attention to how it works in practice, and gather feedback. No one knows better than the front of house staff how well a promotion is working – if they’re hesitant to push an offer, ask why. It may be that they’ve noticed something you haven’t.

Final words

A good loyalty program is about making your customers come back time and time again – that means you need a great customer experience, and clear insight into what works.

However you organise your loyalty program, make sure your systems are robust enough to manage the program smoothly. Above all else, track its success.