waitress taking order and talking to guests

With 30% of restaurants offering some type of restaurant customer loyalty program, and 57% of adult consumers saying they are more likely to dine in a place that offers some type of restaurant loyalty program, you are definitely missing out if your restaurant does not have a program in place.

Yes, there are already tons and tons of things to think about when you’re opening and running a restaurant—everything from properly training your staff to adjusting your menu to seasonal trends—but there are serious business benefits to implementing a loyalty program that outweighs the startup costs. When done well, a customer loyalty program can boost your business and offer you personal contact with your guests. It can help you turn satisfied guests into loyal guests, and as any restaurateur knows, regular guests are the best (and most lucrative) guests. If a shiny new loyalty program snags you even just one or two regulars, it will have practically paid for itself already (and a loyalty program will do much, much more than just that for you).

If you’re still deciding on what type of restaurant customer loyalty program is right for your restaurant, think about these qualities that the best loyalty programs offer.

guests dining in a restaurant

Build a database of customers.

The more information you have about your customers, the more successfully you can build restaurant marketing strategies that market directly to them. What’s going to inspire people to walk through your doors? Certainly not offers that don’t appeal to them. But, if you happen to find out that tons and tons of your guests are dog owners and decide to do a dog-friendly night on your patio, pushing that out through your marketing efforts is almost sure to draw a massive crowd. The best loyalty programs for restaurants give you the ability to build a database of your customers that include email addresses and preferences. Once you have this valuable information, you can tailor not only your broader offers to what’s important to the majority of your customers, but you can start sending out specialized offers to your customers based on their individual preferences. Just think about how much traffic that approach will bring in—all thanks to your loyalty program!

Whiteboard Wednesday - Creating Customer Loyalty in Your Restaurant

Improve your relationship with your guests.

Successful restaurant loyalty programs allow you to improve one-on-one relationships with your guests. Sending a coupon for a birthday or a reminder about the celebrations going on for your bar’s two year anniversary can be easy to automate and makes a lasting positive impression on your guests. It makes them feel like insiders and will make you automatically stand out above any other restaurant that isn’t as savvy as you and isn’t sending out marketing materials to its guests like you are. Think about it like this: If you’re wondering where to go out to eat tonight, are you more likely to think of that one random place you went to a month ago and really liked but forgot its name or the restaurant that’s top of mind thanks to a nice little postcard you got in the mail last week?

guests talking to a chef in a restaurant

Loyalty programs offer more than just discounts and rewards.Click To Tweet

Think beyond rewards.

Loyalty programs have moved beyond the idea of a punch card getting a free sandwich or coffee. NNow, reward programs offer more than just discounts and rewards and focus on giving your loyal customers the best experience. Think about offering opportunities to make reservations for events before the general public, or an invitation to tour the wine cellar for a guest you know to be a wine enthusiast. Again, this is one way to make your guests feel special. As anyone who has been in the business for a while knows, people want to spend time in the places they love and will choose to spend their money in establishments that treat them well. This is one easy way to do that.

Loyal regulars spend 67% more at restaurants than new guests do. With effective guest communication, you can make every guest a loyal regular.

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Loyal regulars spend 67% more at restaurants than new guests do. With effective guest communication, you can make every guest a loyal regular.

Add in a referral program.

Your most loyal customers can also be your best advocates. By including a type of referral incentive into your program, your customers will go out of their way to introduce more people to your restaurant. Your loyal customers have likely been doing this all along, and now you have a way to thank them as they take some of the marketing burden off your shoulders. Word of mouth referrals are the hardest to get, but the highest quality. If you’ve got the ability, consider giving out a free drink or some extra loyalty points to a guest who brings in a new patron for the first time or who brings someone in who also signs up for your loyalty program. If you’ve got two friends signed up, chances are better that they’re going to come back next time they’re looking to dine together so they can both collect their points.

restaurant guests dining

Offer your customers convenience.

Think about ways in which you can reward your customers simply by helping make life easier for them. Can you offer ways for loyal customers to make a reservation more quickly or easily communicate directly with you? If your restaurant offers pick up or delivery, make it easier for customers to place an order online and pick up seamlessly. Because loyalty programs store guests’ information, when they call back to place a to-go order, you can look them up by something as simple as their phone number, last name, or loyalty program number and have all the information you need. They can skip having to read out their address and risk typos that result in late deliveries every time and you can deliver faster, more personalized service that’s sure to keep them coming back again and again—a win-win.

Remember that the experience a guest has is often more memorable than an amount of a discount. A loyal customer stays a customer when you’re easy and pleasant to dine with. Using a restaurant customer loyalty program can be a useful tool in helping to get to know your guests better and deliver the best possible service to them.

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Kristin lives on the West Side of Providence with her wine blogger husband. When she's not co-hosting their monthly wine tastings, she's planning her next travel adventure and daydreaming about Spanish jamón. She can often be found pouring over travel guides at her favorite neighborhood spot, Nick's on Broadway.