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Starting a Loyalty Rewards Program For Your Restaurant

Starting a Loyalty Rewards Program For Your Restaurant

Last updated on 6/16/2017

Creating a customer loyalty program is an excellent way for restaurants to keep their satisfied customers returning for future business. A customer rewards program is an asset for any restaurant, but how do you make the most of it? You need to determine how the program will best benefit the customer and your business, while exploring what types of rewards customers are looking for. This article summarizes several restaurant loyalty program ideas so that you can begin the program that’s right for you.

How do I earn a customer’s loyalty?

Customers who visit your restaurant on a regular basis are the customers most likely to join your restaurant loyalty programs. So, how do you increase customer frequency?

Your patrons will remember little things in big ways. Don’t overlook the importance of learning your frequent customers’ names, asking them about their week, or asking them if they’re ordering “the usual.” Returning patrons will gain appreciation for waiters and waitresses who recognize their face, name, or favorite dish on the menu.

Sure, all customers appreciate items “on the house,” happy hour drink specials, and daily food specials, but after gaining their general appreciation and respect for your business, it’s time to narrow down the rewards and reserve offers and promotions for your loyal customers only. Your patrons should have a sense that you are paying special attention to your loyal customers.

Have customer habits changed?

So, returning customers have decided to take part in a loyalty rewards program. How exactly will that affect their spending habits? Research has shown that customers involved in restaurant loyalty programs will most likely spend more money than new customers. However, you don't want to make it seem like earning rewards takes too much effort. In fact, current trends show that patrons are investing less time in customer loyalty programs that make them fill out an extensive online survey or carry plastic cards. The best customer rewards programs do not involve coupons or extra restaurant loyalty cards to carry. You want to make the process as effortless as possible.

Ways to ensure successful rewards programs:

  • Keep it simple - Think about how you can simplify your restaurant customer loyalty programs. Present an easy survey at the end of the meal within your guest check presenter. Consider simple questions about the quality of the food and your overall experience with options like “excellent, very good, good, average, and poor.”
  • Offer an incentive - Give guests an incentive for filling out the survey. Whether you offer a chance to win a free meal or a chance to win a gift certificate, patrons will be more willing to give your restaurant feedback if there is an incentive involved.
  • Customer feedback matters - Don’t underestimate the importance of customer feedback - it can be great for improving your business! If you learn what your customers like and don’t like about your business, you’ll be able to integrate your guests’ preferences into the everyday atmosphere of your restaurant, improving the likelihood that they will return.

What type of rewards should I offer?

Today’s trends show that your most loyal customers use their phones more than anything else for rewards. Be sure to make attaining rewards accessible, either by a mobile app or a user-friendly website that’s easy to navigate. When customers sign up for your program, get their email addresses and send them emails for new reward opportunities or special promotions. Rather than seeing the amount that they’ve spent in dollars, customers will like monitoring their patronage in terms of points. There are several ways for customers to accumulate points: 

  • Loyalty card or membership card - Restaurant loyalty cards can be in the form of a rewards card or a gift card. Instead of paying with their credit cards, encourage your customers to pay with a loyalty card. Your customers will appreciate this quick and easy option, and the restaurant can use a loyalty card to easily track the customers’ reward status using a point of sale (POS) system. After a certain number of purchases, the restaurant can reward the customer with a special offer, free drink, or other promotion.
  • Punch card - A punch card is an easy way for the customer to keep track of their purchases. Each time they purchase an item and receive a “punch” on their card, they’ll be one “punch” closer to attaining a free item or special promotion. Though not all customers will want to carry these cards with them on a daily basis, this type of loyalty rewards program can cater to your patrons’ preferences. For example, customers who frequently order ice cream can be rewarded with a free cone of ice cream after their tenth “punch.” On the flipside, it can also be used to get patrons to try new things at your restaurant. For example, if they get punched for 5 entrees, they can get a free dessert.

  • Automatic rewards systems and databases - Automatically sign your patrons up for restaurant loyalty programs when customers pay with their credit card. Your POS system or database system can be very useful for keeping track of your loyal customers. Enter their emails and birth dates in your database and send them a free gift for their birthday or send out holiday-themed specials via personalized emails. This is sure to please your guests because it requires minimal to no work on their part, yet you can keep track of how often they visit your restaurant and reward them occasionally for their patronage.
  • Receipts - Use receipts as a way to market your customer rewards program. Include a website link in the receipt to a contest or a special offer that your loyal customers can access if they are willing to take the time to do so. Promote your café, concession, or coffee shop sales and offer an item at a discounted rate if customers bring the receipt back with them later in the day.

What else should I consider?

There are a few things to remember as you begin gathering new restaurant loyalty program ideas at your restaurant: 

  • Your customers want the reward to be both attainable and favorable. For example, customers who are not yet 21 will not feel motivated to collect “points” in order to get a discounted alcoholic beverage at your restaurant. 
  • Creating customer-specific rewards and matching the reward to the concept of your restaurant will help the effectiveness of the program. If it fits the theme of your restaurant, you may even want to consider offering t-shirts, hats, or other items that market your business as a customer reward. That way, you can combine rewarding, marketing, and advertising in one successful program. 
  • If you realize that your restaurant is not as busy on a certain day, or time of day, offer double points if a customer makes a purchase during that time.


Just remember, the ultimate goal of any restaurant customer loyalty program is to increase the amount of great customers that frequent your business. If your customers are happy and if they feel like they can benefit by eating at your restaurant, then your restaurant will benefit, too!

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