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Restaurant Loyalty Program Ideas

Restaurant Loyalty Program Ideas

Last updated on 8/17/2022

From a global pandemic to supply chain and staffing shortages, the restaurant industry has weathered many challenges since 2020. Brands can use customer loyalty programs to successfully navigate these turbulent times. No matter the economic climate, creating a customer loyalty program helps restaurant operators earn repeat customers and increase overall sales. Learn how to create a successful rewards program by implementing our loyalty program ideas.

What Is a Loyalty Program?

graphic of a customer's money funneling into a restaurant rewards program.

Loyalty programs provide discounts, freebies, and benefits to customers who regularly choose a business. The rewards increase when a customer spends a certain amount, refers a friend, or makes consistent purchases. “Loyalty programs” are aptly named, because they reward brand loyalty and incentivize customers to frequent a business.

Restaurant Loyalty Program Benefits

Restaurant loyalty programs encourage customers to return to your restaurant, order more, and spend lucrative celebratory dining occasions with you. Discover the top benefits of restaurant loyalty programs below.

  • Increases Revenue - Loyalty members typically purchase more often and at higher price points than non-loyalty members, increasing revenue by 5-10%. (The Bond Loyalty Report)
  • Earns Repeat Business - 79% of consumers will continue doing business with a brand if they offer a loyalty or rewards program. (2022 Merkle report)
  • Prompts Referrals - 73% of consumers are more likely to recommend brands with good loyalty programs. (The Bond Loyalty Report)
  • Reaches Gen Z - 62% of Gen-Z customers are highly influenced by a strong loyalty program. (The Bond Loyalty Report)

Types of Restaurant Loyalty Programs

barista handing a coffee carrier and rewards punch card to a customer

There are five main types of restaurant loyalty programs, physical frequent shopper punch cards, and digital points programs. We recommend veering away from punch cards since most consumers don’t want to have to carry around a physical card. Learn the differences between these two categories below.

  • Punch card - A punch card is an easy way for customers 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, this type of loyalty rewards program can cater to the preferences of your patrons. For example, you can reward customers who frequently order ice cream with a free cone after their tenth “punch.” It can also 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 - Did you know you can manage your loyalty program through your POS system? Toast POS offers a digital loyalty program for a flat monthly fee. Guests enter their email at checkout to join and start earning rewards. Each time they use their credit card with your business, they automatically accrue points. There’s no need for a loyalty card and points are managed online.

  • App - Many restaurants, especially chains, use self-made apps so guests can create an account and scan their app or "check-in" on their app when purchasing from the restaurant. Apps eliminate the need for guests to carry around a card or remember a rewards number, and they will appeal to members who frequently engage with their smartphones.

  • Membership loyalty credit card - Offer your customers a loyalty card to pay with. This can take the form of a credit card, similar to Starbucks' Rewards Visa Card, that guests can add money to or spend money with and accrue "stars" or "points".

  • Receipts - Use receipts 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 will take the time to do so. Promote your cafe, concession, or coffee shop sales and offer an item at a discounted rate if customers bring the receipt back with them at a later time.
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Foodservice Loyalty Program Ideas

graphic promoting a restaurant referral program

Upgrade your restaurant rewards program by incorporating our restaurant loyalty program ideas.

  1. Social Media Rewards - Allow customers to earn points through social media. Provide customers with loyalty points when they post photos of your food or business to their social media accounts. This is a great way to receive free advertising and encourage patrons to engage with your brand on social media platforms.
  2. Cell Phone Number Rewards - Go mobile and have customers sign up for rewards with their cell phone numbers. When they purchase from your establishment, they can provide the cashier with their mobile phone number to collect points. By signing up, they agree to receive text communications from your business, such as alerts about new menu items and discounts. Be selective about the texts you send, or customers will unsubscribe.
  3. Class Rewards - Get creative and offer classes to your loyalty club members. For coffee shops, this could be a class on how to make latte art. Bakeries might teach their patrons how to make a sourdough starter, and restaurants can offer a special night where they teach plating techniques.
  4. Offer Referral Rewards - Allow customers to win points, perks, and rewards for referring a customer when the person they referred makes a purchase. CRM software can help you track customer referrals. Keep referral points to “first generation” referrals, meaning, when customer A refers customer B, customer A gets a point. But, when customer B then refers customer C, customer B gets a point, but customer A does not. This helps prevent profit loss.
  5. Educational Rewards - Give customers points for completing educational content that relates to your brand. For example, if sustainable seafood is a priority at your establishment, give customers points for reading/watching resources on sustainable fishing. If customers understand the value of your products, they’ll appreciate them more. Those who are already educated on your offerings will appreciate that you promote their shared values.
  6. Free Birthday Items - Encourage customers to join rewards programs by offering them free items on their birthday. Not only does this build loyalty, but it also gives an incentive to use your establishment as the location for their celebratory event. Most people will bring a group with them on their birthday, which increases overall profits. Consider offering a free appetizer or dessert. You can even increase the number of free items based on the party size booked for their birthday dinner.
  7. Extended Happy Hour Rewards - Bars and restaurants can offer their loyalty club members extended happy hour times. You can also consider including more items on the happy hour menu for rewards club members as an exciting perk to make customers engage with your loyalty club.
  8. Merch/Swag Rewards - Offer patrons merchandise and swag for participating in your rewards program. Not only will this boost their affection for your brand, but it is also great advertising. You can make this straightforward, like branded stickers, or get creative and make it personal to your brand. For example, a BBQ restaurant could offer customers bottles of their signature sauce as a loyalty program perk.

Loyalty Program Tips

graphic depicting a customer reaping the rewards of participating in a rewards program

The Bond Loyalty Report reveals the power of an effective loyalty program, and it also shows the weakness of an unengaging one. The average household will enroll in approximately 13 loyalty programs but will only regularly participate in seven of them. We provide you with restaurant loyalty program tips, as well as mistakes to avoid, so your customers become active participants in your restaurant rewards program.

  • Make your loyalty program mobile - 75% of surveyed consumers said they are more active in loyalty programs that are easily accessible from a smartphone. (Code Broker)
  • Let customers earn gifts and swag - 46% of surveyed consumers said they want to earn gifts and swag when they take part in a loyalty program. (Yotpo)
  • Offer extended rewards redemption periods - The primary loyalty program frustration of 31% of surveyed consumers is their rewards often expire before they get the chance to redeem them. (Code Broker)
  • Provide early access to sales - 46% of surveyed consumers want early access to sales for being a loyalty program member. (Yotpo)
  • Don’t collect personal information - 71% of Americans hesitate to sign up for a rewards program that asks for sensitive details such as their address and account information. (Wilbur Survey)
  • Forgo Physical Cards - 79% of Americans prefer rewards programs that don’t require them to carry a physical card. (Wilbur Survey)
  • Don’t make participants download an app - 58% of Americans resist downloading a new app to participate in a loyalty program. (Wilbur Survey)

Best Restaurant Loyalty Programs

two females sitting across from each other at a cafe looking at a phone

If you're looking for inspiration to create your loyalty program, review some of the best restaurant loyalty programs in the food service industry for inspiration below. At the time of writing, these were how popular restaurants and cafes offered their rewards.

Dine Rewards with Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s

At Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s, Bonefish Grill, and Fleming’s, guests get 50% off every 4th visit. The offer is valid for up to $20 at Outback, Carrabba’s, and Bonefish Grill, and up to $40 at Fleming’s. Offers are of value for 6 months. To reap rewards, you must spend at least $20 ($40 at Fleming’s) on food and non-alcoholic beverages. This does not include gift card purchases, alcohol, taxes, and tip.

How to Enroll: Sign up online and check your activity timeline to see how far away you are from receiving a discount. When dining at one of the four restaurants, you let your server know you are a member and provide your phone number.

P.F. Chang's Rewards Program

With the P.F. Chang's Rewards program, you earn 10 points for every dollar spent. Once at 2,000 points, you get a free entree reward. P. F. Chang's gives you a 1,000-point bonus just for signing up, getting you halfway to a free entree. Members also receive birthday rewards and other exclusive offers. Once you reach your 2,000 points, it automatically applies your rewards to your order.

How to Enroll: Guests sign up online and share their phone or member number with their server.

Chick-fil-A One Program

With a Chick-fil-A One™ account, you can redeem points by placing an online catering order, an order through the app, or by scanning your Chick-fil-A One QR code at the register or drive-thru. Members receive points for every purchase which they can use towards future purchases.

There are 3 different member levels: Chick-fil-A One Member, Silver Member, or Red Member. The member’s annual spending determines their status. Other benefits include birthday rewards, gifts to friends and family, meal donations, insider information on new menu items, College Football Hall of Fame tickets, and backstage tour tickets.

How to Enroll: You can sign up online or through the app.

T.J. Rockwell's Rhino Rewards

T.J. Rockwell's has a program called “Rhino Rewards.” For every $100 spent, you receive a 10% off coupon for your next visit. As part of the lunch club, you receive a lunch coupon (valued up to $7) for every 5 visits. Once you spend $300, you get a $10 gift card. For every 10 visits, you earn a free appetizer on the next visit.

For beer enthusiasts, T.J. Rockwell's offers the Mug Club. Members pay $40 a year and receive a 20-ounce beer mug that stays at the bar for the year. During each visit, you request your mug (which has your unique number on it) to be filled up. Members also get 10% off food purchases, and they receive a free ticket to the food buffet during the super bowl.

How to Enroll: Ask your server to set you up with a rewards card or a Mug Club membership next time you visit a T.J. Rockwell's location.

My Starbucks Rewards

With the Starbucks Rewards program, members collect 2 stars per $1. Depending on the number of stars you accrue, you get different rewards, such as the ability to customize a drink for free, gratuitous coffee or tea, a hot breakfast option, a protein box, or select merchandise. On certain days, you get twice the number of stars for your order.

How to Enroll: Guests can enroll through the Starbucks app. They can also use the app to pay when they pick up their order or in advance.

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The goal of any loyalty program is to increase the number of regular customers. 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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