The Value of Customer Loyalty Programs
The real value of customer loyalty programs is the chance to turn good customers into great ones, with only a small investment and a little personal service. Loyalty rewards programs are great for that silent majority of customers who already enjoy the products and services of your restaurant, but on a limited basis. They’re for the people you’re getting in the door, but not quite often enough.
Many restaurant operators channel marketing efforts toward people who may never step foot in their building. However, a good loyalty program can strengthen your bottom line without trying to reinvent the wheel. They rely on little more than getting the word out and an emphasis on personal service. Most restaurants already have these in place. Throw in some identifying cards and you’ve got a loyalty rewards.
Loyalty programs can be the simplest marketing effort you ever undertake. Their simplicity alone gives them great value to an independent restaurant. They can be informal, such as a welcome at the door and the offer of a free drink or appetizer to a regular customer. Or, they can be a little more complex, such as the offer of a punch or scan card for guests to hold onto and reap rewards for enjoying your restaurant.
Card programs are more frequent, and have a tangible asset in the card themselves. A scanning card that is recognized by a POS terminal is not too expensive, and lets customers accumulate points or dollars that have value to the restaurant.
They provide the added plus of reminding guests of your name when they see the rewards card in their wallet or pocketbook. However, so many businesses offer rewards cards these days that a restaurant’s card can easily be lost in the shuffle. For this reason, many restaurants have resorted to keeping loyalty cards on file and loading them with points or credit for each visit.
Loyalty programs should be pointed in the direction of the market a restaurant covets. For example, a mom-and-pop pizza place might give rewards to families or guests who bring in eight or more customers. A high-end fine-dining chophouse might focus the rewards program to corporate clientele, especially those who entertain programs or presentations. Whatever your market is, a good loyalty program incentivizes them to come in more often.
The best loyalty programs I have seen offer cash value at a certain percentage every time a guest spends above a certain amount of money. That cash value is loaded onto a scanable card to be redeemed at any time in the future. Guests see it as free money and are always grateful for the thought. Management can always phrase the offer as a personal gesture of gratitude, rather than some corporate promotion. This makes the loyalty program an easy win-win situation.
The day-to-day grind of running a restaurant can make it easy to forget that this is the customer service industry. A good way to start a loyalty program is to focus on customer service. Get to know what your guests enjoy and reward them.
Amuse Bouche: A special treat that your Chef prepared just for the occasion makes everyone at the table feel special.
Buy a round: When you take a moment to recognize the entire table, the gratitude ultimately goes toward the host who brought everyone there. This is a great reward and can create a great memory for the whole table.
Anniversary champagne: Make sure your favorite guests know that they came to the right place for their anniversary by bringing complimentary champagne and inviting them to toast.
Free dessert: A great dessert leaves the perfect taste in a guest’s mouth. Bring a free dessert—compliments of your entire staff—and watch your guests linger at the table (a sure sign of a great dining experience).
Personalizing the rewards of a loyalty program emphasizes the value you bring and creates a great incentive to return. Some restaurants use a database such as OpenTable to record special occasions or dining habits that customers have. Some managers do it the old-fashioned way and create relationships with their guests. A combination of the two is a great foundation for a valuable customer loyalty program.