Does Your Dining Loyalty Program Have the Right Ingredients?

Aug 7, 2018

I used to fancy myself a diner, a fine diner, to be more specific. As my family has grown, my lifestyle and dining experiences have changed. I rarely have time to sit through a multi-course meal, sipping cocktails and wine, with a focus on my meal and conversation. I’ve gone from fine dining to casual dining and sometimes just grab n’ go, quick service, no dining. I also find that my needs are now more focused on convenience, value and personalization. So, I’ve been particularly excited to see reward programs becoming more embedded in the full spectrum of the dining experience.

Quick service restaurants (QSRs) have proven to be leaders in loyalty innovation within the dining sector. Programs like Starbucks, Panera Bread and Dunkin’ Donuts are among crowd favorites, offering the convenience of order ahead and mobile payment, the engagement of earning points and redeeming free rewards, and the appeal of relevant member offers and promotions, all delivered through robust mobile applications. However, casual dining restaurants (CDRs) have been slower to adopt these trends.

In an increasingly competitive market, how are CDRs truly differentiating themselves? Sure, they can get a customer to come into their restaurant once, some by enticing with the one-size-fits-all communication of “E-Clubs” or sending a 10% off direct mail coupon, but what gets a customer coming back and what data are you truly collecting in order to create that personalized marketing message for future visits?

A well-executed loyalty program forms an essential part of a brand’s overall marketing strategy. There are several CDRs who are taking a page from QSRs and creating loyalty programs more similar to that of retail, travel and finance, but there’s more that these businesses can do in order to remain relevant, have a sophisticated approach and most importantly, drive revenue.

Keep it Fun:

Buffalo Wild Wings (B-Dubs) rolled out their wildly successful Blazin’ Rewards during the summer of 2017 and had 3.5M members within its first several months following the launch. B-Dubs is definitely making the biggest splash, or slam dunk if you will, when it comes to understanding their audience — taking its sports-focused dining experience and offering members NCAA digital wallpapers for their mobile phones and desktops. The program awards members points, based on spend and social activities like checking in with friends. B-Dubs also partnered with video game publisher Activision last year, offering members even more ways to obtain and redeem points — keeping with their motto of “rewarding fans for doing what they love to do.”

Modernize the Customer Experience:

CDRs must embrace digital channels and deliver a seamless experience across all customer touchpoints. BJ’s Brewhouse Premier Rewards Plus does a great job of integrating their program into their mobile app, which also offers other benefits including order ahead, preferred waitlist, mobile pay (which earns you a free pizookie just for paying for the first time) and adding points for missing transactions. Members also receive special app-only offers, creating an even more special experience. Premier Rewards Plus members can access their account through BJ’s website, mobile app or providing their server with the phone number on the account.

Personalize Your Offering:

This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’m still shocked at the number of loyalty programs that send a blanket email, or kids-eat-free coupons to people who don’t have children, or a push notification for an order of free cheese sticks to someone who is lactose intolerant. Our recent research shows that customers are willing to share more of their personal information and data if they receive a more personalized experience in return. California Pizza Kitchen’s CPK Rewards does a great job of using the data collected to give members exactly what they’re looking for in rewards. In addition to the 1 point for every $1 you spend, you’ll receive special offers throughout the year, based on your buying and eating habits.

Know Your Audience:

Recent conversations with a large casual dining chain suggest recognizing who the target audience is and how they interact is vital to successful member acquisition and engagement. Many brands have opted to launch mobile driven programs given their ease of implementation; however, when interviewing individuals across generations, 77% percent of the population reported having a smartphone, but only 21% of Boomers surveyed actually made purchases with their smartphones compared to 73% of millennials. Brands looking to attract customers across generations should probably take note and look beyond mobile only programs, to include other options like POS phone look-up.

One of the greatest advantages to having a loyalty program from a business perspective is access to data and the ability to evaluate and drive member behavior while creating a positive, dynamic and personalized experience. It is key to be able to collect that data, and organize it to make informed recommendations for your customers. As a consumer and diner, I want a program where it’s easy to participate, clear what I will get, personalized, offers real value, and gives me choices. Only time will tell if CDRs are focused on the future and moving away from their traditional programs and ready to truly drive loyalty and foster a better customer experience.

If you’re interested in improving your current loyalty program or ready to dive into the program design, contact us today.