8 restaurant loyalty and rewards program ideas

Editorial Team

5 min read
Three people eating ramen at a restaurant

While the restaurant community is a family, it is also a very competitive landscape. When it comes to finding ways to attract new customers and keep current guests engaged, these restaurant loyalty program ideas can be a great place to start.

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Benefits of loyalty and rewards programs

Before we dig into some of the top loyalty program ideas for restaurants, it’s important to understand why loyalty programs are useful tools in the first place. Customer rewards programs come with a wide range of benefits, most (if not all) of which directly help improve your bottom line:

  • More than half of customers say they’re loyal to brands to which they feel connected
  • 69% of customers base their retail choices on which stores offer the best rewards
  • Rewards programs can make customers feel valued beyond their financial contributions
  • Loyalty initiatives offer opportunities for personalization, furthering the restaurant-guest relationship

Loyalty programs can help attract new customers to your business, too, by incentivizing diners to try a restaurant based on potential rewards.

Restaurant loyalty program ideas to consider

There is a plethora of ways to build an effective and engaging restaurant rewards program. You can use one of these ideas to launch your program or mix and match to create a unique offering that pairs nicely with your restaurant’s values and speaks to your core customer base.

1. Loyalty points systems

As the name suggests, this program awards diners with points based on their level of patronage. Points may correspond to actual dollars spent or dining frequency. You can also assign point values to certain actions or events, such as giving 10 points for referring a guest for dinner or sharing a post on social media.

2. Item-based rewards

While it’s a no-brainer for restaurants to use free food as a go-to incentive, edible rewards are far from your only option. Item-based rewards such as t-shirts, mugs, tote bags, pint glasses, bottle openers, portable coolers, baseball hats, and sunglasses give guests something to carry with them.

They also serve as a constant reminder of your business, keeping it top of mind not only for the guest sporting his or her free swag, but also for anyone who happens to catch a glimpse of that branded gear.

3. Subscription rewards

Subscription rewards programs stand out from other loyalty program types because this offering requires members to pay a fee to join. You can offer a standalone restaurant meal subscription rewards program or add a paid tier to your free loyalty program. Either way, guests spend money upfront to reap rewards down the road, such as prime seating for whiskey pairing events or deeply discounted food bundles curated for major holidays.

4. Online rewards

While it’s fine to focus on rewards tied to on-premises spending, don’t forget about all your customers who order online for pickup or delivery. Online rewards programs typically run through your restaurant POS system, so you can track online spending and reward guests no matter how they choose to support your business.

5. Third-party reward networks

Reward networks are third-party organizations dedicated to overseeing loyalty programs for clients just like you. These networks can be hugely beneficial for busy entrepreneurs who don’t have the time or resources to build the infrastructure for launching and tracking a rewards system.

The right reward network can take care of everything from customer sign ups to point redemption. Some even negotiate prize packages from retailers and other vendors. The downside is that those networks often include other restaurants and, by joining, you could see customers become more loyal to the network than they are to you.

6. Punch card rewards

Punch card rewards are best suited to more casual establishments looking to push sales of one or two specific items. For instance, you might have an ice cream parlor that offers punch rewards for classic hot fudge sundaes, or your coffee shop may have a punch card for premium drinks.

Feel free to experiment with different restaurant punch card ideas until you find the right balance between driving sales and protecting your profits.

One of the most common ideas includes cards that tell guests to buy 10 of something (a drink, an appetizer, a dessert) and they’ll get one free. Another fun approach is to have guests try one of each item in a certain category – such as every sauce you have for chicken wings – to earn their freebie.

7. Referral programs

Word of mouth is king in the service industry. People trust the recommendations they get from friends, family, and co-workers. It only makes sense to leverage existing conversations by offering rewards related to referrals. Every time an existing customer refers a new guest, the existing customer could get a reward.

8. Promotional rewards

Unlike other types of rewards that are earned or tied to customer behavior, promotional rewards are given as a surprise in order to drive future guest actions. For instance, you might send rewards members a coupon for a free appetizer during happy hour to create buzz around your new cocktail menu. Alternatively, you could offer BOGO appetizers on Tuesdays to help bring in business on a day that’s traditionally on the slow side.

How to promote your restaurant’s loyalty and rewards program

The best restaurant rewards program is one that current and future guests know about and really want to use. Promote your program in your restaurant and via outside channels such as social media, community events, and word of mouth. Emphasize your most exciting rewards and be transparent about how those rewards are earned, so customers know exactly what they can get and when.

Loyalty and rewards programs can help increase engagement and attract new customers, and those benefits stand to be multiplied exponentially when you pair rewards with your top restaurant promotion ideas. Find a way to incentivize guests and share deals that increase brand visibility and sales to help you position yourself for long-term success.

For information on Clover Rewards and ways you can streamline and support day-to-day restaurant operations, contact a Clover Business Consultant today.

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