Loyalty Programmes Drive U.S. Restaurant Visits

Smart restaurant operators have always endeavored to take care of their most frequent visitors. That may have taken the form of a server simply knowing her customers’ names and whether they took cream in their coffee. Some restaurant managers kept a Rolodex or card catalog of customers, with notes about favourite tables, anniversaries, kids’ names and other key data points. These are still valid tactics, but they require staff and managers with a keen sense of hospitality and a long memory.

Punch cards put the loyalty programme into customers’ hands. Customers carry a card that gets signed, hole-punched or stickered each time they make a purchase. The customers need to keep coming to get that 10th sandwich for free.

Restaurant loyalty programmes evolved with the digital age, and swipe cards or keychain fobs replaced many punch cards. Today these programmes collect valuable data on consumers’ purchases and behaviours, what they like and when they visit. Online and smartphone-based programmes are even more convenient for consumers and enable more data collection on the part of operators.

Consumer Insights on Loyalty Programmes
Current restaurant loyalty programme participation rates in the United States suggest that opportunities are going untapped, and there are lessons to be gleaned for U.K. operators as well.

Technomic’s recent “Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing” found that while only about one-third of consumers (36%) say they participate in a restaurant-based loyalty programme, 72% say that if the restaurant they visit most often offered a programme, they would sign up. This indicates that there is opportunity for more restaurants to offer loyalty programmes. It is possible that some of these favourite restaurants do have loyalty programmes already; here, the opportunity exists in building awareness about the programme and its benefits.

The prevalence of restaurant loyalty programmes and consumers’ willingness to participate begs the question of why someone would be reluctant to join. Consumers say they are concerned about privacy, and they demand to know how their personal contact information will be used.

  • Fully 70% of consumers say they would be more inclined to sign up for a rewards programme if they could be guaranteed that the restaurant would not pass along their information.
  • Two-thirds of consumers want to know how restaurants intend to use the personal information provided.
  • Forty-six percent say they are concerned about receiving spam or junk mail after signing up with loyalty programmes.
  • And 39% are concerned that restaurants might share their personal information with others.

Technomic asked consumers specifically which personal information they would be willing to provide to join a loyalty programme. While 60% would share an email address, only 43% would provide a home address and only 30% would provide their phone number.

At the same time they explain what their loyalty programme’s rewards are, restaurants should let customers know what they will do with their information. Such transparency can help build trust, which is a good step toward building an emotional connection.

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Base: 1,000 consumers age 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1-6, where 6=agree completely and 1=disagree completely
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Operators will also want to consider who their customers are—or who they are trying to attract as customers. Our research has found that the more income consumers make, the more likely they are to participate in restaurant loyalty programmes. This may be because higher-income groups want to be recognised for the money they are spending.

However, don’t neglect “aspirational” diners, those who go out to eat at restaurants that are just out of their reach for most occasions but are used for special occasions. These consumers may not be your key demographic, but they add up, and you would miss them if they didn’t come at all. Programme tiers could offer different rewards to different customer groups. Aspirational members may be attracted to a reward that simply makes them feel included, such as an offer to try a new menu item and give their opinion. It would tell them that even though you don’t see them every week, you value them and their input.

Developing Programmes That Lead to Loyalty
Technomic recommends three steps to moving toward emotional connections.

  • Set up a loyalty programme, offering enough of an incentive for customers to provide personal information.
  • Use the data gleaned from those users to provide compelling and relevant rewards.
  • Speak to what is important to them to build real loyalty.

Initial communications should focus on free or discounted food or beverages or other giveaways. As the following exhibit shows, the relationship will probably begin as a materialistic one, dependent on regular coupons and discounts and immediate benefits for signing up. Being invited to sign up by the restaurant’s staff or being welcomed by one’s favourite restaurant are incentives that begin to build the relationship between the consumer and a favourite brand.

loyalty_chart_2_450

Base: 358 consumers age 18+ who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Customers don’t want to have to work hard—or at all, really—for their perks. Even when they are willing to sign up for a loyalty programme, they want restaurants to make it as painless as possible. Seven in 10 consumers (71%) would be more likely to sign up for a programme if perks were “effortless,” 59% don’t want to have to print coupons, and 39% don’t want to have to carry a physical card in order to receive loyalty-club benefits.

loyalty_chart_3_450

Base: 1,000 consumers age 18+
Consumers indicated their opinion on a scale of 1-6, where 6=agree completely and 1=disagree completely
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Compared to other consumers, loyalty club members are more likely to be active social media users. While 53% of all consumers “like” restaurant brands on Facebook at least occasionally, 62% of those who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes do the same. Similarly, 19% of all respondents read and/or write restaurant reviews on sites like Yelp, but 29% of loyalty-club members do so. This speaks to the importance of two-way communication with frequent diners.

To successfully communicate with frequent diners, operators must also speak the correct language and use the correct medium. Fully 78% of consumers who have smartphones and participate in restaurant loyalty programmes use their phones to access information or discounts from the programme. It’s no surprise that younger people use their smartphones more often than older consumers. It’s interesting, though, that a majority of consumers 45 and older also use their smartphones to access their loyalty programme. Savvy loyalty-programme operators will use this information and input from their own members to determine the best means of communication.

loyalty_chart_4_450

Base: 230 consumers age 18+ who have smartphones and belong to restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Loyalty Membership Drives Restaurant Visits
The good news for restaurants with rewards programmes is that a majority of consumers who participate in loyalty programmes are likely to decide which restaurant to visit based on whether they are a member of that restaurant’s programme. And, just as higher-income consumers are more likely to join such a programme, they are also more likely to base their decision on where to eat on their membership.

Being in a loyalty programme does appear to put the restaurant in consumers’ consideration set, which helps get them in the door. It’s a good first step toward building those emotional connections.

loyalty_chart_5_450

Base: 358 consumers age 18+ who participate in restaurant loyalty programmes
Source: Technomic 2012 Market Intelligence Report: Loyalty Marketing

Darren Tristano is Senior Managing Director of Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based foodservice consultancy and research firm. Since 1993, he has led the development of Technomic’s Information Services division and directed multiple aspects of the firm’s operations. For more information, visit http://www.technomic.com.

Examples of Successful U.S. Restaurant Loyalty Programmes

Incorporating Social Media
Dunkin’ Donuts held a competition to award the title of President of Dunkin’ Nation. Members earned points for checking in via FourSquare and Facebook, and then selected the winner from among the top visitors.

dunkin_275

Offering ‘Important’ Rewards
Understanding customers creates the ability to offer rewards that customers find important. For example, la Madeleine’s Card for the Cure speaks to the core values of the chain’s regular clientele, who are mostly women. The loyalty card costs $35 up front, and gives the customer 10% off all purchases for a year. Additionally, 1% of sales goes to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The card can be renewed annually for $25.

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Making Consumers Part of the ‘In Crowd’
Some successful programmes appeal to consumers’ psychological need to be part of the “inner circle.” The Greene Turtle Mug Club enables the chain’s customers to purchase their own mug at their local Greene Turtle restaurant. The mug is assigned a number and stays on display in the unit until the member comes in and orders a beverage. The company boasts that there is an average of 1,000 members per unit.

greene_turtle_275

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