How to Create a Loyalty Program for Your Restaurant

Restaurant loyalty programs are integral to the success of many large chain establishments for one simple reason: they ensure repeat business. The human brain is easily encouraged by goals like filling up a punch card or earning stars that net a free reward.

Loyalty programs are effective marketing tools even in the digital age, with companies like Starbucks utilizing them on a large scale. But loyalty programs aren’t limited to major corporations; more and more local businesses are embracing the power of loyalty programs to build repeat business and ensure a steady revenue stream. If you’re stressing about how to create a loyalty program, put your worries aside. Creating a program is quick and easy with a few thoughtful steps.

How to Create a Loyalty Program for Your Restaurant

Make A Plan

It might seem like the obvious step, but the first part of a loyalty program is figuring out what you’re rewarding. Are you just giving out rewards for every purchase made, or are there rewards for focusing on a specific item? If your business is a small pop-up, for example, it might behoove you to prioritize loyalty rewards that focus on the sale of entrees or small plates specifically. It’s also important to decide on the parameters and wording of your program guidelines here.

Does this program work for every plate or drink purchased in a single visit, provided they meet the guideline? Or does only one item per visit count? There’s no right or wrong answer, but you need to consider what a typical experience looks like for your guests and build these guidelines based on that. Once you’ve decided what the reward program will emphasize, that framework will give you the necessary tools to build the structure outward.

Don’t Skimp

The reward for a loyalty program needs to be attractive in order to generate the repeat business you’re after. If, for example, your business is a ramen shop, you could make every tenth bowl of ramen free. Provided you’re serving food your guests love.

You’ve now given them two incentives to return. First and foremost, the meal will be delicious, but behind that, after several visits, they’ll get that delicious meal on the house. Make the reward feel like it matches the time and energy your guests have put in; if they’ve eaten at your business nine times to get here, ten percent off an entree will feel paltry. Don’t skimp on a good reward. Make your guests feel like they’ve earned something meaningful by coming back to see you.

Use The Whole Toolbox

How are you going to track rewards? It can be a lot to manage if you’re keeping the books on guest rewards on your end, especially if your loyalty program gets the desired response. Bearing this in mind, consider in advance how best to implement your program. Digital era aside, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned punch card, like these options from MustHaveMenus.

If they work for national chains, they can work for you, too. If you’re more interested in keeping up with the times, some cloud-based POS systems like Square offer the chance to implement rewards programs that track guest progress by retaining payment info and creating accounts via phone numbers or email.

As guests rack up their points, the POS system will text them and inform them that they’ve gained enough to cash in on. Consider all the tools at your disposal and choose whatever’s right for your business. If you’re already operating with a different POS system, switching can be challenging, and perhaps a loyalty card is your best bet. If you’re creating the program in conjunction with opening the business, maybe integrating a cloud-based POS that tracks rewards is a better plan.

A brief note on loyalty cards: if you’re going to go the physical route, don’t work in half-measures. Find a sleek, attractive design that makes your loyalty card stick in your guests’ minds on a visual level and pay a professional to print them for you. Any guest likes to feel like they’ve been handed something that was designed intentionally; if you’re going to put the thought into your menu and other branding elements, don’t hold back in applying the same energy and focus to your loyalty cards.

Spread The News

Your loyalty program should not be a secret! If you’re using software like Square, your guests will be offered the chance to provide their information automatically from the moment they make a purchase. If you’re using a punch card system, though, encourage your staff to drop the cards whenever guests order qualifying items.

Whether or not they know about the program as they walk in, they should be fully aware of it by the time they leave. If it makes sense for your servers or bartenders to bring the program up organically in interactions, encourage them to do so vocally. If they can discuss loyalty benefits without sounding disingenuous, even better! Whatever your tactics, be sure to wear your loyalty program proudly and make it a cornerstone of your day-to-day business.

Loyalty programs inspire a specific kind of confidence in diners. When you offer a reward for a return visit, you’re sending a message: I know what we have here is good, and I know you want to come back for more. Lean into that confidence! Showing off a little is good for you and your staff – after all, regulars are the lifeblood of any restaurant.

A Final Thought

If you’re going to implement a loyalty program, you need to remember to prioritize an excellent experience for the folks who return again and again. They might just want another bowl of great noodles, but if you see them in often, make a point of adding a personal connection. Buy them a drink or send an appetizer out and introduce yourself!

Thank them for using your loyalty program, and show them you’re grateful for their business. Loyalty programs are a phenomenal incentive to begin developing a business relationship with your guests, but personal touches inspire true loyalty. If you want your guests to sing your praises, they can tell others about your loyalty program to get them in the door, but nothing is more rewarding than their feeling as though they’ve found a home away from home.

For tons of different template options, check out MustHaveMenus. MustHaveMenus offers loyalty cards, punch cards, and thousands of other marketing materials for restaurants.