Restaurant Technology

Restaurants have become tech-savvy by providing an app for their customer base. We’ve seen it from the granddaddies of fast-food chains to local coffee shops and independent bars. While it may seem like just another trend it’s really the next best thing for expanding your customer base and building customer loyalty.

How to Build a Loyalty Program

If you don’t already have a loyalty program started, you’ll need to think about the following while considering an app:

  • know your customer base
    • talk with your regulars: they know your service & menu, see what other customers like, and will understand a portion of your customer base
    • consider a customer survey to find out likes and dislikes in regards to loyalty programs
  • stick to your brand and brand messaging
    • this is not the time to switch up your logo or color theme, customers need your app to reflect what they already know
  • connect your restaurant name with the loyalty program’s name
    • work in a play-on-words, if it is appropriate
    • obtain staff input, or have a contest and ‘voting’ on their favorites
  • devise how customers will earn points or rewards
    • base it on number of items, spending levels, or number of visits
    • double points for certain days or times when business is typically slow
    • tier system where the more they visit the more valuable their rewards are, or for a certain number of visits they receive a new ‘status’ (similar to airline rewards but obtainable)
    • app launch with promotions for customers to download your app
  • remember to make rewards achievable and realistic
    • keep it simple
    • gauge your ideas on known similar competitor programs
    • be creative, purchase small amounts of swag like hats or glasses

Why an App for a Loyalty Program?

Marketing to millennials now is critical to the future growth of your restaurant, and apps are an easy way to regularly market to them along with all generations. There are currently 75 million millennials in America, of which 90% have a smartphone and 96% have enrolled in a restaurant loyalty program. If millennials are not your target audience, a loyalty app is still a great way to engage Gen X’ers and Baby Boomers with smartphones. For more information on generational use of smartphones, iPads, and tablets, click here.

Similar to any loyalty program, it is all about building brand loyalty, boosting your bottom line, increasing the “regular” customer base, and attracting new customers. Having a well-made app will also attract customers from the millennial generation. An app will allow your customers to do a variety of activities, including:

  • viewing their points
  • being notified or view discounts or specials
  • perusing the menus or their favorite orders
  • providing links to your social media or review pages
  • allowing table reservations
  • ordering food before arriving or for pickup

Another advantage of an app is that people become actively engaged with your restaurant outside of your storefront. Customers with the app are also more likely to show others your app, which becomes a secondary (and free) marketing benefit! Offering a loyalty app will also give a boost to your restaurant’s reputation because apps are still new to restaurant loyalty programs.

Best Practices in Loyalty App Success

When you decide it’s the right time, how do you decide what to include in your loyalty app? With a sea of options, stick to the following four factors to launch a successful loyalty app:

1.  Customization

Partner with a developer who will work with you to build your app focusing on your brand, logo, and feel to recreate your restaurant’s atmosphere. After all, a majority of people know what “golden arches” is in the restaurant world. Imagine if their app had a different colored or shaped logo. Most would see it as a hoax, joke, or potential scam.

Keep your current loyalty plan structure and add new options for earning points. By keeping your current structure, tech-hesitant customers will buy-in to the new app. New options or additional points will keep new loyalty customers interested and engaged. Point structured plans can include points per dollars spent, per items ordered, or per visit. Rewards-based plans can include free appetizers, free drinks, or percent-off discounts.

Another aspect of customization is access to the data collected behind the app. It is important to analyze the information to discover hotspots and potentials for improvement. The information captured behind the scenes can provide a variety of insight into customers and your menu, including:

  • days in the week/month
  • trends in items ordered
  • areas of the apps being used
  • which coupons or discounts bring the most return
  • regular customer’s favorites and likeliness to order new items
  • items that new customers are most likely to order
  • which specials spur orders

2.  Engage your customers in multiple ways

There are many ways to engage your loyalty customers, with a list that continues to grow, including:

  • multiple opportunities for people to enroll and earn points
  • dine-in, take-out, and delivery
  • geolocation technology integrated to send push notifications to customers when they are near one of your locations
  • push notifications to remind customers of specials and discounts including ‘today only’ promotions
  • push notifications to send out surveys
  • contests such as ‘create a dish’ or ‘photo contest’ of your menu items
  • app-only menu items
  • automated discounts or specials on specific days
  • announcements of new menu items
  • push notifications, even customized messages, on a customer’s birthday and/or loyalty anniversary
  • contest to create or revise a current menu item (winner gets a free item or meal)
  • celebrate holidays and local events
  • spin the wheel or scratch ticket style rewards
  • referral rewards – either for the referrer or referrer and ‘new’ customer
  • offer ‘free’ snack size portions of new menu items

3.  POS system integration

If your app will have mobile ordering, which is one of the most desired capabilities of loyalty program apps, then be sure it will integrate with your POS system (and that it actually works).

Off-premise ordering is crucial to any app. In their October 2019 report, the National Restaurant Association reported that the general population have participated in using a drive thru (92%) or delivery at least once per month in the past year. For delivery services, 79% used restaurant services, and 53% used third-party delivery such as UberEats.

Payment options are also essential to online ordering. Not everyone has a credit card or debit card they are comfortable entering into an app. Perhaps someone is ordering for several people and each person wants to pay separately when they arrive. All of these options can also include your custom fees or service charges applied to the type of purchase.

One trend to be on top of is the ability for on premise customers to be able to order refills, additional items, or pay for their order through the app. To be inclusive of customers who do not want to download an app, it’s also important to work with website POS integration. One such restaurant doing this is BJ’s Restaurants Inc, as stated in this blog.

4.  Launch with purpose

When you are ready to launch your loyalty app, an important step is early engagement with your regular customers. Some regularly recommended strategies include:

  • transferring of current points from the traditional loyalty program
  • automatic coupons or specials for customers rated as a ‘regular’
  • bonus points
  • a “welcome to the app” free drink, appetizer or dessert reward.

Include some fun promotions and refresh content on regular basis, such as quarterly or monthly. For example:

  • your launch could include a ‘burn the punch card’ event the first month
  • on the second or third month of app use, have an auto-survey to find out how the customers like the app and why
  • for local festivities, seasonal events, or holidays, be sure to add extra incentives on those days with a day or two around them

Include your staff in the creation of promotions. After all, your staff have the most interaction with your customers, and they will make extra efforts if they can identify part of the app as their idea. Along with staff providing ideas, make sure they understand how the app works and how it interfaces with the POS. This will also help with staff buy in and ensure app rewards are easy for customers to redeem.

Include marketing of your loyalty app in all of your marketing strategies. This should include signs in your storefront, social media announcements, staff recommendation to customers, advertising, and table tents.  

It’s time to transform your loyalty program into an app before your competitors outpace you. Once your app is being used, remember to measure success with the data behind the app. It may be surprising to find out that your most popular items are ordered by particular demographics. Take time to boost your app with special or larger rewards occasionally, and watch your restaurant grow!