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Blog / February 26, 2024

Why Restaurant Loyalty Isn’t One-Size-Fits-All

restaurant loyalty

If we were to describe the typical restaurant loyalty program, it would look something like this: A diner walks into a restaurant, shows their loyalty card, and if their total spend surpasses, say $100, they get a discount or freebie.

Sound familiar?

While rewarding guest loyalty is a good thing, a transactional, one-size-fits-all approach fits quick service restaurants much better than full-service restaurants.  

In a recent survey, 74% of operators ranked “creating memorable moments of surprise in-service” as one of the three most important factors for getting a guest to come back. And yet, many restaurant operators still continue to leverage low-touch transactional measures to build their restaurant loyalty programs — like allowing the number of times a guest visits to determine their access to perks and rewards.

It’s time we stop making loyalty transactional.

What if, instead, we thought of those traditional data points as indicators of loyalty rather than the result of said loyalty? Rather than focusing on the guests who prove their loyalty to you, use these indicators to start cultivating relationships with these guests, proving your loyalty.

Below, we’ll show you how to build and scale an individualized loyalty system that wows guests and keeps them coming back.

Time, Attention and All the Small Things

Many restaurants assume that transactional rewards like discounts and freebies are the key to winning guest loyalty, when in fact, the opposite is true: big or small personal moments you can repeat over time can mean more to a guest and do more for driving repeat business.

Personalization — which is actually just giving someone your time and attention — exists on a spectrum. It’s important to make guests feel special and seen. You can’t barter or sell time and attention, but these efforts are often the most impactful for driving loyalty.

Start off with small things you can implement quickly using just a few data points, like:

  • Greeting guests by name
  • Taking nuts off a salad according to predefined dietary preferences
  • Having a glass of champagne ready for those celebrating an anniversary

Figure out what kinds of personalization elements work for you and your business. Unlike transactional rewards, these special moments are not one-size-fits-all. To deliver these, you need to understand your guests. 

Let Technology and Your Staff Be Your Eyes and Ears

Creating personal experiences at scale can seem impossible. It’s an especially tough task for your servers, who are the front-line ambassadors of customer engagement.

Devise personal moments for each guest by listening and acting — your best employees do this instinctively, like silently delivering a free glass of champagne after overhearing guests’ cheers to 20 years of marriage. But on busy nights, this commitment to delightful customer experience can slip. You can curate special moments consistently if you let technology aid in the discovery. 

Here’s an example:

Mjølner, a luxury Viking- and Norse-inspired restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, uses SevenRooms’ reservation and customer relationship management (CRM) platform to collect data and manage their online bookings. 

Tipped off by the mention of their anniversary in the reservation notes, the team at Mjølner, surprised a couple celebrating their wedding anniversary on site with a hand-written card along with a set of gifted drinking horns to toast the special occasion.

restaurant loyalty building techniques

This thoughtful act has proven to me that not all restaurants ignore the reservation notes section. And because of this experience, I have recommended it to many friends and look forward to dining there again,” the guest shared with SevenRooms. 

This level of thought and personalization connected the guests to Mjølner with a memory they’ll enjoy forever. It also earned the restaurant referrals and repeat business.  

With key information at your fingertips, your team can surprise and delight guests. This is how you go above and beyond — ultimately turning a repeat guest into a “VIP” or “Regular” faster. 

Amassing a segment of loyal customers takes time, but integrating technology into your restaurant operations can help you learn what drives loyalty in real time. A robust reservation system and CRM can capture guest data you can share with staff across all touchpoints to create personalized experiences in service and marketing. 

Segment, Learn and Repeat

Using technology, like a restaurant CRM, the next step is finding a segment of guests and figuring out what will get them to return. By segmenting, you’ll amass a shortlist of loyalty-generating gestures your staff can pull off at a moment’s notice and without a lot of effort.

Here’s a blueprint you can follow to build scalable customer loyalty programs:

  1. Identify one behavior that you consider an indicator of loyalty, such as:
    • Made three visits in two months.
    • Left a 4- or 5-star review.
    • Added a birthday or anniversary to an online reservations.
  1. Configure one perk you’ll offer to create a unique in-service experience:
    • Equip your team with an arsenal of ways to make a guest feel special. Smaller pre-planned actions like table touches and invitations to join your membership club or are all low-effort ways to engage a guest. 
  1. Train your staff to listen and act, leveraging technology to collect key intel and plan personalization efforts before they arrive.
    • These added “surprise and delight” moments turn an emerging fan into your most loyal diners. 
  1. Identify more customer segments and repeat.

To identify who you want to engage, you must first define your indicators of loyalty. Then, nurture the relationship with thoughtful outreach. 

The Potential of the “Champion” Diner

We know it’s easier to monetize an existing customer base by bringing them back than it is to acquire a new diner. Cheaper, too.

We also know how important segmentation is for understanding guest behavior, targeting outreach, and, most importantly, generating loyalty. 

When addressing customer retention, operators often focus on their most active audience: the loyalty members, raving fans and high rollers. But one could argue that your “VIPs” and
Big Spenders” are already loyal. These guests are great for revenue, but if you only focus on the guests you’ve already won, you’ll miss out on another key segment.

To identify potential guests who can become repeat customers, start with your Champion diners — or, as SevenRooms defines them, guests who are on the path to becoming loyal. 

champion loyalty diner

“Champion” diners are guests who are showing signs of becoming loyal, as indicated by the number of visits, spending amounts or feedback given, for example. Champion diners are guests with potential. 

Win them over, and they’ll promote your business in more ways than your best digital marketer ever could. 

Identifying Champion Diners in Action

Using SevenRooms integrated CRM and marketing solutions, Mina Group added 1 million guest profiles to their guest database in four years.

Leveraging segmentation, they mark any guests who have dined with them three times in two months as potential loyalty diners, or Champions, and those who visit 20+ times in the same period as “Platinum VIPs.” 

Strategically segmenting their client database paved the way for truly personalized service as well as hyper-targeted marketing campaigns, which generated an additional $428,000 of on- and off-premise revenue in 2021 alone.

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Pro Tip: Once you’ve identified your Champions, target them with a personalized automated email that introduces your rewards program and inspires repeat visits. Some restaurant loyalty program ideas for engaging Champions include offering early access to reservations, exclusive event invites, birthday rewards and more.

Making a Case for Predictability

Guests want to return to predictable places. Our desire for exclusivity and a sense of belonging is one reason why highly curated private clubs are on the rise in the hospitality industry. The restaurant industry can take a page from this business model, understanding that patrons are willing to pay for access to spaces that offer consistent and quality service.

Said another way, these spaces are predictable in the best way possible. And when proven over time, it’s a great way to build a base of loyal customers. (But wait, isn’t the very notion of “surprise and delight” the opposite of “predictability?”)

You can be rare and unique while also being consistent and familiar. Restaurant brands with fiercely loyal customer bases are gloriously predictable because they’ve become places guests trust to bring their family and friends. 

Simple constants can be a haven of comfort and do wonders for forging long-term relationships with diners, like assigning their favorite server to their table for every meal or assuring their meal will be gluten-free every time. These are special touches guests trust only you to deliver eloquently. 

In restaurants where guests feel special and seen — the two elements SevenRooms deems most vital for personalization — a meal becomes an easy and enjoyable experience. Intelligent restaurant technology is the key to providing comfortable predictability…consistently.

Redefining Guest Loyalty: One-Size-Fits-None

The landscape of customer loyalty is changing, no longer propelled by punch cards and generalized “special offers” available to all, regardless of preferences. Data analytics and personalized experiences are the keys to debunking one-size-fits-all loyalty programs. 

Restaurants that continue to make sweeping generalizations with no regard for the individual will fall behind. To learn how SevenRooms can help you revolutionize guest interactions and foster long-term loyalty, book a demo today.

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