4 Tips for Rebuilding Your Restaurant Client Base with a Customer Loyalty Program

There’s no doubt about it; the food and beverage industry has been hit hard in recent months. For a while, many areas limited restaurant service to take out only. As restrictions relax and people are once again dining out, customer loyalty programs are more important than ever to help struggling hospitality businesses rebuild their client base.

Customer loyalty programs help keep your customers engaged with your business through information and incentives. Engaged customers are far more likely to remember your restaurant when answering that always important, and often hotly debated, question: Where should we eat?

Tip #1: Use an Omni-channel Strategy

An omni channel approach is always best for a customer loyalty program as individuals have different communication preferences. But, there are important considerations for each. For instance, some channels have more subscription friction than others. It’s important to empathize with your customer. Imagine you see a flyer inviting you to join a customer loyalty program. How easy will it be for you to take the action needed? How motivated will you be if it requires several steps?

  • Email: This old standby just doesn’t get the engagement that other channels do. Why? There’s just too much of it. People’s inboxes are perpetually clogged and your emails will likely get lost in the noise. There is also serious subscription friction if people need to go to your website and enter their email address to subscribe to receive your emails. It’s hard to imagine someone doing that.
  • Facebook: It’s gotten some bad press in recent years, but it is the largest social network. The bad news is that not everyone will see your posts unless you want to pay to post, and even then many people still won’t see them. This is another subscription friction situation because it takes some effort for people to log on to Facebook, find your page, and like it.
  • Twitter: To be really successful on Twitter, you need to use Twitter ads. And, again, there is subscription friction as people have to log on, search for your handle, and then follow you. Also, not everyone is a Twitter user. You might run into some generational adoption issues.
  • Instagram: Obviously, Instagram is THE APP for photos, and people love photos. Still, not everyone uses it. There’s some subscription friction here too, but people may be more likely to do it for compelling visual content. 
  • Text Messaging: This is arguably the lowest friction communication channel available. Everyone has text messaging, everyone knows how to use it, and it takes seconds to interact with your brand via text. There is no logging in, no searching, no getting lost in the noise, and everyone checks their texts.

Tip #2: Craft Compelling Content & Incentives

Human beings seek novelty and many of us haven’t been getting much of it while stuck at home. You can help with that by posting and sending fun, engaging, meaningful content and offers. 

  • Run contests and be sure to share the results. People love the opportunity to win fun stuff. Response time contests are always a hit. Radio stations have run these types of contests for years. For instance, send out a text message around 5pm on a weekday that says: the first 2 people to respond get a free large pizza.
  • Be funny. Humor sells even when it’s silly. For example: “Thank God it’s Fryday! We’re celebrating the end of a long work week with free fries with every burger all day today!” is more engaging than “Free fries with every burger all day today!”
  • Know your target audience and offer incentives that are meaningful for them. For example, if your target audience is families with young children, a “Kids under 10 eat free on Wednesdays” promotion will probably be more effective than a “Free pitcher of beer” promotion.

Tip #3: Engage Regularly

Something many small businesses struggle with is engaging their audience regularly. You can set up social media accounts and communication tools, but if you don’t reach out to your audience regularly, you will lose them. Communicate regularly to make sure your restaurant is top of mind when it comes to dining out.

  • Create an editorial calendar that is shared with anyone responsible for content on any channel. It might be something like this: On Wednesdays at noon, we post our nightly special on all channels. On Fridays at 3pm, we post our weekend events and specials on all channels.
  • Divide and delegate. Many small businesses don’t have the budget for a full time marketing person. Divide loyalty program content responsibility across multiple staff members. Perhaps the host or hostess is responsible for taking a photo of the blackboard with the weekend specials and posting it on instagram every Friday afternoon at the beginning of their shift, while the front of the house manager is responsible for coordinating an SMS based response time contest on the 2nd Tuesday of each month.
  • Find hidden talent. Encourage your staff to share their ideas for engaging with your customers. You may have a budding artist, writer, photographer, or videographer that wants an opportunity to showcase their skills. Engage your staff to engage your audience.

Tip #4: Promote. Promote. Promote.

You can hit every channel, craft compelling content, and post regularly, but if no one is subscribed, no one is engaged. It’s very important that you regularly promote your customer loyalty program. 

  • Cross channel promotion is key. Ideally, you want to engage the people in your target audience across multiple channels. So don’t forget to cross promote. For instance, post a call to action to subscribe to your text messaging channel on your Instagram. Offering an incentive is a great way to get people to take action, so something like this would work well.

“Text BURGER to 37373 to receive notifications about specials and events and a one-time 25% discount.”

  • Promote in house. Direct your staff to encourage customers to follow you on social media, share their email address, or text in to join your SMS channel. You can even run a contest to encourage your staff to promote your program and track their results. Some text messaging platforms have built in functionality to support this sort of tracking.
  • Promote on packaging, menus, and table tents. Every printed surface is an opportunity to get your audience to join your loyalty program. You don’t have to put every channel on every surface. Empathize with your customers and think about what action they might be willing to take at any point in their journey. For instance, if they are sitting at the table reading the menu, consider whether they are more likely to pull out their phone to join your text messaging channel or to go to your website and submit their email address.

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