Gamification Prompts Restaurant Engagement and Loyalty

Gamification is rapidly changing how brands interact with customers during the restaurant experience. Through dry periods, seasonal menus, product launches or limited time offers, gamification is an intelligent way to motivate engagement, drive competitive traffic, and activate specific behaviors among consumers in the food and beverage industry. 

But what do you need to know about this tactic to achieve your business goals while driving meaningful customer connections? According to Aaron Lobliner, the chief consumer officer of CataBoom, a Dallas-based gamification company, it all starts with a campaign designed to prompt engagement. 

“Much of restaurant industry marketing is mired in a sea of sameness,” states Lobliner. “Most loyalty programs are largely transactional, and many brands still heavily rely on discounts and coupons to drive sales. Consumers are bombarded with over 10,000 marketing messages daily, don’t open emails, and use ad blockers, so getting through to them is more challenging than ever. It is about cutting through the clutter and giving people tangible reasons to pay attention.”  

We’re in a NOW driven world, where instant gratification and personalization are where the trends keep moving in the marketplace.

First, any food and beverage business must decide what the goal behind employing gamification might be. It may seem obvious that this tactic can cut through the clutter and noise of the marketplace, giving the customer Awareness of a restaurant or promotion. 

Says Lobliner, “Make sure you understand the objectives: “What are we trying to achieve as partners?’  We’re really deliberate about asking our customers how we can make sure they have the best programs that are the most impactful to their customers. It’s important to make it simple to understand, easy to access, and easy to participate.”  

For example, CataBoom teamed up with TGI Friday’s to launch a “Five Fridays” promotion on the restaurant’s app. Deployed during months with five Fridays and targeted to Rewards Members, this initiative gave winners points, prizes, and free food, resulting in a 206 percent increase in click throughs. 

If acquisition is something you want to put dollars behind, gamification content can be a fresh and clever way to acquire new customers, motivate app downloads, and capture zero-party data. 

For example, guests of the White Castle restaurant chain gladly uploaded their receipts for a chance to instantly win breakfast for the year or a grand prize trip to Belgium. Extra plays could be earned by entering keywords on the brand’s media, and the successful campaign drew a five-percent sales increase during its run.

Profitable traffic is perhaps the most essential reason behind the use of gamification. As the National Restaurant Association reported in March 2021, 58 percent of adults reported using restaurant delivery services once a month, up from 26 percent percent pre-pandemic. Add that to in-store touchpoints, and gamification is a best-in-class way to turn trackable behavior into an opportunity. 

Taco Bell launched an activated partnership with Xbox to drive the purchase of drinks, freezes, and combos. Player/customers either completed a purchase-based challenge in the Taco Bell app or earned codes via awareness-driving giveaways for a chance to win a Series X bundle before they hit the marketplace. The company discovered each customer had an average of 2.5 unique gameplays a day to try and take home the exclusive prizes. 

“And the games don’t even need to be complicated,” says Lobliner. “In fact, simpler mechanics like spin-the-wheel, scratchers, and trivia have proven to be the most popular for CataBoom because you don’t have to retrain behavior.” 

Almost every restaurant chain in the industry has employed launches, special events, and LTOs at one point or another. It’s a fact that consumers respond to any deal more enthusiastically when it has a finite lifespan. 

And gamification, like Ruby Tuesday’s birthday-themed slot machine created by CataBoom, is a proven tactic to amplify these tentpole moments. By offering a combination of instant-win and sweepstakes prizes (including a grand prize of 500,000 dollars!) players eagerly signed up, resulting in a 25-percent repeat play rate. 

Once you acquire a customer base, building brand advocacy and loyalty is the next crucial step, one that can easily be enhanced with gamification. 

Gamification is about infusing fun and making it brand relevant, but also trading value to get value.

Says Lobliner, “We’re in a NOW driven world, where instant gratification and personalization are where the trends keep moving in the marketplace. Gamification is about infusing fun and making it brand relevant, but also trading value to get value.”

According to a BOND brand loyalty study, 73 percent of loyalty program members said that promotions were the top reason they participated in these programs. A gamified reward can close the gap between a perceived loyalty program’s value and a guest’s perception. For example, Subway’s MyWay Rewards program offered instant win gift cards to guests willing to sign up online, in-app or in-store. The program resulted in 35K new loyalty sign-ups during this single campaign. 

Finally, insight is a huge benefit of gamifying both short- and long-term initiatives. Buffalo Wild Wing’s rewards program invited new users while rewarding points, but a side benefit was the gathering of essential customer information and preferences acquired during each consumer’s time spent on the app, an average of 22.3 percent more during the program. 

Says Lobliner, “We were able to gather amazing first party and zero-party data because people wanted to engage and make sure they get their prize or discount.” 

Whether on-premise or on the go, gamification can drive behavior and gain insight through each consumer touchpoint.

Lobliner also has six key tips to consider before reaching out to gamification partners 

  1. Make engagements simple to understand, easy to access, and FUN!
  2. Campaigns must be worth a consumer’s while—aka, trading value to get value. Make the experience (and what discounts or rewards they receive) worth their time.
  3. We are in a “now now now” world. Instant Gratification and personalization can make a huge difference in commanding attention.
  4. Create opportunities for tentpole events that create ownable moments that consumers look forward to, are leverageable across media channels, and provide great value. 
  5. Move beyond a mere transaction. Through loyalty, in-restaurant and digital initiatives create promotions infused with more ways to engage.
  6. Improve ROI through successive gamification engagements.

By defining your strategy at the outset, every restaurant brand can turn interactions into opportunity. Each engagement with an anonymous customer is a crucial key to converting them into a valued repeat guest. 

To learn more, Lobliner recently guested on The Main Course, hosted by Modern Restaurant Management's Barbara Castiglia about how CataBoom uses incentives to drive behavior change for restaurant businesses.