Staying In Is Here to Stay. What Does that Mean for Restaurant Loyalty Programs? 

Undoubtedly, one of the most affected industries as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was the restaurant industry. As the world quickly came to a screeching halt in the early months of 2020, restaurants quickly accelerated an already existing shift towards digitalization to adapt to customers' new safety and priorities.

Over the past year, many restaurants have reduced the stress of the system by having consumers order online, by phone or mobile app, while additionally offering curbside delivery at the nearest point of retail. According to Mastercard’s “Recovery Insights: The Shift to Digital,” 59 percent of consumers say that eating in more than going out is a change that’s here to stay. 

Despite a brief period of in-person traffic throughout the summer season, consumers have overwhelmingly opted for take-out options from their favorite restaurants. With consumers growing more comfortable with this new means of engagement and convenience, to what degree this behavior permanent?

Throughout 2021 and beyond, that answer will largely depend on how restaurants adjust their loyalty programs.

Prioritize Digital Experiences 

For some customers, digital touchpoints may be the only ones they have with your brand. The 2020 rush to digital is over, and now’s time to turn it from a necessity to an asset.

Businesses can set themselves apart from competitors by supplying niche experiences. One way to do this is by providing customers with dynamic menus, which offer recommendations based on past orders and preferences. Businesses can further enhance menus by highlighting bestselling items, supplying photos, and identifying menu items that don’t travel well.

Businesses can set themselves apart from competitors by supplying niche experiences.

Consumers are developing a baseline expectation for digital experiences. While many businesses rely on third-party delivery services, these platforms charge service and convenience fees for restaurants on their platform, totaling between 15-30 percent of the check. Creating and optimizing your online delivery system for both desktop and mobile drives traffic directly to your website, provides full control of the customer’s experience, eliminates fees associated with third-party apps, and ultimately bolsters customer loyalty and trust. 

Ensure your customers are aware of your online ordering options by continuously updating your community through your social media channels, website, and blog. Offer promotions on items purchased through your website to encourage users to engage directly from you, rather than a third-party app. Deliver customers high-quality digital experiences by providing frequent updates at their fingertips. Displaying predicted delivery time and allowing users to track their delivery through each step of the process, from preparation to drop-off at their doorstep, are just a couple of ways to strengthen engagement and lead to confidence in the brand.

Rethink Rewards

Customers want entirely personalized shopping experiences from retail to dining. As such, restaurants should offer broad rewards as well as individualized offerings, such as receiving a free birthday meal or promotions on their most frequently purchased items. 

With customers using online checkouts more often, it is easier than ever to use codes they find at checkout. Make sure that you are effectively communicating offerings to loyal customers through the channels they frequent most, such as Facebook, Twitter, or email. Promote tailored codes and rewards for individual customers through push notification and use “discoverable” rewards to drive traffic to your preferred channels/ordering platforms.

Supplying your most loyal customers with personalized, real-time experiences and offerings promotes larger purchases, more frequent transactions, and greater advocacy. 

Facilitate Frequency 

Prior to COVID-19, hands-on service defined a high-quality experience; more time, attention, and “touch” often resulted in higher sales and more frequent customers. 

Customers are more committed to brands that offer safe and swift engagements that require little to no direct contact.

In contrast, today, a high-quality experience is defined by fewer attendants, less interaction, and NO touch wherever possible. Customers are frequenting businesses offering the new “white glove treatment,” where they arrive on site to be seen by an employee who promptly delivers their product to them with gloved hands through their window or into their trunk.

Today, customers are more committed to brands that offer safe and swift engagements that require little to no direct contact. By demonstrating a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of consumers and the larger community, restaurants will bolster trust and display willingness to adapt to customer needs on the road ahead. As we near the end of the pandemic, it will be crucial for restaurants to continue to engage and listen to customers’ shifting needs, so they can continue to adapt appropriately to maintain loyalty and frequency.

The entire business landscape has changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this era, it is more important than ever to be in tune with the needs and desires of customers. Today's restaurants are solidifying a new standard of customer experience, based on the importance of the wellbeing, convenience, and safety of the communities they serve. Restaurants that can rapidly adjust to the ever-changing environment will find success not just now but beyond the pandemic, in a world that will be characterized by a new set of priorities.