Uncle Julio’s: A Case Study in Employee Motivation

By turning the typical loyalty model upside down, Uncle Julio’s focused upon internal employees with a unique loyalty membership drive that resulted in an average of 2,000 new members per store and more than 50 percent increase in total membership.

Opened in Dallas in 1986, Uncle Julio’s has grown to 27 restaurants across seven states: Texas, Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. The restaurants offer savory, made-from-scratch Mexican favorites.

Uncle Julio’s designed its new loyalty program to focus on big spending to incentivize both small and large group visits. Rewards are designed to be big and memorable, and to inspire guests to come redeem them with friends who’ll join the party. Upon reaching gold level, members receive an “App Buffet,” a reward redeemable for appetizers for up to 15 people during one visit. This encourages large group visits, and corresponding large check totals. Redeeming loyalty rewards causes a ripple effect with guest registration, as friends who came in for the App Buffet say, “Can I get that too?”

“Our servers that were most successful pitching the loyalty program were the ones serving large tables,” said Paul Marrero, System Administrator, Uncle Julio’s. “They might have one check, but they could get six, eight, or 10 signups. By making servers the focus of our campaign, Uncle Julio’s incentivized them to talk with that bigger group of people, including people who aren’t regulars yet but came in to dine with their friends, and the registrations snowballed from that.”

Paytronix Systems, Inc., named Uncle Julio’s the winner of its 2017 Paytronix Loyaltees Award for Real Impact. The annual program is designed to identify and spotlight Paytronix customers who are leveraging the Paytronix Rewards platform to deliver truly innovative and market-defining guest experiences.

“Uncle Julio’s is well on its way to getting north of a 15 percent loyalty penetration rate and we know that’s where brands begin to see exceptional results from loyalty programs,” said Michelle Tempesta, Head of Product for Paytronix System, Inc. “When restaurants see five to seven percent of checks with member IDs, they’ve motivated their best guests to join the program. When the brands reach more than 15 percent penetration, that’s when the real program impact happens and c-suites take notice. There’s no question that with the level of excitement Uncle Julio’s has generated for its program—the program will continue to deliver increasing incremental sales for the brand.”

The Challenge

Although the successful launch of Uncle Julio’s Amigo Especial Loyalty Program had accrued a solid member base, an analysis of the initial program results made it clear that the next challenge was to boost enrollment and membership. Uncle Julio’s discussed that Loyalty members were spending more than unregistered guests. Increasing membership in the program meant more happy guests redeeming rewards and incremental sales for Uncle Julio’s.

Uncle Julio’s management targeted the busy holiday season to expand enrollment with a membership drive. With a goal to increase total loyalty membership and registration, Uncle Julio’s needed a means to motivate more servers to encourage guests to join the program.

The Solution

Leveraging the high-traffic holiday season, Uncle Julio’s launched a loyalty registration drive to boost membership. The new campaign specifically focused on employees—with built-in incentives to adjust the behavior of servers who weren’t talking about the program. The employee-focused Registration Drive rewarded servers with prizes for signing up new loyalty program members.  

With Paytronix, the team can analyze data on loyalty signups based upon percentage of total sales attributed to individual servers, as the software associates loyalty checks with cashier IDs. Uncle Julio’s simply compared the loyalty checks to the total number of checks each server handled in order to see the total number of new signups. This ensured that Uncle Julio’s could provide a level playing field for those working full time as well as part-time. Weekly updates provided store managers with details of how their store and employees were doing.

Weekly cash bonuses were awarded to those who finished first, second and third in loyalty signups by store/location. Servers also earned raffle tickets for bigger, global prizes across the entire Uncle Julio’s chain, such as Apple smartwatches and big-screen TVs, which proved to be an effective motivator. Uncle Julio’s gave away $15,000 in total prizes. Manager prizes were given for the store that had the highest number of signups overall.

  • On average, 28 stores registered 2,000 people each to increase Uncle Julio’s loyalty base.
  • 54,000 new guests signed up during the three-month campaign – a better than 50 percent increase to the 100,000 guests already enrolled.
  • 47,000 of those new loyalty members completed a full registration for a registration rate above 90 percent during this drive.

“Having accountability down to the level of each server was the key to being successful with guest signups,” explained Marrero. “Servers are busy, and we certainly didn’t want our employees to be forcing the program on guests. We had to incent them and adjust the behavior of servers who weren’t talking about the program. That made it much, much more successful. We now have daily activity reports from Paytronix, giving check-level detail associated to our loyalty accounts, all reconciled with Aloha. This level of loyalty detail allows the Uncle Julio’s team to perform and leverage in-house analytics that simply wouldn’t be possible without Paytronix. “We have some very loyal guests, sometimes I’m surprised at just how good our loyalty program is working. Analyzing our program data we know definitively that Paytronix loyalty has had a solid impact on guests coming into the restaurant.”

Another facet of the campaign was stopping an old email club.

“We don’t maintain an extraneous email program anymore; we migrated our old email club into the loyalty program and manage all of our email marketing right within the Paytronix platform,” said Marrero. “That migration was one of our loyalty strategies, to bring the email club in once we’d launched, and the new program had proven to be working and solid. And now we don’t need other solutions, we do all of our guest communications through Paytronix. Every loyalty member we have, if they have opted in will receive email communication. Compared to our old email club, we’ve gained so much with Paytronix. Most important is the data analytics. With the old e-club we could track how many emails we sent out, and how many of those offers came back in. But that solution didn’t have nearly as good statistics as far as open rates, how much was on their tab, and details that feed our data analysis. It’s a lot easier to analyze that data with Paytronix because it’s all linked to a digital transaction. There’s a lot more flexibility as well.

Overall, the results were win-win with increased engagement from both customers and employees.

“With Paytronix our guests are just more engaged,” he said. “There’s something exciting they can learn or earn, where with the e-club and our old approach to messages, it was just every once in a while you got a communication. With the new Paytronix loyalty program the guests come in to see us already talking and engaged. It’s more fun for the guests; they come in saying, ‘Oh, I’m so close to earning the next award level, I just need to order this!'”