Loyalty ProgramRestaurant Industry Insights

Leveraging Restaurant Customer Loyalty

An unpredictable marketplace and changing consumer preferences have resulted in challenging times for many in the restaurant industry. Just when we think we have the customer experience down, trends and preferences leave us scrambling and rising to the occasion yet again. 

One way to reduce operational and marketing costs is to lean toward the tried and true – your brand-loyal guests. Many believe it’s the key to a successful restaurant: the loyal patron who brings the family to dinner on Friday nights and meets with colleagues on Wednesday afternoons. Brand-loyal customers visit their favorite neighborhood eateries more often, complain less, and even chip in when the bartender fails to show.

How do you leverage this all-important customer? 

Go To the Top of the World

If you’re Subway, you tell your loyal customers to journey to the northernmost regions of the U.S. The once-challenged restaurant chain that recently sold to Roark Capital, the same private equity firm that owns Buffalo Wild Wings, Arby’s, Dunkin’, and Jimmy John’s, is betting big on their all-new loyalty program, and it seems to be paying off. Since its startup on September 9, 2023, millions of loyal members have started the journey up the member tiers, from Pro to Captain to All-Star Member.

Now, the stakes are higher. 

As Nation’s Restaurant News describes the grand, loyal gesture, MVP rewards members have from September 25 to 28 to visit SubwayTopOfTheWorld.com and register for the opportunity to trek to Utqiagvik, Alaska. Once known as Barrow, it’s the northernmost community in the U.S. and is also home to the largest Inupiaq settlements. Should they make the trek, they receive 1 million Subway MVP Reward points. Subway provides up to $1,000 in travel costs and a two-night stay at the Top of the World Hotel.

That is certainly one way to develop a brand-loyal base.

Revamped Apps & a Trip to Baja

Another brand to relaunch its loyalty program along with a new and improved app is Rubio’s Coastal Grill. This Baja brand is also making it easier to earn and redeem rewards for customized menu items and free food. Customers can also complete challenges to earn additional points. 

On September 27, Rubio’s is starting their “Back to Baja” sweepstakes, giving members the opportunity to win a trip to Cabo San Lucas. One wonders, in the current environment if this is what’s required to stay competitive. Are we now part food service, part travel agent, and, of course, part unsurpassed experiences? 

Brands With the Best Loyalty Programs

When Newsweek scored the best casual dining restaurant loyalty programs based on a survey of 4,000 customers, Buffalo Wild Wings’ Blazin’ Rewards took the number one spot, followed by Chipotle Rewards. Other top contenders include Chili’s, Texas Roadhouse, Red Robin, and Dine Rewards restaurants, including Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Outback Steakhouse, and Fleming’s. 

Because the latter’s reward program encompasses four different restaurants, they do have a slight advantage. However, for those with multi-concepts, it’s a great idea to convert irregular guests to brand-loyal mavericks. 

What is Buffalo Wild Wing’s doing to garner the top spot? When Loyalty360 spoke with Evan Magliocca, the brand marketing manager for Baseman Insights & Marketing, he also shared the belief that Blazin’ Rewards is ahead of the competition. A few of the reasons include personalized and targeted rewards driven by fundamental metrics. 

They use guest preferences, spending behavior, and affinities to help them personalize offers and target guests who haven’t been in for a while. As with most aspects of the restaurant industry, it comes down to personalization. 


Why is restaurant loyalty important?

Loyal customers return to your restaurant more often and spend more when they do. One study showed that regular customers spend 67% more than new customers. It’s also much easier and less expensive to retain an existing customer than require a new one.

What Is needed to create a loyalty program?

One thing you need to start a restaurant loyalty program is the tech to support it. Most loyalty software programs integrate with your POS system, making it easy to implement and operate. Using a point system seems to be one of the most popular strategies among restaurants and their guests. 

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