COVID-19: Are Restaurant Customer Loyalty Cards Dead?

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With the COVID-19 pandemic decimating in-house dining, it may seem as though customer loyalty programs will no longer be effective at encouraging repeated customer visits to restaurants. However, with a little ingenuity and some adaptations to bring your loyalty program online, you can continue to encourage customers to come through your virtual doors and help you overcome the challenges brought on by this global pandemic.



Bring Your Restaurant Online

If you haven’t already, the first thing to do to encourage customer loyalty is to enable your customers to patronize your restaurant without the need to make a phone call or set foot inside the building. This can include both curbside pickup service as well as delivering directly to customers. Though they do decrease your margins, you can also add your restaurant to third-party delivery platforms. No matter which avenues you choose, going online is critical to maintaining customer loyalty during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.


The Personal Touch

It’s safe to say that every restaurant in your area that’s still open in one form or another is fiercely competing for customers. With in-house and patio dining largely limited to 50% capacity and many diners skittish about eating and drinking indoors, the typically slim margins of the restaurant business are set to narrow even further. This is particularly true for those establishments with offerings that don’t convert well to a brisk takeout or delivery business.

One of the ways to make sure you stay on the minds of your existing and prospective customers is to keep in touch through email and social media. Even if you aren’t currently open for business, your existing customers want to know you’re still there and what you’re doing to alter your service paradigm during the pandemic. If you are ready to increase your business, reaching out through these channels is an excellent way to directly appeal to your prospects to patronize your establishment either through on-premise dining or through hitherto untried means such as curbside pickup or delivery.

Communication is key. When in doubt, err on the side of too many updates through social media rather than too few. (Note: the same does not apply to email, where too many newsletters in too short a time can cause people to unsubscribe.) Just be your genuine self.

One of the ways you encourage more customers to return is by thanking the customers who have stayed with you for this long. A little thanks goes a long way in making them feel wanted while giving them a sort of soft cue to continue to walk through your door or at least order for off-premise dining.


Initiate Or Upgrade Your Restaurant Customer Loyalty Program

Do you currently offer an old-school punch card loyalty program in which customers get one punch per order, and every so often they receive the next order free? Or have you implemented a system whereby each purchase nets the customer points which they can exchange through rewards via a plastic card? Or do you have no formal loyalty program at all and instead rely on your staff to reward your loyal customers? Wherever you find yourself in this customer loyalty reward progression, the COVID-19 pandemic is an extremely opportune time to modernize your efforts with an app-based or contactless customer loyalty program. These hold three key advantages over older programs – even relatively modern point-based systems:

  1. They do not require the customer to keep track of a plastic card;
  2. Nothing changes hands between the customer and your staff, which allows for completely contactless interaction if you also offer contactless payment and
  3. Customers can be rewarded whether they choose to order through the website, via the app or in person.


This kind of ubiquitous restaurant customer loyalty program also means you’ll be able to comprehensively track customer habits both online and in person. These omnipresent analytics can bring incalculable benefits as you craft marketing campaigns tailored to the habits of each customer.

Does a customer typically order takeout on Tuesdays? Maybe if you offer two-for-one drinks on that day they’ll pop in and spend a bit more. Is someone traditionally a Friday patron? Maybe they could be convinced through double points to visit on other days. The kind of granularity you receive when analyzing data gleaned through an omnichannel customer loyalty program opens the floodgates to a deluge of marketing possibilities only limited by your ingenuity and the capabilities of your POS system. Properly-timed push notifications can result in significant spikes in sales throughout your existing customer base, and that’s gold at a time when new customers are going to be significantly more difficult to acquire.


The Loyalty Card Of The Future

So no, loyalty cards aren’t dead; they’ve actually evolved into even more effective contactless vehicles uniquely equipped to drive increased sales through multiple retail channels. While you don’t want to contribute to app creep and bog down your customers with yet another smartphone solution, contactless customer loyalty apps are uniquely suited for the circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the purchasing and reward paradigms made possible by the latest iterations of restaurant customer loyalty programs are a considerable improvement over their predecessors for customers and restauranteurs alike. The era of contactless, omnichannel customer loyalty programs is most likely here to stay, so as a restaurant owner, it would behoove you to begin taking advantage of its many benefits sooner rather than later.

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