Force of Habits

Heading into a new year, we tend to think a lot about our habits. Some are good, some less so. Some can be changed. Some we wish could be. Of course all restaurant brands would love to believe that visiting their locations a habit. It likely isn’t. Instead, think of habits as a behavior carried out repeatedly by individuals or groups of guest.

Customer acquisition is a huge investment of time and of money. Winning new customers is so hard, brands have to find ways to create reasons for repeat visits. We know that a small percentage of loyal customers can create the majority of revenue by having a higher lifetime value (LTV). But light and super light users make up 47% of customers on average according to NPD.

Some brands strive to create these repeat generating habits. But regular customers may already have habits that are closely integrated into their visits. These habits can become powerful reinforcement for positive experiences and almost a draw unto themselves. Watching consumers repeat these behaviors can unlock insights into what they like about the brand. Sharing these habits with light users can actually drive occasions.

Gathered together, individual quirks become trends.

A very common habit that has rituals attached to it is coffee. People have a thousand different types of orders and millions of ways to mix their coffee. Splenda, skim, Sweet N Low, cream, whole sugar, half and half, vanilla, stir. That preparation for coffee drinkers is a ritual behavior that is as much a part of the beverage as the actual consumption. Or more. Watch a person making coffee in a new environment or without their favorite additions try to reconcile the challenge.

At the QSR level, frequent visitors have a habit around their tray. Watch patrons closely and observe how each person organizes the items on the tray. Where they place the food, how they move the containers and wrappers, where they put their sauce. These habits are very telling. Tray set up shows how people prioritize and align the food.

For all restaurants an easy way to detect habits are by looking at custom orders. Are customers regularly removing an ingredient to an item or dish? This might be an opportunity to strike it permanently, or replace it with something they’ll like better.

Is there an odd component consistently being added to item? Coleslaw is now a common sandwich topping, but that came out from a small number of people who started the practice and shared it. Finding an item like that could unlock a new menu item, entree or hidden menu.

This behavior is particularly true with beverages. The Coca-Cola Freestyle machine has created a cult that allows people to truly customize their drink to the meal they’re having. Sonic has done a similar thing with their secret drink menu consisting of unique combos that keep people coming back and more importantly, talking.

A look at the purchase data can tell us which items lead to the purchase of other items. Identify uncombined products that groups of people order together. These are habitual meals that customers already enjoy. These can be offered together as a custom LTO through a loyalty program, or an item may be offered individually to drive purchase of it accompaniments.

We tend to think about habits as individual quirks. Gathered together, individual quirks become trends. We can learn a lot about our customer base as a whole by investigating the trends of our top customers.

5 Ways to Juice Up Your Restaurant Loyalty Program

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Has your restaurant loyalty program gone stale? Are you struggling to send the right message to the right customer at the right time? Here are 5 ways to make your loyalty program more valuable.

Has your restaurant loyalty program gone stale?

Are you sending random emails offering promotions without a purpose? Have you seen low open rates and low click-through rates? Are you struggling to send the right message to the right customer at the right time?

It may be time to experiment with data-driven restaurant loyalty programs. Data-driven loyalty programs consist of campaigns personalized by restaurant customer data gleaned from search results, mobile behavior, or even your restaurant POS system. They encourage repeat guests, but don’t alienate your existing customer base. When only 44% of loyalty program members are active (according to Colloquy), it’s important for your restaurant brand to stay top of mind for potential customers.

65% of guests say they are more likely to recommend a restaurant if it offers a valuable loyalty program, according to Loyalogy. Check out these 5 ways to make your restaurant loyalty program even more valuable.

1. Experiment with geo-targeting.

One way to juice up your restaurant loyalty program is through geo-targeting, or customizing the messages you send based on a potential guest’s location. Initially when mobile technology skyrocketed, restaurants started asking customers to “check in” on mobile in exchange for special offers. However, with the plethora of data about your restaurant customers now available, there are many more ways to target your restaurant customers based on location.

Geo-fencing is a specific strategy for geo-targeting customers. When a potential customer, someone who has opted into your loyalty program, is close to your restaurant and enters the virtual “fence” surrounding it, a message can be deployed, allowing brands to deliver timely bonuses. For example, a bakery can set a 1-mile perimeter around it and send ads or emails to customers who enter that radius. Simultaneously, it could set a 3-mile perimeter around a nearby office complex and reach potential customers that may be looking for somewhere to grab a pastry during lunch.

2. Comment on the weather, local sports.

If you don’t feel comfortable targeting your customers with mobile data, you could instead send emails based on hyperlocal happenings, whether that be new updates to the area, winning sports games, or odd weather.

For example, you could entice repeat customers by offering a themed appetizer if the local baseball team wins that night. You could suggest your most refreshing cocktail on the hottest day of the year, or highlight your cozy restaurant ambiance on days that it’s raining.

3. Track loyalty customers with their credit or debit cards.

Some restaurants require loyalty customers to sign in online in order to receive their rewards. Others are still using punch cards. Your loyalty program should seamlessly coordinate with your customer’s experience at your restaurant, automatically tracking how many points your customer has earned as well as what food items they’ve bought the most.

If your loyalty program is integrated with your POS system, it may be able to track their spending and remember customers based on which credit or debit card they use. That way, when paying for a meal, loyalty points instantly go into their account, and they don’t have to worry about inputting them manually or forgetting their password to sign in to the loyalty program.

4. Make it easy for your customer to check their loyalty points.

It’s also important to focus on the customer-facing side of your restaurant loyalty program. First of all, is there one? Can your consumers track points, rewards, and even past activity on an online loyalty application?

If not, this feature is definitely something to consider. With a customer-facing loyalty program, customers can track their rewards and follow their spending behavior online. Your restaurant can then send personalized emails to them when a new reward is available, and link them to the dashboard where they can view upcoming rewards, current ones, and more.

5. Personalize based on previous purchases.

With a restaurant CRM system integrated with your restaurant loyalty program, you can view your customers’ previous purchases or purchasing patterns and collect other valuable information. You could send a personalized reward to your highest spending guests or most regular customers to encourage their repeat business.

The ability to segment your restaurant customers is a must for loyalty campaigns. Have a new cocktail? Find all of the customers who have ordered a particular appetizer or cocktail, and offer that list of customers a promotion on the same dish the next time they come in.

Don’t Go Too Far

It’s important to remember that there’s a thin line between “cool” and “creepy” when targeting your loyalty messages. How do they know where I am? How do they remember what I ordered last?

64% of consumers say the best approach to mobile tracking is opt-in; only 12% are OK with being automatically tracked, according to OpinionLab.

That’s why you need to create a smooth restaurant loyalty program. Pull in additional data from social media and craft emails sure to resonate with customers. Create an omnichannel experience that’s relevant. And most importantly, think like a guest, not like a marketer, and set your sights on delivering a restaurant loyalty program that’s not only commendable but recommendable.

Allison Tetreault is the Content Strategist for Toast, the All-in-One POS System. She manages the Toast Restaurant Management blog and also creates valuable content for restaurateurs. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.