Connecting with the community has always been key to locally owned restaurants. It’s a great way to build relationships and increase business. One way to do this is to have a loyalty program that rewards regular customers and encourages repeat business.

Loyalty programs are quick to set up, but continuing to expand and upgrade it as you go can make a big difference in keeping customers engaged. Additionally, a successful loyalty program can help your restaurant become established more deeply into the fabric of the community and build lifelong customers.

Below are five ways to upgrade your loyalty program to make it the most effective it can be.

Go digital

Traditional punch cards are great, but there are many benefits to upgrading to digital. A customer doesn’t have to worry about carrying a card around in order to redeem points, points won’t be lost because the physical card has been lost, and it’s easier to offer more creative rewards.

With a digital program, you’re also able to request customer information, such as email addresses, and invite them to join mailing lists or send deals and promotions.

Make it easy to start and continue the program

If customers need to input a ton of information, or they won’t see any rewards until they’ve bought 20 drinks, they likely won’t feel compelled to get started with your loyalty program. Help mitigate this by making it as simple as possible to sign up, and consider offering instant savings as soon as they join.

For example, if customers know they can save 15 percent on their current order, they’re much more likely to join on the spot. Then offer points creatively (not just for purchasing food and drink) so people can invest in the program in different ways.

Some examples of creative ways to offer points to members:

  • For placing direct orders with your restaurant
  • When ordering in a typically slow time
  • For referring friends and family
  • After filling out surveys or feedback forms
  • For leaving reviews on Google or Yelp
  • Doubling down on points for holiday or large orders


Decide what makes sense for your business and run with it.

Have fun with the benefits of your program

Many loyalty programs operate by offering free food or drink after a certain number of purchases. While this is a great option, there are many possibilities for getting creative with your rewards. This will keep customers engaged with your program for longer, especially if you offer redeemable points throughout the program and not just at the end.

Some examples of rewards:

  • Free appetizers or desserts
  • Discounts on new or seasonal menu items
  • Merch or gift cards to “buy” with points
  • Discounts or free offers for birthdays
  • Monthly or weekly deals
  • Options for both small and large redeemable rewards (eg: stickers vs free meals)
  • Holiday promo codes


Advertise the program through multiple channels

Be sure to promote your loyalty program wherever possible. At checkout is an obvious one, but include other places too such as social media platforms, emails, and your website. Get people excited to participate by hyping it up!

In addition, don’t count out the more traditional marketing styles. Restaurant flyers, posters, table tents, and business cards are a great way to inform customers of your program. With flyers or posters, keep text large and to a minimum so it’s easily read from far away and gets the point across quickly. One way to help cut down on wording is to include a QR code that links passersby to more information, and a way for them to sign up right from their phone.

Understand your community

Knowing the local community is an important factor when it comes to running a successful loyalty program since this is where the vast majority of your business will come. Find ways to plug into your neighborhood, taking into consideration how the loyalty program is set up, the type of rewards offered, or the kinds of collaborations that can be made.  You could even send out surveys to see what most interests people in terms of how they can use their points or improvements to how your program functions.

Some ideas:

  • Offer rewards when customers support local events, schools, or fundraisers
  • Partner with other businesses or organizations in the area to offer joint rewards
  • Give customers the option to donate their points to community groups


Continuing to evaluate what resonates with your business and customers will not only keep your  loyalty program creative and fun, it will show your commitment to the community.

Elizabeth Riggio is a copywriter with MustHaveMenus, an online menu template design and digital tools company, covering marketing tools and tips for restaurants. When not writing, she’s exploring the Pacific Northwest and eating her way through the various food trucks.

Outside Insights, Story