Embrace the Loyalty Program Renaissance

So many considerations in foodservice can be boiled down to a single question: how can I attract and retain customers? For a growing number of operations, loyalty programs are an effective answer. While they got their start in the form of punch cards in cafés and restaurants, the boom of digital ordering and smarter payment technology has opened the door for all kinds of operations to create seamless digital experiences that make guests feel valued.


Short answer: absolutely. Longer answer: when set up in the right way, with rewards that are both appealing for guests and financially viable for you, absolutely. Consider what consumers think:

That number is even stronger among 18- to 34-year-olds, further indicating the next generations of foodservice patrons are looking for ways to cut costs and earn as they spend.


New tech has transformed loyalty programs. The widespread adoption of digital ordering and payment technology has allowed restaurant operators to streamline the process, tracking points and purchases through card and email recognition. The data of digitally enabled programs has paved the way for commercial operations to start offering personalized deals—another huge attraction for today’s consumer.


The loyalty trend has expanded. For non-commercial operators—especially those in Healthcare, B&I, C&U and Lodging—one of the unconsidered payoffs of investing in tech may be the ability to launch rewards programs like those in commercial segments.

  • North Shore University Hospital’s reimagined Bistro North Café leverages tech to offer online ordering with contact-free pickup and a loyalty program.2
  • IHG Hotels and Resorts offers Food & Beverage Rewards redeemable in hotel restaurants, in-room dining, mini bar items and markets.3

If you’re running a non-commercial operation and launching loyalty programs to enhance foot traffic for the first time, you should assess the effectiveness of promotions like BOGOs or bonus points and refine future incentives based on guest and employee preference.


So, what do great rewards look like? That depends on what your guests find valuable and what you can sustain. With inflation and rising menu prices, many operators can’t afford the same deals and discounts they used to. Operators are adjusting the margin of their loyalty programs.

  • Starbucks raised the exchange rate for many items in its rewards program (going from 50 to 100).4

Another approach many restaurant chains have taken is limiting deals and promotions as an exclusive perk of loyalty programs to boost participation.

Whatever your loyalty program looks like, it’s all about finding the right balance between ease, value and your own bottom line.

1Technomic Consumer Updates: Restaurant Loyalty/ Rewards Programs October 2022.

2Food Management, “Reimagined Café Presents Fresh Alternative at Manhasset, N.Y., Hospital,” March 22, 2023.

3IHG.com/onerewards 4Restaurant Business, “Restaurant loyalty outgrows the point system,” February 8, 2023.

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