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In today’s intensely competitive restaurant industry, having a restaurant loyalty program has become essential for achieving growth and staying ahead.  
Restaurant loyalty programs cultivate and maintain customer loyalty. Establishing strong and lasting customer connections can significantly impact your restaurant’s profitability. Research shows that increasing customer retention by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%. 
Restaurant loyalty programs serve as a strategic tool for achieving this goal by incentivizing repeat visits and creating a sense of belonging among diners. This blog will delve deeper into why customer loyalty programs are vital for restaurants, offering insights into their role in enhancing customer retention, increasing revenue, and promoting brand advocacy by citing the best restaurant loyalty program examples of 2023.

What is a Restaurant Loyalty Program?

A restaurant loyalty program is a structured marketing approach employed by restaurants to reward customers for their repeat business and brand loyalty. These programs are designed to create a sense of belonging, foster strong customer relationships, and encourage the customers to choose the same restaurant over competitors consistently.  
In the current restaurant landscape, where customers have more dining choices than ever, building strong customer loyalty is not just beneficial, it’s essential.

The Role of Loyalty Programs for Customers and Restaurants 

Restaurant loyalty programs had humble beginnings – often consisting of punch cards to tally repeat visits. But with the advancement of technology, they’ve grown into sophisticated, data-driven systems. Initially, they were created to encourage repeat business, but today, their scope has broadened.

Restaurant loyalty programs offer a range of advantages for the customers, while serving as a powerful tool for restaurants. This makes it a win-win strategy. Customers can enjoy exclusive discounts, free meals, or special promotions in return for their loyalty – making dining at their favorite restaurant even more appealing. Besides saving money, customers often feel a stronger emotional connection to a restaurant that values their repeat business.

By leveraging restaurant loyalty programs, restaurants can gain valuable data about customer preferences and behaviors. This information enables restaurants to personalize their offerings and marketing efforts, enhancing the overall dining experience. 

Let’s explore some of the benefits of implementing a loyalty program in a restaurant. 

1. Increased customer retention

Restaurant loyalty programs are like a warm welcome from an old friend. They work wonders in enhancing customer loyalty. When customers feel appreciated and rewarded, they are not only more likely to keep coming back to your restaurant, but also may turn into your best brand advocates 

The personal touch of a well-designed loyalty program can turn first-time diners into regulars. This establishes a strong and lasting bond between your restaurant and its customers.

2. Boosted revenue

Beyond customer loyalty, restaurant loyalty programs are powerful tools for boosting your revenue streams. The equation here is simple: more loyal customers equal more frequent visits and higher spending. 

These programs include special promotions and reward systems that encourage customers to return to your restaurant regularly, increasing the frequency of their visits. Additionally, when they’re part of a loyalty program, customers often tend to spend more during each visit. Why? Because they’re aware that the more they spend, the more rewards they reap. It’s a win-win situation; your customers enjoy their meals while your restaurant’s revenue increases. 

Furthermore, the positive experiences generated by loyal customers often extend beyond their own visits. They become enthusiastic advocates of your restaurant, spreading the word to friends and family. This word-of-mouth promotion brings new customers through your doors, contributing to your restaurant’s revenue growth. 

3. Enhanced customer experience 

Customer experience is at the core of any successful restaurant, and loyalty programs play a pivotal role in enhancing it. These programs offer a direct line of communication between your restaurant and your patrons. 

Customers who enroll in your loyalty program receive updates, special offers, and personalized deals via email or mobile apps. These targeted promotions make customers feel valued and appreciated. By providing customized recommendations based on their previous orders and preferences, you’re offering an individualized dining experience. Learn more about how restaurants can personalize the guest experience here.

4. Valuable data collection

In the era of data-driven decision-making, having access to insights about your customers is like having a secret ingredient for success in the restaurant business. Loyalty programs serve as a treasure trove of valuable data waiting to be harnessed. 

When customers sign up for your loyalty program, they willingly share information such as their contact details, dining preferences, and order history. This data enables your restaurant to create detailed customer profiles, giving you a deeper understanding of your audience. 

With these insights, you can tailor your marketing strategies more effectively. You’ll know which promotions work best for specific customer segments, allowing you to invest your marketing budget wisely.  

Moreover, this data collection enables you to spot emerging trends and changing preferences. Are more customers opting for online ordering or dining in? Are they gravitating toward healthier menu options? Is there a surge in demand for a particular type of cuisine? The answers lie within the data from your loyalty program. 

As you accumulate more data over time, you can refine your menu, adjust your opening hours, or even expand your restaurant’s locations to meet the changing needs of your clientele. 

Key Elements of an Effective Restaurant Loyalty Program

Creating a successful restaurant loyalty program requires more than just offering a free treat on a customer’s birthday. To truly engage your audience and keep them coming back for more, there are key elements that every effective program should include:

Membership and registration process

An integral element of a restaurant’s loyalty program is the enrollment process. This component sets the stage for customers to engage with the program, reap its benefits, and establish a long-term relationship with the restaurant. To create an effective membership system, consider the following key points: 

  • Easy/ user-friendly registration: Keep the process straightforward and quick. 
  • Incentives for sign-up: Immediate incentives such as a welcome discount can make a positive first impression and set the tone for their loyalty journey. 
  • Multiple sign-up channels: Accommodating different preferences by allowing them to sign up online or in-person. 
  • Easy access: Ensure that members can check their rewards effortlessly.

Reward structure

A well-structured reward system is the backbone of an effective restaurant loyalty program. It’s the part that customers eagerly anticipate, and it’s what keeps them coming back. A thoughtful and enticing reward structure should be designed to maximize customer engagement and loyalty. Here are key elements to consider when creating a rewarding system for your restaurant’s loyalty program: 

  • Point system: Customers earn points for each purchase, and these points can be redeemed for future discounts or free items. 
  • Tiered loyalty program: Customers advance through different levels of rewards as they accumulate points or make repeat visits. This can include levels like Bronze, Silver, Gold, each offering progressively better perks. 
  • Frequency loyalty program: Reward your customers for visiting a specific number of times within a certain period. 
  • Time-limited promotions for members only. 
  • Spend-based loyalty program: Reward your customers based on how much they spend.

Mobile apps and technology integration


Starbucks Rewards App

In the digital age, mobile apps and technology integration play a
n important role in the effectiveness of restaurant loyalty programs. Many leading loyalty programs have embraced this trend. Customers increasingly expect convenience and seamless interactions, and mobile apps provide the means to meet these expectations. Here’s how mobile apps and technology integration can enhance your restaurant’s loyalty program:

  • Mobile app accessibility: This makes it easy for customers to sign up, track their rewards, and engage with your brand. 
  • Mobile ordering and payment: Integration with mobile ordering and payment options provides customers with a streamlined dining experience. 
  • Push notifications: Mobile apps allow you to send push notifications to your customers. Use these notifications to alert them to new promotions, special events, or bonus point opportunities, keeping your brand top-of-mind. 
  • Data insights: Mobile apps collect valuable data on customer behavior and preferences. This data can be used to further personalize the customer experience, recommend menu items, and send targeted offers. 
  • Integration with POS Systems: Connect your mobile app with your point-of-sale (POS) system for real-time tracking of purchases and rewards. This ensures a smooth and accurate reward redemption process.

Communication and engagement strategies

Effective communication and engagement strategies are essential to the success of any restaurant loyalty program. Engaging with your customers and keeping them informed is key to building strong, long-lasting relationships. Here are some essential strategies to consider: 

  • Personalized communications: Tailor your messages to each customer based on their preferences, behavior, and past interactions with your restaurant. 
  • Guest targeted campaigns: Send regular email and SMS updates and carry out other marketing strategies about your loyalty program, including new promotions, rewards, and upcoming events. Learn how you can use CAKE’s marketing tools to boost restaurant foot traffic. 
  • Social media engagement: Maintain an active presence on social media platforms. Share content related to your loyalty program, such as success stories, customer testimonials, and engaging posts that encourage participation. 
  • In-store promotions: Use your physical restaurant space to promote the loyalty program. This can include tabletop displays, posters, and friendly staff reminders about the program’s benefits. 

Mill Creek, WA USA – circa October 2022: Wide view of a Pick up and Go sign outside of a Starbucks coffee shop.

Best Examples of Restaurant Loyalty Programs in 2023 

Let’s take a look at some successful restaurant loyalty programs in 2023. Discover how the industry’s best and brightest have redefined the concept of customer loyalty and, in doing so, have won the hearts and appetites of their customers. 

1. Starbucks Rewards

Starbucks has long been a pioneer in customer loyalty programs. According to a survey, Starbucks has the most regularly used loyalty rewards app and 48% of the app users surveyed claim to use the app regularly.

Starbucks Rewards

Here are some features that make the Starbucks loyalty program a favorite: 

  • Simple and user-friendly mobile app: that allows mobile payments, personalized offers and order ahead features. 
  • Tiered membership: Starbucks has different tiers (Green, Gold, and more) with increasing benefits as you accumulate more Stars. 
  • Birthday rewards: You receive a free handcrafted beverage or food item on your birthday. 
  • Star codes: These are found on specially marked Starbucks products. You can enter them to earn Stars for buying coffee at Starbucks. 
  • Free in-store refills: Once you reach Green Level, you get free refills of hot or iced brewed coffee or tea during your visit. 

2. Subway’s MyWay Rewards program

Subway’s MyWay Rewards program stands out for its versatility, allowing customers to choose how they want to earn and redeem rewards.

Subway’s MyWay Rewards

Here are some features that make the Subway MyWay Rewards program successful: 

  • Earn tokens: With every purchase at Subway, you earn tokens which can be redeemed for rewards. For example, with every $1 purchase at Subway, you earn 4 tokens, where 200 tokens can be redeemed for a $2 reward voucher. 
  • Customization: You can choose how you earn and what you redeem your tokens for, allowing for a personalized experience. 
  • Birthday rewards: Like many loyalty programs, Subway offers a special treat on your birthday. 
  • Quick ordering & payment integration: The program is integrated into the Subway app, which can be used for mobile payments. 

3. Chick-fil-A One 

Chick-fil-A’s One program is known for its user-friendliness and the sense of community it creates among its members. 

Chick-fil-A One

Here are some features of this program: 

  • Tiered membership: Chick-fil-A One has different membership tiers that unlock more rewards and bene fits as you accumulate more points. 
  • Earn points and get free food: You earn points for every purchase made through the Chick-fil-A app or by scanning a QR code during in-person transactions, allowing you to earn free food items based on the number of points you collect.. 
  • Mobile ordering: You can place mobile orders for pickup, curbside, or delivery, making it convenient to order your favorite Chick-fil-A meals. 
  • Customized rewards: Chick-fil-A offers personalized rewards based on your preferences and order history. 
  • Birthday reward: Like many loyalty programs, Chick-fil-A provides a special birthday treat. 
  • Nutrition calculator: Chick-fil-A provides a nutrition calculator in the app to help you make healthy choices.

4. Panera Bread MyPanera 

Panera Bread’s MyPanera loyalty program stands out for its transparency and accessibility. It’s a tiered system, offering different rewards for different levels of engagement. 

Panera Bread MyPanera

  • Unlimited Sip Club: MyPanera members enjoy unlimited drinks once every two hours during normal bakery-cafe business hours, including unlimited refills. 
  • Birthday reward: Members receive a free treat on their birthday. 
  • Mobile ordering: Easily order, track rewards, and much more. 
  • Loyalty tiers: The program has multiple tiers, allowing you to unlock additional benefits as you accumulate more visits. 
  • Surprise offers: Occasionally, members may receive surprise offers for free items or discounts. 


In conclusion, staying ahead of the latest industry trends in technology is essential for the continued success of restaurant businesses. As the restaurant landscape evolves, loyalty programs are no longer just a nice addition but a necessity. These programs not only foster increased customer retention and revenue but also enhance the overall dining experience.

Looking to implement a restaurant loyalty program? Explore how you can increase repeat visits and build long-term relationships for your business with CAKE’s restaurant loyalty program. By staying updated and making informed decisions, your restaurant can join the ranks of industry leaders who have redefined the dining experience through innovative loyalty programs.

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