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Snacks and desserts: The ultimate restaurant rewards


Snacks and desserts play important roles in foodservice loyalty programs, helping to drive incremental sales through higher checks and increased visits.

Operators often use the promise of a free dessert as an incentive to join a loyalty program, for example, and some allow customers to earn free snacks or desserts by meeting certain thresholds for spending or number of visits.

The relationship between desserts and loyalty programs also works in the opposite direction.

Operators seeking to boost sales of snacks and desserts can create restaurant rewards which encourage the purchase of these add-on items, such as offering a reward after multiple snacks or desserts are purchased at full price, for example.

The opportunity also exists for operators who use digital loyalty programs to analyze customer behavior and define groups of customers who might be most receptive to dessert offers, says Dennis Duffy, founding partner at consulting network Brand Federation.

“If you can't connect the person with their purchase behavior — which is one of the most powerful things about a loyalty program — then you might be shooting in the dark by presenting a lot of dessert offers to people who are never going to order dessert,” he says. “But if you’ve got somebody who’s buying desserts two or three times a month, you are on firmer ground. If you present an offer to them, you can probably get them to do it five or six times a month.”

Here are some ideas for making the most of your loyalty program by leveraging the snack and dessert items on your menu:

Offering birthday gifts as restaurant rewards

One of the most common ways to feature desserts as rewards is for customer birthdays, and in fact, touting a free birthday dessert is often used as an incentive to encourage joining a loyalty program.

     • Be flexible:

Duffy suggests that the birthday dessert reward should be redeemable anytime during the week or even the month of the customer’s birthday.

“Nobody wants to hear that they have a special offer, but they can only use it on a specific day or else they lose it,” he says. “You want to be generous with those offers, because it is unlikely that a customer is going to come into that restaurant and just have the dessert. They are going to have something else.”

     • Personalize restaurant rewards:

Recognizing customers on their birthday is also a way to personalize a reward, says Agnes Teh Stubbs, an analyst with Software Advice, a Gartner company.

“Customers want dedicated/personalized product recommendations based on what they’re spending on and offers for special days, such as birthdays or the anniversary of joining a loyalty program,” she says.

Driving more snack and dessert purchases

     • Encourage incremental spending:

To drive incremental purchases of snacks and desserts, Teh Stubbs suggests that operators encourage higher spending via the loyalty program, which may lead consumers to add a dessert or a snack to their purchases in order to earn a faster reward. For example, offer one stamp for every $4 that a customer spends, and reward customers with a $6 credit or a free dessert after collecting 10 stamps.

     • Reward specific purchases:

Duffy suggests that operators can also offer an extra reward for purchasing certain menu items such as snacks or desserts.

“You may present an offer that is something like the following: ‘If you come in between Tuesdays and Thursdays, anytime you include a dessert on your check, we will give you double or triple points,’” he says.

In addition, sending out incentives that include snacks and desserts as restaurant rewards can plant the seed in the customer’s mind about ordering a dessert, and act as a marketing tool that drives future dessert purchases, says Duffy.

Offering easy dessert rewards

Snacks and desserts also make good “low-hanging fruit” for customers seeking frequent rewards. In a points-based loyalty program, for example, operators might offer snacks and desserts as rewards for earning relatively few points, compared with the points needed to earn a free entrée or other, higher-cost rewards.

At Buffalo Wild Wings, the chain’s Blazin’ Rewards program offers a Loaded Ice Cream dessert for 250 points, an order of Chips and Salsa for 500 points and Cheesecake Bites for 750 points.

Customers earn 100 points for every $10 they spend, plus 10 points for checking in on their mobile app and another 10 points for each additional friend who also checks in. In addition, rewards program members receive bonus opportunities to receive offers via email.

Surprising customers

Snacks and desserts lend themselves to being good “surprise” offers which can be made to customers occasionally, often with relatively short notice.

“What some brands do is to notify the members of their loyalty program three or four days ahead of time that, ‘Next Tuesday, any member who comes in and buys anything will get a free dessert,’” says Duffy.

That might sound like a generous offer, he says, but operators need to remember that with offers such as those, they are often creating incremental visits to the restaurant, meaning the customer would not have come in otherwise.

“It might just be enough to tip the scales as a tiebreaker, so the customer says, ‘OK; let’s go here instead of there,’” says Duffy.

No matter how operators structure their customer loyalty programs, chances are there’s room for snacks and desserts at the table. Consumers love them — almost as much as they love earning free food and drinks from their favorite restaurants.



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