Industry Update
Opinion Article22 December 2016

Building a Restaurant Culture Around Loyalty

By Michelle Wohl, VP of Marketing

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Culture and branding have been on my mind since attending MUFSO in Dallas a few months ago. In his 2016 Operator of the Year acceptance speech, Greg Flynn — the Founder and CEO of Flynn Restaurant Group — defined culture as the "body of shared beliefs that translate to action." He repeatedly emphasized that a strong culture is both something to aspire to, but also something that must be actively worked at.

Leading hospitality brands have customer centricity at the heart of their culture — a mentality they have worked hard to instil in executives and frontline staff alike. Certainly every customer is incredibly important to a brand — but focus must be placed on the very top customers who drive the vast majority of the revenue. The shared belief, and one that is backed by data, is that happy customers will visit more often and spend more than other customers. The action that should be taken by employees as a result of this belief is to strive to ensure customer happiness in quality, service and all customer-focused programs.

One of the common objections that we hear from prospective customers as they consider a loyalty program is that they don't believe in discounting their product. Blanket discounting, which is common in many industries such as QRS and Fast Casual, is never a good idea. Blanket discounting trains customers to wait for discounts, treats all customers the same, and often isn't even measurable. When we say customer-focused programs, we don't mean discounting. We mean looking at your brand and finding ways to reward your VIPs in a way that shows you know who they are and what they care about.

While all of our merchants clearly care about their customers and have put data-driven programs in place to learn about them, solicit their feedback, and drive satisfaction, two merchants in particular have recently launched programs that clearly illustrate how to effectively blend culture, brand and loyalty. These merchants have thought about what sets their brand apart and what it means to their customers and have put on-brand programs in place to cement their loyalty.

Good Food Guys

Good Food Guys, the restaurant group behind California-based Split and Mixt, surprised their VIPs with an on-brand gift for the holidays. The gift was a personalized Swell bottle that can be filled, for free, every time the VIPs come into the stores, with iced tea or lemonade. This brand, known for healthy, American fare in a casual environment, understands its customer-base is active and hip and rewards its top spenders with a gift that makes them feel special and keeps them coming back in. It has the additional benefit of allowing employees to easily recognize VIPs so they can give them an extra warm welcome.

New York Yankee Steak House

New York Yankee Steak House is a restaurant that brings together two American pastimes, baseball and steaks. So, naturally, when building out the rewards scheme for their loyalty program, the three unit brand wanted to include strong elements of their brand. For example, VIP members that reach a certain level of status receive a personalized steak knife. Top VIPs are invited to watch a Yankees game from a luxury suite. The rewards are aspirational, on brand, and something every New Yorker would love. 

Michelle Wohl

    More from Michelle Wohl

    Thanx helps offline businesses drive deeper, data-driven relationships with their best customers. Thanx's turnkey solution collects critical customer data and uses it to deliver automated marketing campaigns that deliver real ROI. While the vast majority of loyalty programs today are languishing, Thanx has the highest retention rate in the industry thanks to its frictionless customer and merchant experience. Founded in 2011 and based in San Francisco, Thanx is financed by Sequoia Capital and other elite Silicon Valley investors. Thanx has thousands of customers across more than twenty retail verticals.

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    Michelle Wohl
    VP of Marketing
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