The Commit Report | Restaurant Industry Research on Loyalty

May 3, 2022

In our previous blog post (and this one, too!), we shared research on restaurant industry patronage across the United States, which includes the extent patrons try new restaurants, how loyal they feel to places they first visit and their dining habits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Getting new customers can be a challenge for restaurant owners. Keeping these customers once they’ve visited your establishment? That’s another story entirely.

Restaurant Loyalty

After surveying 1,000 consumers across the United States, 36 percent of respondents say they are “definitely” loyal to a particular restaurant. Forty-five percent of Supportive Treaters—those most likely to support local restaurants and say they value the hard work of restaurant owners and staff—are the most likely of the segments to say they are definitely loyal. Thirty-eight percent of Social Explorers—those who enjoy trying new restaurants and new menu items—say they are definitely loyal. Disengaged Savers—those that are the most price-focused—are also the least likely to say they’re loyal. In fact, only 25 percent of people in this group admit to being loyal to any restaurant.

Loyalty Drivers

When it comes to loyalty, those benefits and perks that convince customers to join one restaurant’s program over another are pretty similar among the three segments of patrons we discovered.

Getting a discount on a future order drives 86 percent of all consumers, and more specifically 95 percent of Supportive Treaters. Seventy-seven percent of all consumers also cite that getting a free meal on a special occasion (like a birthday) will also help convince them to join a loyalty program.

Secret Menus

The idea that loyalty members could order secret dishes that aren’t on the menu is a concept that varies in popularity among each group, too. Thirty percent of Supportive Treaters, 37 percent of Disengaged Savers and 52 percent of Social Explorers say the ability to do this would convince them to join a restaurant’s loyalty program.

Given their penchant for new menu items and being seen as “in the know” when it comes to restaurants, it’s not surprising that Social Explorers are the group that finds this perk the most engaging. Forty-six percent also say this would encourage them to visit a certain restaurant more often—significantly more than other segments.

Different Groups, Different Benefits

As a restaurant owner, think about why patrons choose one restaurant over another and adapt your loyalty program to your target audience’s preferences. In addition to secret menu items, Social Explorers would definitely appreciate being able to dine at a chef’s table or attend events with food influencers. Supportive Treaters, on the other hand, would appreciate being recognized as a loyal restaurant supporter and love the opportunity to support menu items prepared by a specific staff member. While Disengaged Savers may not value these benefits, things like loyalty discounts would encourage their continued patronage.

The main takeaway? Using a one-size-fits-all approach to loyalty programs will inevitably fail. Instead, think about what your customers truly value—that one thing your customers want when they think about your brand. Case in point: Taco Bell developing a successful loyalty program around (drum roll, please) free tacos.

Tailoring your loyalty program’s benefits around your customers’ priorities will keep them coming back for more and encourage them to share your program with their network, which expands your reach. Your loyalty members want to feel special like they have access to something that not everyone else has. And that could be anything from a secret menu and a cooking demo with your head chef to free products. If you’re not sure what those things are, ask your customers through email or social media.

Connecting With Customers

Another important part of encouraging loyalty among your best customers is to regularly communicate with them. Our research concluded that 54 percent of patrons want to hear from their favorite restaurants through email—significantly more than any other communication channel. Thirty-four percent cited a restaurant’s app, 32 percent cited social media posts, and 27 percent want to be communicated with through text messages.

While the preference for email is consistent among all segments, it does vary by age. Only 43 percent of patrons under 30 say they prefer email contact, while 49 percent say they want to see social media posts from their favorite restaurants. Forty-three percent like app notifications and 41 percent like text messages—both of which are significantly higher among patrons who are over 50.

Listen, Listen, Listen

The key takeaway is listening to what and how your customers want to hear from you. If your target audience is over 50, consider choosing channels like email, direct mail and other traditional methods to engage with them. Younger diners are more likely to respond with methods like app notifications, text messages and social media posts. By knowing who your audience is and sticking to them, you’ll be more successful engaging with them versus if you do something just because you think it’s how your diners want to hear from you.

If you don’t know how your customers want to hear from you, ask! Post a poll on Facebook or email a survey to your customer database. Most consumers aren’t shy about sharing their preferences when it comes to brands’ communication methods. In the end, you’ll have a lot of valuable information from your customers that you can use across your brand in so many ways.

At Commit Agency, we know that now is a pivotal moment for restaurants. Using social listening and other research methodologies, we know what our client’s customers are looking for and have used that intel to optimize the brand-customer experience.

To learn more about each patron’s behaviors and get insights into the opportunities they present, check out our entire executive summary.


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