Why Your Restaurant Loyalty Program Probably Sucks

February 16, 2016

in Dining Hell Commentary

Corporate restaurant marketing departments understand that the quickest route to their customer’s wallets is through their stomachs while simultaneously appealing to their vanity. The primary job of a restaurant marketer is to sit in an office cubicle six states removed from where you work while devising ways to extract as much money from your customers as possible without pissing them off in the process. The programs they consequently concoct are essentially pigs glossed over with lipstick whose sole intent is to coerce repeat business by offering meager enticements in exchange for return visits and the revenues they subsequently bring.

Enter the Customer Loyalty Program, the Frequent Flier version of the restaurant industry.

Customer Loyalty Programs have become a primary sales driver for the majority of chain restaurants. Most corporate restaurant marketing departments estimate that repeat customers spend as much as 67% more than first time guests during a single visit, so it’s easy to see why there’s such a rush to recruit as many consumers into the ranks of the privileged as possible. However, the real purpose of these programs is to pad EBITDA P&L statement lines while simultaneously squeezing both their employees and the “guests” they profess to adore.

Though not all Restaurant Loyalty Programs are bait-and-switch-let’s-make-a-deal seductions, there’s a better than average chance that the waiter or waitress trying to sell you one is being threatened behind the scenes to either sign you up or face the impending unemployment line. Your consistent business is more important to the corporation who is extracting your money than the people they employ, and your non-participation jeopardizes your server’s potential to eat or pay their rent. That’s the sort of loyalty corporate restaurants are trying to solicit from you with their pay-to-play enticement schemes.

Here are a few reasons why your Restaurant Loyalty Program might not be everything it’s advertised as.

It’s All About The Numbers, Bitches. Restaurant loyalty programs greatly contribute to employee humiliation and abuse. In their fervor to ensure that corporate mandates are religiously followed, most restaurant chains have now imposed Performance Based Scheduling (PBS) onto their service staffs. Far from measuring inconsequential things such as tenure, job loyalty and guest relations, most PBS yardsticks instead focus on a server’s ability to sell marketing campaigns such as “capturing” customer email list sign-up candidates while “closing the sale” on loyalty program cards. Quotas are commonplace in this environment of veiled threats and fear, and those who fail to deliver their fair share of the promotional pie most often find themselves relegated to the worst shifts with the least earning potential. Weekly backroom charts are posted with each server’s participatory progress listed for all to measure themselves against in hopes of encouraging a competitive get-on-board-or-get-off-the-ship mentality, thus discouraging an environment of one for all and all for one while replacing it with a you bitches are in this for yourselves sink-or-swim workplace culture. Consequently, the server who so arduously attempts to persuade you of the merits of their company’s loyalty program is probably doing so more out of fear rather than any altruistic benefit on your behalf.

There’s Nothing Fine About This Print. Certain restaurant loyalty programs reward you with one point for every dollar you spend. Not including alcohol. Or tax. And tip. Double points are rewarded the first time the card is used. Unless the card wasn’t initially programmed correctly in which case the Customer Care Hotline must be called. Between the hours of 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. Regardless of your time zone. Initial membership costs $25. But not really, because $25 is then loaded onto your card for you to spend on your next visit. After 250 points are accumulated, a $25 gift certificate is sent for redemption on a future visit. Anything over $250 will be credited toward the next $25 reward. Points must be used during the same calendar year and will expire if not redeemed. Double points can be accrued every Monday. Except when a holiday falls on a Monday, then the double points don’t apply. Or if a “special” day falls on a Monday, double points don’t apply. Special days are solely at the company’s discretion. Subject to each location’s enforcement. You are rewarded $25 to spend on the month of your birthday. Unless you miss redeeming it by a day, then the reward becomes null and void and can’t be retrieved until the following calendar year. Also, the loyalty card holder must pay for his or her own birthday dinner to receive the $25 birthday bonus. Got it?

Fake Rewards Are Still Rewards. Most restaurant loyalty programs include non-monetary enticements targeting soccer moms and other stay-at-home societal segments who are easily persuaded by pretense and bullshit. These include benefits like flashing your membership card at 7 PM on a Saturday night – which you didn’t make a reservation for – that subsequently allows you the privilege of automatically cutting in front of a line that is already populated by people who arrived before you who have been patiently waiting their turn for a table. Really? So let’s get this straight… One of your membership “rewards” is the sanctioned privilege of bullying other people the same way you probably got pushed around in high school? Money often purchases the ability to get away with being an asshole, and these pseudo-loyalty rewards are just another way corporate profiteers cater to the hubris of the most susceptible among us to get them through their doors more frequently. If paying for the privilege of cutting in line is your idea of a benefit, then you’re an opportunistic schmuck who should instead consider donating that sort of disposable income to a worthier cause. Like a food bank. Or a homeless shelter. Or my bank account.

Free Always Has A Price, And The Points Aren’t Always The Point. You are your data. If your idea of a deal is relinquishing your social security number, driver’s license and home address over to a corporation for a complimentary quesadilla, then loyalty programs are right up your alley. When you sign up for a loyalty program, you are essentially surrendering your personal information to a corporation and allowing it to track your purchase habits solely for its own benefit. In exchange, you’re offered a relatively small enticement whose true value only you can determine. And remember – your personal data is only as secure as the platform to whom you entrust it. Loyalty programs simultaneously reward cybercriminals who are capable not only of hijacking your earned rewards and selling them on the black market, but can also take advantage of security flaws in software programs to seize your personal information, which is their biggest reward of all. The question then becomes, what is more important – saving money or protecting your identity? Furthermore, in order to extract the full benefits loyalty programs offer, you’re essentially required to become a compulsive patron of the business whose card you hold, otherwise it’s just another piece of plastic taking up real estate in your wallet. Not unlike most dysfunctional relationships, your bond with the corporation to whom you subscribe is contingent on your giving more than you get, and loyalty is ultimately defined by how little you’re willing to accept in return.

– Jeri Velgreen

My blog: customer crap

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

mensa58 February 23, 2016 at 9:25 am

Umm — bitter are we? Not every restaurant card requires you give up all the data you mention; in fact very few do. I have no problem scanning my loyalty card at a restaurant — it doesn't make me eat there any more frequently than I otherwise would and in the meantime I rack up points. In exchange I get coupons (some are better than others) and often a birthday freebie. Set up a separate email account just for these offers and you can ignore it as much as you want.


Nunya Business January 6, 2017 at 6:38 pm

Oh hell, don't bring up birthday stuff here. The "author" will pout & throw a hissy.


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