There are more than 200,000 fast food restaurants in the US alone and taste isn’t the sole key to success. To create a lucrative love brand among fast food chains and keep customers coming back, you need to give people more than just a tasty snack. That’s where special plans for loyal customers come in handy.
Today, we look at the 10 most successful restaurant loyalty program ideas, and analyze the secret behind their success. We also discuss how the restaurant industry is changing with regards to customer loyalty programs, what the goals of restaurant loyalty programs are, in addition to 10 best examples from the industry. Finally, we compare them and determine the key features of successful restaurant loyalty programs.
How is marketing in the restaurant industry changing?
As I’ve mentioned before, there are around 200,000 quick service restaurants in the US, and it is estimated that 50 million Americans eat there every day. Consumers spent 272 billion USD on fast food in 2020 - and that’s just the United States alone.
The US is the biggest market for QSRs (fast food restaurants), but we have seen the biggest names in almost every country in the world. The most popular is, of course, McDonald’s with around 40 thousand restaurants in 119 countries.
Each one of them is trying to be different from the other, which is almost impossible when taking into account the sheer number of restaurant chains. That is precisely why restaurant brands try to entice customers, by introducing loyalty programs alongside going digital. Each of the QSRs we will talk about later also has a mobile app.
As has been the case with many other industries, the COVID-10 pandemic only accelerated the digitalisation of QSR loyalty programs, bringing with it more delivery channels. Fast food restaurant owners had more experience in omnichannel than regular restaurants and used that advantage to secure repeat business and keep sales numbers high even during lockdown.
The top 10 examples of best loyalty programs in restaurant industry
Now that you have a brief overview of the QSR market, it’s time to look at the best examples from the industry. Below is a list of top 10 best restaurant loyalty programs. As you’ll find, the top 10 examples come from the most popular fast food brands, which isn’t a surprise given their international presence and success.
1. Hut Rewards from Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut, the famous hut-shaped pizza restaurant chains and local pizzerias started back in 1958 in Kansas by two brothers, quickly became one of the most popular franchises in the US. Since 2014 they have had a steady revenue around $12 billion USD per year.
In 2017, the company introduced the Hut Rewards, a fast track to free pies. This restaurant loyalty program was designed to increase visit frequency and loyalty of Pizza Hut customers.
“The new Hut Rewards program enables customers to earn unlimited points as well as a free pizza in as little as one order, which is why we believe it is the best loyalty program in the category" said Jeff Fox, Chief Brand and Concept Officer at Pizza Hut.
The Pizza Hut program was designed to keep things simple and keep customers engaged. New customers can join by visiting PizzaHut.com, click on the Hut Rewards loyalty program to create an account and enroll in the program. Existing customers can simply sign into their account and choose to opt in to the Hut Rewards program.
Once enrolled, customers can begin earning points and reap program benefits immediately. Every dollar spent on food online goes toward a free pizza. Other benefits include exclusive offers, birthday rewards, and more. Hut Rewards points can be earned and redeemed during mobile and online ordering only, for delivery or carryout.
Unlike other pizza loyalty programs, Hut Rewards customers can earn a free pizza with just one visit, and they also earn points for every dollar spent. Each dollar spent online on food will earn you two points that can be redeemed pizzas of various sizes. A Medium ANY™ Pizza (any recipe, any toppings) for 200 points; or a Large ANY™ Pizza (any recipe, any toppings) for 250 points.
The Hut Rewards plan is simple and easy to use. The dollar-to-point ratio is easy to calculate and with no hidden rules. There are only 5 rewards, but thanks to that, the customer doesn’t end up confused by the many rules and choices, and can quickly pick what they want.
2. Subway MyWay™ Rewards
Subway, a restaurant serving famous sandwiches founded in 1965 today employs over 400,000 people all over the world with annual revenue over 16.1 billion USD. Subway sandwiches spark many controversies around their taste. Love them, or hate them, they are yet another example of a good QSR loyalty program.
Subway MyWay™ Rewards was launched in 2018 to replace the old SubCard loyalty program and is designed to offer a personalized discount system to Subway guests. With 28,000 participating restaurants, the MyWay™ is one of the largest restaurant loyalty programs in the world.
What makes the Subway restaurant loyalty program a successful customer loyalty program is the way in which it was designed. The loyalty program was developed after Subway surveyed its customers about what they wanted from a loyalty program.
"We began developing the MyWay Rewards program two years ago, listening to our customers and using their feedback to design the program," said Subway's Chief Digital Officer Carissa Ganelli.
During the 2018 launch of the restaurant loyalty program, Subway Chief Digital Officer Carissa Ganelli said: "We know time and money are important to our guests. It's important to us that we deliver a seamless, convenient experience to help our customers get what they want when they want it - and what they want is our delicious, nutritious, and affordable food."
For every dollar spent, customers earn four tokens, and 200 tokens earn them a $2.00 reward voucher. Guests are offered chances to earn additional tokens spontaneously, and are even given surprise rewards, such as sandwiches, cookies, and drinks.
On their birthday, customers also receive a special reward. Additionally, guests don't need to worry about remembering to bring their physical cards since everything is tracked via the Subway smartphone app.
3. Chick-fil-A One®
One of the largest US fast food chains that specializes in chicken sandwiches, Chick-fil-A was founded in 1946 in Hapeville, GA. They have almost 3000 locations in the US and Canada and employ more than 30,000 people. In 2021, their CEO’s Dan Cathy net worth was estimated at 7.1 billion USD.
To acknowledge their devoted customers, the restaurant launched a loyalty program in 2016 called Chick-fil-A One®. Chick-fil-A restaurant loyalty program is an app and web-based tiered membership program.
The higher your membership tier is the more points you earn per each dollar. The number of points each Chick-fil-A One member earns determines their membership tier:
- Chick-fil-A One Member: starting tier
- Chick-fil-A One Silver Status: achieved upon earning 1000 points in a year
- Chick-fil-A One Red Status: achieved upon earning 4000 points in a year
- Chick-fil-A One Signature Status: achieved upon earning 10000 points in a year
When loyalty members purchase qualifying items online or through a mobile order, scan their Chick-fil-A One QR code, or create an account, they will receive points for qualifying purchases at participating Chick-fil-A® restaurants. Here’s how it works:
- Members receive points with every qualifying purchase.
- Chick-fil-A One Members receive 10 points while Chick-fil-A One Silver, Chick-fil-A One Red and Chick-fil-A One Signature Members receive 11, 12 and 13 points for every dollar spent.
- All Chick-fil-A One Members can sign up to receive a gift for a birthday reward and are able to use their points to redeem available rewards.
- Chick-fil-A One Silver, Chick-fil-A One Red and Chick-fil-A One Signature Members can hand their rewards to family and friends.
4. Starbucks Rewards
Starbucks was founded in 1971 and for a brief moment in history was the favorite place to document in an Instagram photo. Their iconic logo featuring a mermaid against a green background became a symbol of modern lifestyle and remote work (at least before COVID popularized working from home).
Today Starbucks has more than 30,000 stores in 80 countries, half of them in the US. In 2021, their revenue reached an impressive $29 billion.
It was an obvious path for the coffee chain to introduce their own restaurant loyalty program to keep frequent customers from switching to other popular brands and local cafés. The Starbucks loyalty program enjoys 24.2 million members in the US, making it one of the most successful customer loyalty programs ever introduced. Starbucks attributes 40% of its total sales to the Rewards Program and has seen store sales rise by 7%.
Starbucks Rewards is not only available via your smartphone, but also offers a prepaid card that can be used to pay for items from the Starbucks menu. Customers using Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card earn their loyalty points faster than when paying with traditional bank cards.
That’s because you can pay with this card everywhere - at your grocery store, while shopping for new clothes, or on holiday. For every dollar spent with Starbucks® Rewards Visa® Card, you get 1 Star and you can redeem a prize with as little as 25 Stars.
The Starbucks loyalty program is divided into two tiers: Green and Golden. Green Status is reserved for those with stars/points ranging from 1 to 199; whereas Golden Status is for anyone with 200+ stars.
A number of features and benefits are available through the program for Green and Golden Status holders:
- Free add-ons, drinks, and food items
- Order ahead and pay using the smartphone app
- Free refills on brewed coffee and tea
- A free birthday reward every year
- Bonus reward days
You can earn "stars" in a number of ways that can be redeemed for free items:
- Earn 2 stars for every dollar spent when you purchase at a Starbucks location using a registered Starbucks gift card or Starbucks mobile app.
- Earn stars for Starbucks brand products purchases like packaged coffee, cups, prepared beverages and sandwiches.
- Buy Starbucks branded coffee online and connect the purchase to your Starbucks rewards account.
- Get bonus stars by taking part in games and special offers in the app and your email.
5. MyMcDonald’s Rewards
McDonald’s is the king of fast food restaurants. It is the biggest restaurant chain revenue-wise, having generated over 6 billion USD in 2021. In 2018, they served 69 million customers daily. There’s even an ongoing joke that wherever people appear on the planet, a McDonald’s restaurant follows.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the most popular fast food chain also boasts a digital restaurant loyalty program - and a successful one at that!
In 2021, MyMcDonald’s Rewards surpassed 20 million users. The famous McChicken sandwich was the most redeemed prize. Users were rewarded with 360 tons of fries and 17 million desserts. The numbers are astonishing. Let’s dive deeper into what’s behind the success of the loyalty program.
For each $1 spent for McDonald’s products, the customer earns 100 points in the QSR loyalty scheme. The points can be later exchanged for free meals. The more points you have, the higher tier you are in and therefore can redeem more valuable prizes.
The program is split into four points-based tiers: 1500, 3000, 4500, and 6000 points for different rewards from the 16 menu items.
There are also other ways the customers can earn points. For example, if you link your credit or debit card to the McDonald’s mobile app you automatically get 1500 bonus points. This means that if you decide to pay via the app, you get a free McChicken sandwich or a classic Cheeseburger.
The rewards program is simple and easy to use, which is undoubtedly one of the key elements of all the best restaurant loyalty programs.
6. Wendy's Rewards™
For a tasty hamburger treat, fast food enthusiasts often turn to Wendy’s. An international brand now headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, though originally from Columbus, OH.
Wendy’s founder, Dave Thomas, was also known for being in more advertisements than any other company founder in history. At the time of his death, Thomas net worth was 4.2 billion USD.
Almost 20 years after the passing of its father, Wendy’s launched a loyalty program called Wendy’s Rewards™. It has similar principles as previously mentioned programs - for each dollar spent on a company's food, the consumer gets 10 points. The points can consequently be redeemed for various items from Wendy’s menu, from free dessert to cheeseburgers and salads. Let’s say a customer spends $10 dollars (which isn’t hard), they can claim a small frosty alongside their meal.
To collect the points you can either pay via the Wendy’s app, or scan the QR code at the counter. If you forget your phone and aren’t able to scan the QR code, you can just scan the receipt to make sure you get your points.
The points can be later exchanged for free meals and special deals at Wendy’s. The list of prizes is constantly changing to keep things fresh. Occasionally, Wedny’s also gives users various offers and extra rewards within the app, whether that be a discount or an extra treat.
7. Chipotle Rewards
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is one of the youngest fast food restaurants on this list. It was founded in 1993 by Steve Elis and for the past 20+ years they have been climbing to the top. Today they can boast 7.5 billion USD in revenue (2021), almost 3000 locations, and almost 100 000 employees.
In 2019 they launched the Chipotle Rewards loyalty program that offers 10 points for each dollar spent in the restaurant. At the beginning, customers had to gather 1250 points for a free meal, which means you could eat for free every time you spend $125 on Chipotle food.
In September 2021 they extended the loyalty program with additional features. In the press release they have claimed the Chipotle Rewards helped to surpass 2 billion USD in digital sales that year. New perks include Extras - extra challenges that allow users to gain points faster.
"Offering new ways to engage with Chipotle is essential to the ongoing evolution of our digital business," said Chris Brandt, Chief Marketing Officer. "The new Extras feature gamifies Chipotle Rewards through special challenges and allows Rewards members to celebrate their achievements with special badges."
Under Chipotle’s new loyalty scheme - Rewards Exchange - customers no longer have to wait until they have collected 1250 points. Instead, they are able to get an order of tortilla chips for as little as 250 points, a side of guacamole for 400 points, and a bottled soft drink for 600 points.
The range of rewards is also more varied and includes things such as Chipotle merchandise. The new loyalty program also gives customers the chance to use their points towards noble causes, such as supporting nonprofit organizations helping farmers, struggling communities, local business, and many more.
To promote their updated loyalty scheme, Chipotle launched an online video game “Race to Rewards Exchange”, available to all Chipotle Rewards members. Players were able to generate points while playing and later exchange them for food and additional rewards.
Chipotle Rewards topped 24 million members last year and is one of the fastest growing QSR loyalty programs.
8. DD Perks® from Dunkin Donuts
Dunkin’ Donuts is an American-based coffee and doughnut company now available in 36 countries. They too participate in restaurant loyalty programs believing it to be central to customer retention and future revenue.
Upon making a purchase, customers gather points that can be later exchanged for rewards. DD Perks® earn 5 points for every dollar spent at Dunkin’ Donuts. 200 points can be exchanged for a free drink of any size.
Moreover, if you make three purchases during one week, you are eligible for a free beverage of choice. As part of their loyalty program, Dunkin’ Donuts frequently run different campaigns, offering added perks such as a free donut with any drink purchase, free coffee with food purchase, or bonus points.
The company also sought to replicate Starbucks’ success with regards to digital payment cards, and has therefore teamed up with Masterpass to offer its customers cards that can be used to pay at Dunkin’ Donuts and other restaurants participating in the DD Perks® program.
DD Perks® helped surpass 12 million downloads of the Dunkin’ Donuts mobile app.
9. MyPanera Rewards
Another successful example of a restaurant loyalty program is MyPanera Rewards by Panera Bread Company.
Panera Bread was once the favorite place for Americans to get free Wi-Fi. Today they have over 2000 locations in the US and Canada and an estimate of 5.3 billion USD in sales. They started in Missouri and quickly spread through the rest of the States becoming one of the most popular casual bakeries there.
MyPanera Rewards is one of the oldest loyalty programs in this list because it started as early as 2010. Even before they had a mobile app. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the loyalty program grew to 40 million members. More than 50% transactions now come from the loyalty program members.
Panera Bread’s loyalty program is all about getting to know their customers. Over time, its loyalty program members receive personalized treats and rewards, from free bagels or savings on salads and sandwiches.
As part of the program, members also receive birthday surprises tailored to their likes, in addition to access to Panera Bread’s unlimited coffee subscription.
The MyPanera Rewards scheme isn’t point-based like many of its competitors. Instead, customers are rewarded according to their number of visits, or receive free rewards and offers within the app. A unique feature of the program is that members can share their rewards with their friends.
10. Costa Club from Costa Coffee
Costa Coffee, the British coffee house founded in 1971, has now almost 4000 locations and over 6000 Costa Express vending facilities worldwide. In 2019 it was sold to The Coca-Cola Company for almost 4 billion GBP.
Similarly to its competitors such as Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts and other restaurants offering coffee, Costa boasts an effective loyalty program. The program is run via an app, as well as a loyalty punch card that customers can use to claim their points.
Costa Club is a QSR loyalty program for all Costa Coffee lovers that want to earn rewards for their loyalty. The rewards structure is simple. The members earn a free drink for every 8 beverages purchased. Additionally, Costa Club offers free birthday cake and some exclusive rewards available via the mobile app.
What’s more, Costa Club members also stand to benefit from personalized offers based on their purchasing history, as well as more ways to earn extra beans, previously called reward points, throughout the year.
What do successful restaurant loyalty programs have in common?
Now that you’ve had a chance to get acquainted with some of the best customer loyalty programs examples, you can find out what lies behind the success of each project.
First of all, it has to be very simple to use. All of the above mentioned programs use a mobile app that allows you to scan codes or make payments for the food. It connects with real shopping patterns - you come to the restaurant, pay with the app, and get points automatically. You don’t have to sign anything extra.
While earning points is extremely easy (the customer just needs to make a payment), redeeming the prizes has to be also effortless. Scan the app, get the reward - it’s that simple.
To hook up the client, most of the example loyalty programs offer special deals available only for the customers using their app. If you are a frequent customer it just starts to pay off to use the app. And this is a great place to send messages about new offers and announcements (via e-mail newsletter or push notifications on mobile).
Most importantly, restaurant loyalty programs work as long as the rules are simple and easily accessible via the companies’ web pages. You can quickly check the page to find the FAQ and other useful advice.