Restaurants Use Airline and Hotel Loyalty Programs as Models to Drive Business

Many restaurant customers would pay to belong to a loyalty program that provides them with benefits, according to new research from the National Restaurant Association.

According to the research, due to this customer insight, many restaurants plan to experiment with loyalty programs that are similar to airlines and hotels.

According to the survey, 38% of consumers say they would be likely to pay to take part in a loyalty program the provided perks like guaranteed reservations on busy days, discounts on certain menu items, and skip-the-line privileges to get a table. That percentage grows to 51% when Millennials are asked how likely they would be to pay to join a program with such features.

“Restaurants are experimenting with a number of ideas to drive traffic and build loyalty, including building on established practices of other industries, like airlines and lodging,” NRA’s Senior Vice President of Research Hudson Riehle said in a press release. “Concepts like paying a fee for premium services are starting to catch the interest of restaurant patrons, indicating that we might see more operators explore add-on-type programs with tiered price structures for various levels of convenience and service.”

Besides leveraging traditional loyalty and rewards strategies, the research shows that more novel tactics also register interest among consumers.

What’s more, consumers are also showing some willingness to pay extra for individual premium features when dining out. More than one-third (36%) say they would be likely to pay extra to have a personal server on special occasions; 14% say they’d be willing to pay a one-time fee to get a better table; and people living in the West and the South are more likely to be attracted to these options, according to the research.

When it comes to receiving discounts, consumers are also fairly willing to give up certain conveniences. Nearly three-quarters (73%) say they would be likely to pay for their restaurant meals using cash (instead of a credit or debit card) if they received a discount for doing so. In addition, 39% say they would be interested in quick service-style features at sit-down restaurants–such as picking up their orders from a window and bussing their own tables–for a discount.

Riehle cautioned that it’s important to remember that good service is still the No. 1 attribute consumers cite as a reason for choosing a table service restaurant–nearly nine out of 10 consumers say so–proving that the value of the restaurant experience goes beyond dollars and cents.

The NRA commissioned ORC International to survey 1,019 adults in December 2013.

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