Survey: Restaurant loyalty programs have low participation

New York -- Just one-quarter (25%) of consumers consider loyalty programs important when choosing a restaurant. According to a new study from Deloitte, 50% of survey respondents said they belong to at least one restaurant program, a much lower rate compared with those of other sectors, such as airlines (78%) and hotels (70%).

Among consumers who belong to at least one loyalty program, nearly three-quarters (74%) indicate that they do not participate in their favorite restaurant's program, either because they say one is not offered or they are simply not sure whether one is available. But among the other 26% who indicate that their favorite restaurant offers a loyalty program, a large majority (87%) actually belongs to it, which Deloitte says implies a high conversion rate among a restaurant's best customers.

Only one-third (33%) of respondents felt that they had developed a personal relationship with their favorite restaurants' brand and people. Attributes such as responsiveness and friendliness of staff rank high (fifth and eighth out of 23 attributes) in terms of importance to the restaurant experience, and relatively high in terms of repeat patronage (11th and 10th). While these characteristics rank high, consumers still hesitate to share their experiences about them. Roughly seven-in-10 (71%) survey respondents liked the menu options at their favorite restaurants, but only 42% would be willing to serve as brand ambassadors, and 61% said that they never or rarely wanted restaurants to contact them for personal feedback.

However, there are a number of untapped opportunities for restaurants to engage their patrons in a manner they prefer. About six-in-10 (61%) consumers indicate they prefer to be contacted via email, while less than half this amount (28%) say restaurants actually do so. One half (50%) prefer traditional mail, 29 percentage points higher than the number who say they receive it.

Restaurants can also amplify their engagement through mobile channels. Among consumers who have downloaded a mobile application (19%), the primary reasons for doing so include viewing restaurant menu and prices (55%), and checking for hours of operation (46%).

"Although restaurant loyalty program participation is lagging, the study indicates that consumers do not have an inherent aversion to such programs," said Scott Rosenberger, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and Deloitte's U.S. consulting travel, hospitality and leisure leader. "These programs can drive value if promoted effectively, as a restaurant's most frequent patrons are more inclined to join that restaurant's program and use it more than any others. Additionally, we found that those core customers who do belong to their most-visited restaurant's program are more satisfied customers and stronger brand advocates than those who do not. Restaurants should clearly market these programs to consumers to encourage participation, increase customer visits and strengthen the connection between members and the brand."

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