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Should Restaurants Adopt Airline Strategies for Loyalty?

As consumers’ pent-up demand for restaurant services remains elevated, restaurant operators continue to look for additional ways to nudge those consumers into stores. In addition to leveraging traditional loyalty and rewards strategies, National Restaurant Association research shows that more novel tactics also register interest among consumers.

“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,” said NRA’s Senior Vice President of Research Hudson Riehle. “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.”

In fact, 38 percent of consumers say they would be likely to pay to participate in a loyalty program that included guaranteed reservations on busy days, discounts on certain menu items, and skip-the-line privileges to get a table. At 51 percent, millennials are much more likely to say they would be willing to pay to join a program with such features.

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

When it comes to receiving discounts, consumers are also somewhat willing to give up certain conveniences. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) 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 percent say they would be interested in quickservice-style features at sit-down restaurants – such as picking up their orders from a window and bussing their own tables – for a discount

However, Riehle says that it is important to remember that good service is still the No. 1 attribute consumers cite as a reason for choosing a tableservice 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, asking a variety of questions about consumers’ interaction with restaurants. Additional trends and statistics can be found in the NRA’s 2014 Restaurant Industry Forecast.
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