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Column: Loyalty Apps Becoming a Boon for Fast-Food Restaurants 

teal ceramic teacup on saucer beside black smartphone

The other day, I ate lunch at a salad place near me of which I’m a fan. I figured, since I’m likely to eat there again in the future, I might as well download their loyalty app.

However, just one minute later, I had smoke coming out of my ears and that business lost a potential frequent customer because I found their app way too cumbersome. In fact, I quickly deleted the app because, like most people, I have a short attention span and an even smaller amount of patience these days.

I love loyalty apps – they’re a necessity for most businesses – but you must make these apps easy to use. You have to make people feel smart when they use your brand. You can’t make them resent joining your loyalty program.

So, above all else, the keys to doing loyalty apps right are these:

Provide Ease of Use

One great benefit of loyalty programs is that they help businesses, like restaurant chains, build a relationship with a customer. To inspire consumers to join your program you can use price or other incentives.

Every restaurant out there is trying to build a database so they need to market their loyalty programs in a manner where there’s an incentive.

Many times when I receive messages via loyalty programs like Cava’s or Sweetgreen’s they’re not even about discounts – they’re often about product features or seasonal items. The app’s photos look delicious or indulgent and, when I look at them, it makes me salivate.

But sometimes you have to provide a discount just to get new customers into your ecosystem – and loyalty programs are a great way to accomplish that. You also have to always be respectful of your clients. So, loyalty apps have to be easy to understand and easy to join. It’s also imperative that businesses are careful with loyalty program members’ data.

And you can’t bug customers with stupid offers – your loyalty program messages should be thoughtful so that every time customers get them they don’t instantly swipe and delete them.

Carefully Time Notifications

It’s important that your loyalty program doesn’t overwhelm customers with messages.  And if you want to see the types of chains that handle that best, look at Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, and Chipotle.

Successful businesses leave clues on how they can be copied. So, look at the biggest, most successful companies, go use their apps, and see what you like about them.

If I got a push notification from Cava at 11:30 a.m. and I’m thinking about where I’m going for lunch today, all of a sudden they’ve planted that idea in my head and I’m more likely to go there. There’s only so many ways to drive sales, and getting people to come back more often is a major one. Loyalty programs help remind customers to come back to your business more often.

I love loyalty programs because they can really help drive more profitable sales. You can push a message out encouraging customers to bring in a friend (or any new strategy, really). But the most profitable customers are repeat customers – and that’s the type of customers that loyalty programs help secure.

Editor’s note: Dan Rowe is the CEO of Fransmart, a leader in franchise development. He’s focused on growing emerging concepts into major franchise brands. Under Rowe’s leadership, Fransmart developed a portfolio of brands including Five Guys Burgers & Fries, QDOBA Mexican Grill, and more.

Rowe is Co-Managing Partner at The Kitchen Fund and FranInvest, which have invested in Sweetgreen, Cava, and Inday, to name just a few. He’s a Board Member of YPO and the National Restaurant Association.