Loyalty Program Lessons from a Niche Bar

As I was paying for my coffee, I reached for my loyalty card.

The cashier punched out the number 2. On my 10th drink, I would get a free coffee. This experience is forgettable, and the payoff is 2 bucks after too many trips.  They are augmenting a routine with a pinch of forgettable value.

Loyalty programs are put in place to keep people coming back because of brand loyalty and a positive experience. But the best programs make every experience a positive, memorable reason to come back again.

The Pony Bar, an unassuming bar in Hell’s Kitchen, nails this strategy perfectly. Serving 20 craft beers that change almost daily, the Pony Bar urges customers to join the All American Club. They give customers a card where they must keep log 100 different beers, the dates they consumed them, and the rating (on a scale of 1-10). Upon the completion of this card, a customer gets a high-quality shirt with Pony Bar patches stitched on. All of this is done with pen and paper. This analogue approach can help QSR and casual dining restaurants guide their loyalty strategy in number of ways:

1. Try new things: Having to try 100 new menu options is a great sampling strategy, allowing people to find new options they may not have been exposed to. QSR restaurants can give customers a reason to branch out from their usual value meal number.

2. Simplicity wins: Having a score-counting system allows for users to take an active approach with pen and paper. This action also attracts the curiosity of new bar patrons. Casual dining restaurants can build buzz around loyalty programs if they see others taking part in them and reaping the benefits, which is often hard to do via check-in or punch card.

3. User Responsibility: The Pony Bar puts responsibility on the user to bring the card and keep track of their progress throughout. QSR restaurants miss out on this key aspect: Putting some responsibility on the user makes them feel more involved and more invested in the establishment and the reward. Incentive makes people work harder.

4. Fun and hassle free: Loyalty programs can learn from the All American Club system in that it creates memories. Rating a beer and keeping a log is not a chore, but a ritual or log-keeping exercise.