According to a new survey by the National Restaurant Association, three-quarters of restaurant operator survey participants say guest loyalty programs helped grow business during the economic downturn. Additionally, 90 percent say loyalty programs give them a competitive edge, and the vast majority is planning to invest more in their programs to drive business growth.

In the first in-depth loyalty study of its members, the NRA partnered with Loyalty 360 – The Loyalty Marketer’s Association and rDialogue to investigate the level of penetration of loyalty programs in the restaurant industry; identify the types of loyalty practices being utilized; collect the metrics being used to measure performance; and determine the level of dedicated resources supporting strategy, implementation, and management of the programs.

”Repeat customers are a very important demographic for restaurant operators to grow their business, and loyalty programs can provide strong incentive to increase visits from those individuals,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research & Knowledge Group with the National Restaurant Association. “This new research clearly shows the value of operating guest loyalty programs, and offers great insight into loyalty strategies.”

The study revealed that:

  • Seventy-seven percent of respondents said loyalty programs helped drive business during the economic downturn.
  • Nine out of 10 respondents said loyalty programs give them a competitive advantage (90 percent).
  • Of those that currently operate a guest loyalty program, 84 percent plan to maintain or increase their program investment in 2010.
  • More than four in 10 respondents (41 percent) currently operate a loyalty program, and nearly half (47 percent) are planning to launch one.
  • About three-quarters of respondents (74 percent) use social media to support their loyalty program. Facebook was the most common social networking site used (65 percent), followed by Twitter (40 percent), and blogging (17 percent).

The online survey was conducted in 2010 among National Restaurant Association members, with 1,300 submitting responses. The results of the study, as well as an exploration of best-practices for building engagement and loyalty programs, will be the focus of an upcoming webinar, “Get an Inside Look at Loyalty-marketing Programs.” The members-only webinar will take Aug. 17, at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

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