The Secret to Customer Loyalty Programs

How many times did you hear these cringe-worthy words over the weekend: “Hey, it’s my birthday. l should get a free drink!” (What did you say in response?) This article talks about the best answer you can give to that question. Read on.

The Bar Conundrum

The interesting thing about bars is that people always feel that they should get free rewards on their birthdays. Yes, this happens in restaurants too, but in a restaurant you can limit your losses with some chips and salsa or some free cake, but the birthday boy or girl still has to pay for an entree and a drink. Plus, no one goes “restaurant-hopping.”  At a bar though, all you can offer is a drink–and giving away your only revenue source for free is a bad business idea.

Here’s the trouble though: You can’t really say no without sounding like a jerk.

What Is a Bar Owner to Do?

Here’s the first thing you do: Convince the birthday girl that free drinks are lame and she can get that from any bar. You have something better.

What do you have? A customer loyalty program.

Okay, okay. Don’t use that sales pitch. It’s terrible.

lnstead, pull out a list of birthday options for customer loyalty members.

Experiential Rewards Pay Off

Here’s the little-known secret to consumer loyalty programs: you’re supposed to use them to build revenue, not give revenue away. The best way to do this is to have your customers build points on their loyalty cards or apps, and then trade in those points for cool events that get them into your bar to buy more drinks.

For instance, your regulars could use their points to rent a private party room at a discount (which would bring more people into your bar), or you could offer your loyalty club members exclusive member benefit classes where they learn how to mix their own drinks. If your state laws prevent you from hosting an event where people mix their own drinks at your bar, you could teach them garnishing, or virgin drink mixing (then they can purchase a shot to supplement their creation).

Make Them Feel Like Insiders

Another idea for experiential rewards is to give your regulars a “backstage pass” to your business. If you have a brewery, you can provide a tour in which you explain how to make beer, and show them the different stages. If you have a strip club, you can show off your dressing rooms (when they’re empty, of course). If you have a strip club, your employees could also offer a pole dancing class for your female regulars–that customer loyalty program would generate a ton of buzz for your bar.

The point is, whatever your bar focuses on, there’s usually an off-limits area. When you provide supervised access to your off-limits areas, your customers get excited and talk about your bar more–and then their increased sense of ownership brings them back to your bar again and again.

The important thing to remember about your customer loyalty program is that it is meant to enhance your power as a business, and to increase your marketing reach. It’s not meant to be a free drink giveaway, and it certainly is not meant to be a revenue drain.

Finally, I know I say this a lot: If you’re wondering what experiences your customers would like, ask them. Your customers are your greatest marketing resource. Use their ideas to become exactly the bar they’ve always dreamed of going to. Your business will flourish, your customers will love you, and hey, you won’t ever have to cringe again when someone says, “Hey, it’s my birthday. I should get a free drink!” You’ll know exactly what to offer them instead.

Photo licensed by Nick Webb