Loyalty programs and restaurant apps aren’t just for limited-service restaurants that are visited as frequently as a morning coffee run or drive-thru stop. Baltimore-based Atlas Restaurant Group — which just launched its app and loyalty program this summer — believes that digital investments like rewards, guest data, and subscription perks can be just as useful for fine-dining restaurants.
Atlas Restaurant Group’s in-app loyalty program went live this August. The app allows customers to search for nearby Atlas restaurants, filter by cuisine, make reservations, order for pickup and delivery, and keep track of reward points, which are earned every time they eat at any Atlas property in a simple dollars to points structure. In return for racking up points, guests will receive coupons for discounts, birthday perks, and more.
“A lot of times you spend all of this money on marketing and advertising, but you don't really know who's seeing the ads and then coming in and spending money,” Atlas Restaurant Group director of marketing Joe Sweeney said in a statement. “So, we were just looking for a way to have more of a connection with our guests, and a loyalty program — specifically an app — was something where you could really see your return on investment.”
For many restaurants building a loyalty or rewards program from scratch, one of the biggest decisions that need to be made is, “Do I need an app?” For the team at Atlas, they wanted to allow for other features — not just accruing points — that would require a digital homebase for their customers to be able to look up restaurant locations, make reservations, and also cash in on rewards.
The next step of Atlas Restaurant Group’s investment into digital loyalty will to introduce a subscription program. Subscription programs have been one of the biggest loyalty trends in the restaurant industry this year, and Atlas believes that giving its most regular guests the opportunity to pay $29 or $39 a month for exclusive perks will be a major boost. The annual program, which is launching at the start of 2024, will give customers discounts, and concierge service like access to hard-to-get reservations.
“The subscription model is meant to reward our better customers that are coming in and spending more dollars with us—they should receive benefits for that,” CEO Alex Smith said. “At the same time, you're going to have people that buy subscriptions – maybe they’re travelers that come in and want a discount on their check—but they aren't you really using it every day. So, it's a good model for restaurants, because you have cash flow coming in on a monthly basis… and it can really stabilize a company.”
The question then is, why aren’t more full-service restaurant groups investing in digital rewards and subscription programs? According to Smith and Sweeney, it’s an old-school mentality. A lot of restaurant groups think of hospitality as an in-person, manual process that would be tainted by a “middleman” like an app or subscription program, and that restaurants should get to know their customers the old-fashioned way. Also, they said, it can be quite a financial investment, which is challenging for an industry with such thin margins.
“You take the hospitality—knowing the guest’s name, what they enjoy, etc. — and you use technology to help grow that relationship,” Smith said. “So whether it’s a concierge program where they’re talking with someone they trust to make sure their evening is executed perfectly, or using the app to figure out what their favorite menu item is, you have to train your staff to use the technology as a tool to create that connection with guests.”
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