customer loyalty

Restaurants can learn from sports to drive customer loyalty

By Mo Chaar

As sports fans across the country don their team jerseys to cheer loudly with their household from their couch and set the pace for a new normal of household homegating, restaurants should look to major sports franchises for inspiration on driving customer loyalty and rebuilding their customer base.

Restaurants have been put through the wringer this year. Changing regulations, unpredictable rules, and ongoing lockdowns left them struggling to maintain revenue as their loyal customers swap their bar stools for their couches. Household homegating will be the norm this year, marking a critical opportunity for restaurants to optimize their online ordering platforms and loyalty initiatives to capitalize on the game-day rush.

Harnessing the customer loyalty of sports franchises

Diehard sports fans don’t abandon their teams when they’ve had a rough game, season, or even a few subpar years. Instead, they continue to support them when the times are tough, and celebrate them when they’re doing well — maybe it’s the loud cheering that lifts them up again. After all, it’s why the Toronto Maple Leafs still maintain one of the largest fan bases in the NHL despite not having won a Stanley Cup in over 50 years.

Sports franchises are masters of connecting fans with the brand experience. By leveraging the loyalty of sports fans and harnessing the energy of game days, restaurants can cultivate their own loyal fan base.

One great way to associate brand identity with a sports franchise and capitalize on game-day energy is to celebrate local teams by customizing promotions around upcoming games, especially during playoff season, major tournaments, or world cups. By generating excitement about game days and big wins, restaurants can tap into and connect with an existing network of loyal fans while targeting them with custom discounts and promotions to drive revenue.

Major companies have already been doing this, of course, aligning their brand with a local team to connect and celebrate with sports fans while driving customers to their business. For instance, during the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 playoff run, McDonald’s Canada tapped into the hype, offering fans in Ontario free medium French fries whenever the Raptors scored 12 or more three-pointers in a game. During the team’s historic run, McDonald’s Canada gave out more than 2.5 million orders of free French fries. With the NBA in season again, the fast-food chain has the same deal back on the table.

In a similar effort to align with the team and draw sports fans into a restaurant, Pizza Pizza ran a promotion that, if the Raptors scored 100 points and won at home, would provide Ontario-based fans with a free slice of pizza with the purchase of a slice the following day — a clever tactic to encourage sales while offering an incentive to get customers through the doors.

Capitalizing on household homegating

The pandemic may have been able to limit gatherings in sports bars and stadiums while celebrating big wins with a crowd of boisterous fans, but it could never remove the heart of sports leagues. With cardboard cutout fans filling stadium seats, sports have made their way back into the living rooms of their loyal fans, shifting the party from the bar to the couch, and presenting a new opportunity for restaurants to adopt digital solutions to capitalize on the new normal of household homegating.

The height of the pandemic saw a surge in new sign-ups to third-party delivery apps, which offered restaurants a broad range of customers beyond those in the neighbourhood, albeit without the ability to control the customer experience. A year in, however, and in-house ordering platforms have entered the playing field, giving restaurants the necessary tools to implement customer loyalty initiatives, control customer satisfaction to retain the support of their loyal sports fans, and ultimately increase their revenue.

Innovative restaurant technology has enabled restaurants to connect their online ordering system directly to their point of sale (POS) systems, which are then integrated into their kitchen display systems (KDS) to streamline ordering and food preparation for busy restaurants on important game days. Additionally, contactless payment options like near field communication (NFC) tap and mobile payments, ensure that pickups and deliveries are quick and efficient so that customers don’t miss a single goal.

It’s not just the ordering tools that matter, though. Restaurants can benefit from offering meal kits, themed menus for the Super Bowl or playoffs, or deals on quick-prep items like wings and nachos for game days to generate high sales while reducing wait times.

Leveraging digital loyalty programs

The rise of mobile ordering has presented tech-savvy restaurants with an opportunity to adopt an integrated customer loyalty app that would allow them to collect valuable customer information that can help direct customized rewards and promotions. A good customer loyalty program uses data to better understand ordering patterns and develop promotions best suited for them to create memorable experiences. These types of in-house loyalty programs allow restaurants to control short-term deals and features and offer great incentives to motivate loyal customers to continue to choose one establishment over another.

Once it’s safe again for stadiums to invite customers back for live, in-person events, digital tools like Uptix loaded tickets can be utilized to create real-time promotions that will allow them to control event-based perks by offering items on the house, or happy hour, daily food, or game-day specials.

The future of game days

With the future of live sports remaining uncertain, restaurants can at least rest assured knowing that in-house ordering tools will put sports bars and restaurants back on the menu on game days. It’s imperative that restaurants look to the success of sports franchises to build their fan base, and connect with sports fans to generate excitement and revenue on game days.

As the pandemic continues to shift what the future of game day dining looks like, restaurants need to leverage digital tools and drive customer loyalty to meet customers where they are: hosting their household homegate.

Mo Chaar is the Chief Commercial Officer of Givex, where he oversees commercial strategy and development worldwide as well as managing sales teams within North America. His experience in gift card, loyalty, and POS has played a pivotal role in the success of some of Givex’s largest partners.