A Punch Card Killed My Devotion to a Favorite Restaurant

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on November 3, 2019

There’s a restaurant chain in South Florida that is known for its ribs, wings and drink specials. “Best ribs in town” most people would agree. The chain has its roots in the tropical lifestyle of the area, with pictures of offshore fishing adventures and surfboards lining the walls and ceilings of each location. The atmosphere is a blend of Jimmy Buffett and Ernest Hemingway, so it’s one of those places that our family dines on a regular basis and always gets recommended to friends when they visit the area.

There’s only one problem though. Every time your table is seated, the friendly server greets the group with a question “do you have one of lunch club cards?”. I used to say “no” and ask for a card, but after seeing this scene repeated numerous times and knowing that the cards are routinely misplaced, lost, or forgotten at home when you need them, the question started to represent an annoyance more than an offer.

The “lunch card” is classic punch card in the way it works. A stamp is placed on this paper card for each visit and each stamp is endorsed with a manager’s initials, giving it an aura of value and authenticity. Customers cannot combine cards, so you must accumulate stamps on individual cards to reach a total of ten and earn a free meal. The challenges with this process are obvious. Not many people remember to have their cards with them, meaning each visit results in issuance of a new card while the old one collects dust somewhere at home.

The principal reason many restaurants have a customer club is to identify “who” is dining in their establishment and to be able to communicate with them about specials, events, and other fun stuff. The bare minimum standard in the casual dining industry today is to ask for either a phone number or email as a starting point. Normally, if you provide a phone number, you will receive a SMS message with link to a web page where you can learn about the program and complete a profile to designate a “favorite store” and receive offers. If you provide an email, then you will receive an email from the restaurant as an onboarding tactic for enrollment and profile building.

By chance I knew the marketing director at this chain and shared my story with him. I asked him to consider alternatives that would allow the chain to identify customers individually and begin to understand preferences and habits. One easy example I mentioned was this: The chain regularly highlights its cocktail, beer and wine offers in its advertising. That’s great, but what if no one at your table drinks? Wouldn’t it be great to know that and to be able to do an easy segmentation based on beverage preference?

My attempts to offer suggestions were stonewalled. The marketing director firmly explained that the chain’s “loyalty program” was composed by its ties to community, atmosphere, the quality of its food and the drink specials it offers. In other words, it was the Customer Experience that ruled the day at this restaurant. I am one hundred percent in agreement with a retailer’s right to put CX first, but if they really believe this is enough to create and maintain a degree of customer loyalty and repeat visit, why don’t they just eliminate the punch card altogether?

In my personal experience, the card is a detractor for this chain. Although I know there are benefits for the business, I’ve stopped trying to convince them to start an email or customer club. My more modest goal is to get them to retire the pointless, ineffective and yes, annoying punch card.

Think I’ll have any luck?

This is Real. Life. Loyalty. This story is mine and you have yours.

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