Loyal card diners used to be rewarded with free meals or a slice of cake on their birthdays, but now recession-hit restaurants are crafting new ways to hang on to their best customers. They are dangling free trips, a shot at buying pricey items like rare coffee beans and chances to sample new menu items ahead of the pack.
More eateries are adding customer-loyalty card programs. A sampling:
- Starbucks—Last week Starbucks offered its gold-level rewards members — customers who have made at least 30 purchases on their Starbucks card — a chance to buy a rare coffee from the Galapagos Islands and to purchase discounted trips there.
- Outback Steakhouse—Its loyalty club members can win Tim McGraw memorabilia (CDs, his cologne brand, an autographed cowboy hat or football) and get entered to win a free trip to Australia in Sept. to see the country singer perform.
- Panera Bread—Plans to roll out a rewards program nationwide later this year that, among other things, will let loyal customers preview new menu items.
- T.G.I. Friday’s—Members of its “Give Me More Stripes” program get a coupon for a free dessert or appetizer when they first sign up; each time they spend $100 on food, they get an $8 coupon. They also get to sample new menu items before anyone else.
- P.F. Chang’s China Bistro—People who sign up for the chain’s Warrior loyalty card get 10% off meals.