How to Start a Kick-Ass Customer Loyalty Program in Your Bar & Restaurant

If you aren’t aware by now that it costs way more to acquire new customers than keep existing ones, then you should be severely flogged with a 9-iron and never allowed to run a business again.

Ok, I’m kidding. I retract my 9-iron. After all, you’re here reading an article on how to retain existing clients for your bar and restaurant, and you should be commended for that. With that said, let’s explore how important customer retention is:

  • It costs 5 TIMES MORE to acquire new customers than to retain existing ones.
  • 47% of companies place their focus and energy on customer acquisition vs. only 19% on customer retention (the 47% need the 9-iron treatment).
  • Existing customers are 66% more likely to buy from you while only 13% of new customers are likely to buy from you.
  • Existing customers spend 31% more than new customers.

Those are some powerful statistics and it provides an incredible opportunity to ramp up your sales. This is where the business owners emerge, the ones who take action instead of just saying, “We’re good. We’ll just provide good service.”

NO! This is being proactive and rewarding guests for frequent visits to your place. This is going out and making something happen instead of hoping something will happen. It’s that simple.

Ok, so now that you’ve been lectured on the value of customer retention, let’s talk about how to get them coming back again and again. Of course, the most powerful customer retention program is no other than good old fashioned customer service, which is what makes a good customer loyalty program so powerful because it can help improve your team’s participation and enthusiasm by developing a culture that gets the entire staff on board which will increase the number of guests coming back again and again to spend money in your bar and restaurant.

Although the options of implementing a loyalty program are only limited by your imagination, I like to keep it simple or you will never follow through, which is why I’m going to give you a list of three options to choose from. If you’d like to go off the reservation and do your own thing, go for it. 

The most important thing for growing your loyalty members quickly is to offer them something of value for signing up. Immediately. Don’t offer them 5% off 9 weeks from now. Give them something today that they will be happy to get in exchange for them joining your program and giving you their information.


This is my favorite loyalty because it’s easy to implement and use and it gets the entire staff involved. For this, I love FiveStars ( We have used it with great success at our Irish Pub here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

With FiveStars you’re able to customize the digital card to create a program to do just about anything you want. When the card is issued, you’re able to ask for their phone and email so that you can send them happy birthday wishes and reminders to come in and see you if they haven’t come it for awhile, etc. Basically remind them of their favorite place to come for food and drinks.

Every time the customer pays, they acquire points. You are able to define the point structure so that they receive free gifts, food, drinks, etc. every time they spend a certain amount of money. It’s awesome, and the guests feel honored to belong to your “club”.

The other thing I love about this program is that each time they use their card, their name pops up on the POS screen. There is no sweeter sound to us than our own name, and this program allows your staff to learn guests names so they can address them by their first name when they come in. Very cool stuff.

The rewards card gives your guests the feeling like it’s a never-ending happy hour which will keep them planting their butts in your seats over and over and over again. To check out FiveStar Rewards Program, click here. Someone from FiveStars will actually come out to train your staff and show you options for setting up your rewards structure.


Gathering emails so you can market to your customers is certainly not new, but it is still as remarkably powerful as ever. By simply acquiring their email, you can send all sorts of fun messages, sharing with them pictures (or even video) from your cocktail and food menu, as well as the culture of your bar and restaurant, which is the best way to build a tribe of loyal followers.

In addition, you can send them occasional offers and deals since they are a member of your club. These are exclusive offers only available to them, which makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This is where you can use your imagination on what to send them. One of my favorite things to do is introduce staff members and tell a little about them: their likes, dislikes, hobbies, family, pets. Becoming familiar with your staff helps them feel part of a family. The possibilities are endless and if done correctly, you can create a long list of raving fans for your bar and restaurant.

To acquire their email, simply provide them with something of value: Free appetizer the next time they come in, 15% off their meal, etc.


The Mug Club takes a bit more to get off the ground, but the rewards are worth it. There’s something I like to call “depth of loyalty” which measures how dedicated someone is to a product or company. They can either be casually committed or a mega-psycho-raving-fan.

The Mug Club runs deep because with this loyalty program, you actually give each member a beer mug (usually made of some type of metal) with their name engraved into the mug, and each time they come in, the bartender pulls Jim’s mug off the wall/shelf (wherever they are stored) and fills it with his favorite beer. Members of this club might also receive an all-time $1 discount for all their beers.

What’s important here is that the Mug Club is limited to a certain number of members (i.e. 100), which is necessary because you only have so much room to store mugs, but it also creates scarcity and a sense of importance to the current members, to know that not everyone is allowed access to the club.

You can start a waiting list for those who want to join the club, and then if someone hasn’t shown up for a certain amount of time (i.e. 2 months, or whatever you deem long enough), then his/her mug is removed and a new member from the waiting list is allowed to join and get his name on a mug.

Nowadays with the popularity of Moscow Mules, you could even start a Mule Club and engrave their names on the copper cups.

There’s a jump start for you: three basic loyalty program ideas. You can use one of these or perhaps it has triggered an idea of your own. The significance of repeat customers is monstrous, so whatever you do, don’t just do nothing. Find something to keep those seats filled and the money rolling in.

Cheers, until next time,


Tags:how to run a bar how to run a restaurant how to start a customer loyalty program how to increase restaurant sales how to increase bar sales how to increase restaurant profits how to increase bar profits how to market for restaurant bar promotions restaurant promotions bar inventory liquor inventory

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