Generating loyalty in the casual dining space is about more than just serving up tasty food.
Competition is fierce, and without a rewarding experience both online and offline, customers will just tuck in elsewhere, said Steve Flanagan, CMO at TGI Friday’s in the UK, where the brand operates 84 restaurants with three new locations in the pipeline this year.
“The challenge for every restaurant brand, casual dining or otherwise, is to deliver a great guest experience,” Flanagan said. “That has to be true when the guest is there in the restaurant, but the journey actually starts long before someone arrives.”
But when Flanagan joined TGIF UK last summer after seven years leading the marketing team for EMEA at Starbucks, the Friday’s mobile reward experience didn’t provide compelling enough incentives.
To change that, TGIF UK hooked up with Punchh, a mobile marketing automation platform, to revamp its app with an eye on upping customer acquisition and engagement. The new app gamifies engagement by doling out rewards for interfacing with the brand: a free appetizer for downloading the app or free drinks on a customer’s birthday.
In early August, within just four weeks of launch, TGIF UK’s Punchh-powered loyalty program had already generated a 61% increase in visits from loyal customers, a 66% uptick in loyalty revenue and a 30% boost in signups to the program.
But loyalty can’t exist in an engagement vacuum. TGIF UK’s new app is part of a larger effort under Flanagan to modernize the brand’s digital presence and update the in-store experience, including adding new vegan items to the menu.
AdExchanger caught up with Flanagan.
AdExchanger: In your role, you oversee a lot of the technology, even beyond marketing. What’s your purview?
STEVE FLANAGAN: I look after marketing and IT infrastructure for the brand in the UK, from the kitchen systems right through to the booking systems and the terminals in our restaurants. I also oversee all of the food and beverage development.
The beauty of that is it allows me to join up every piece of the guest journey. We’re working toward a high level of personalization that allows us to understand guest behavior: how often someone visits, how they pay for their food, which locations they prefer. The goal is to string all of this together to tailor our communications and have a true loyalty program.
How does TGIF define loyalty and how do you measure it?
We have hard metrics for tracking loyalty, such as loyalty visits, loyalty revenue and unique guests. Another key figure we’ve begun to look at is guests who visit us only once, and thinking about how to generate return visitation.
But if I put my marketing hat on, loyalty is equally about emotion and connection to the brand as much as it is about the hard numbers. We need to make sure we engage our team in the restaurant so they understand the benefits of the program and can deliver an experience that makes guests want to recommend Friday’s to other people.
The casual dining sector has been struggling in recent years. Why is TGIF UK bucking the trend?
It’s a tough environment with a lot of competition, but we see that as a good thing. There’s a huge opportunity out there – casual dining is a 5-billion-pound market in the UK – and we know we’ll succeed if we focus on delivering a good experience for our guests.
The changes we’ve made to our rewards program and the overhaul of our website is part of a bigger initiative for us that’s primarily about two things: being confident that our guest journey lives up to what people expect at Friday’s, and for me to get a better sense of how our loyal guests behave, what they want from us and how to reward them.
That’s quite different from some other brands, which are being fairly aggressive with promotional discounts. I have no doubt that can deliver short-term benefits, but it’s not a sustainable position to be in if you want to grow a brand, and we don’t want to go down that route.
Why did TGI Friday’s UK need a new brand identity?
I’d call it more of an identity refresh. Friday’s has 30 years of heritage in the UK and that counts for a hell of a lot. TGI Friday’s opened its first store in the UK in 1965.
But we also have to keep up with the times if we want to remain relevant and give our guests what they want. One area I felt we lagged in was keeping the digital guest experience in the shape it should be. Our website was often quite slow and we had a very high bounce rate. We also weren’t delivering the best mobile-first experience, and that needed fixing.
It’s critical for us to deliver a rewards program that complements the restaurant experience and delivers functional benefits, like being able to quickly view the menu and easily make a booking along with an incentive to come back and reward loyalty to the brand.
At the same time we were making these upgrades, we also had the lovely GDPR regulation coming down in May that we needed to prepare for.
How did you get the brand ready for GDPR?
We have a large database and when I joined, maybe 30% of customers in it hadn’t engaged in a year. We brought all of our data partners together, including our Wi-Fi provider, our CRM database provider and Punchh. Together we looked at what we collected, how we collected it and how engaged those guests were with us.
Between us, we started to cleanse the data, and, over time we got real clarity on what questions we need to ask our guests, whether that be from a legal point of view or about what sort of food they enjoy with us. We need to make sure that anything we ask our guests is not too onerous. We never want to put a burden on them.