Until recently, restaurants used punch cards and plastic cards for their loyalty programs. Today, many are replacing traditional card-based loyalty programs with mobile loyalty apps.

In this article, we focus on how restaurant loyalty apps can be used to build customer loyalty. We demonstrate this with examples of the world’s top food chains. We also outline must-have features and conclude with useful tips on how to set up an effective loyalty program. But first, let’s talk about why restaurants should go mobile for building customer loyalty.

Benefits of mobilized loyalty

Still hesitant to start a digital loyalty program? Let’s briefly consider the benefits of building loyalty through a mobile app.

  1. Ease of use. For 43% of shoppers surveyed by CodeBroker, plastic loyalty cards are the biggest obstacle to enjoying a loyalty program. By offering your restaurant visitors a digital loyalty program, you can simplify the customer experience.
  2. Personalized experience. Plastic loyalty cards fail at developing effective communication and strong long-term relationships with your visitors. Customer loyalty apps, on the contrary, can help you build personalized and unique content that’s relevant to your customers. This can be custom birthday wishes, special offers, and other incentives. Additionally, a loyalty app enables you to reach out to customers anytime and anywhere.
  3. Customer data. Apps let you easily gather valuable insights about your customers, such as their preferences, purchasing behavior, and demographics. This data can help you deliver personalized offers.
  4. Sense of exclusivity. Who doesn’t like to feel that they’re part of an exclusive team? With amobile loyalty app,you can share exclusive news, content, offers, coupons, and promotions, which fosters a sense of uniqueness. Plus, you can give your customers a voice to make them feel like they belong – for example, through social media, forums, and feedback forms.

Examples of top restaurant loyalty programs in mobile apps

Real-world restaurant loyalty programsare the perfect place to get inspired with ideas for your own business. Using examples from the best restaurant brands, we can draw up a list of features and key ingredients to include in yourloyalty app.

Restaurant loyalty programs ideas:


Chick-fil-A is one of the biggest fast food chains in the US, with over 2,300 restaurants. In 2016, they launched Chick-fil-A One ― a new app that replaced the restaurant’s previous app.

With the new Chick-fil-A One app, users can:

  • Order on the go, pick up orders at their convenience, and skip the line at the register
  • Earn points by ordering at Chick-fil-A, ordering through the app, ordering catering online, and scanning the in-app QR code in the drive-thru or at the register
  • Redeem rewards on menu items
  • Customize their orders
  • Save favorite orders

Additionally, Chick-fil-A assigns statuses to loyalty app users:

  • Member — Anyone who joins Chick-fil-A One. Members receive 10 points per $1 spent. Points can be redeemed on food rewards, and members get birthday rewards and other rewards from their local Chick-fil-A restaurant.
  • Silver — Members who reach 1,000 points within a year. Apart from the benefits that regular members get, Silver members receive 11 points per $1 spent and can gift rewards to family and friends and donate meals to Feeding Children Everywhere.
  • Red — Members who reach 5,000 points within a year. Red members receive 12 points per $1 spent and are able to enjoy the Chick-fil-A backstage tour, get Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame tickets, and be the first to know about new insider content and menu items.


Starbucks provides another great example of a loyalty program. The Starbucks coffeehouse chain has been operating in the US since 1971. Their journey in the mobile app world started in 2009. The first Starbucks app by mFoundry was a payment app that was accepted at only 16 Starbucks locations. At the time, the app operated only on iPhones and used QR codes. Later, Starbucks moved to in-house development to bring in-app payment capabilities to their initial Starbucks app. In 2016, they combined their app with their loyalty program. The company says their rewards members have driven around 40% of US sales since the loyalty program was launched.

Starbucks users can:

  • Earn 2 stars for $1 spent and redeem them for menu items. Stars don’t expire as long as a user’s Starbucks Rewards Visa Card or Starbucks Rewards Visa Prepaid Card account is open. If this account is closed, stars expire 6 months after account closure.
  • Orderahead, pick up the order at their convenience, and skip the line at the register
  • Pay with their phone in Starbucks stores or pay online
  • Send gifts to family and friends
  • Manage their Starbucks card — Check their balance, add money, and transfer a card balance to another card

  • Find Starbucks spots nearby — The app shows nearby Starbucks locations, gives directions, and displays operating hours and store amenities.

  • Tip baristas on orders made with the application


Chili’s is a popular American bar and grill chain that operates in 49 states and 32 countries. In 2015, they launched a fully digital loyalty program ― My Chili’s Rewards ― that can be accessed through their app, website, and restaurant Ziosks, or tabletop kiosks.

Once a customer signs up for My Chili’s Rewards, they can:

  • Earn points (1 point for every dollar spent) and track them. Points remain active if a customer visits a Chili’s at least once every four months and spends at least $5 each time. To encourage frequent visits, Chili’s offers loyal customers (namely, those who visit Chili’s once every 60 days) a free non-alcoholic drink or chips and salsa.
  • Get bonus points by completing special challenges
  • Redeem points for free menu items

  • Order meals for pickup

  • Pay for orders
  • Reorder favorites with one tap

  • Find the nearest Chili’s restaurant and get directions

  • Save favorite menu items and favorite locations

Dunkin’ Donuts

Dunkin’ Donuts is a US-based international fast food restaurant that was founded in 1950. According to WorldAtlas, Dunkin’ Donuts is the eighth biggest quick service restaurant chain. In 2014, they launched their rewards program ― called DD Perks ― that can be accessed online and through a mobile app.

  • With the Dunkin’ Donuts app, users can:
  • Earn 5 points per $1 spent
  • Track and redeem points
  • Orderon the go and pay up to24 hours ahead

  • Customize orders

  • Save favorites

  • Send gift cards to Dunkin’ lovers through email or text

Features to include in your loyalty program app

Based on the examples we’ve just outlined, let’s highlight the main functionality that these world-famousrestaurant loyalty programshave in common.




The main features in any loyalty app are the ability to earn, track, and redeem points. Be clear on what actions you’re going to reward customers for (we’ll talk about this later) and how many points you’ll give them for particular actions. To motivate customers to actively participate in your loyalty program, offer them challenges so they can earn bonus points.

Order in advance

Your customers will definitely appreciate the ability to order ahead and pick up orders at their convenience, skipping the lines. The order flow will look like this: choose a location (if you have a restaurant chain) ⟶ add items to the cart ⟶ select a pickup time ⟶ submit the order ⟶ pay. Don’t forget to include a menu with images and detailed descriptions. Also, you can allow customers to add notes to orders.

Order customization

You can allow customers to customize items by adding or removing ingredients.


Providing quick and smooth payment options in your loyalty app is a necessity.To learn more about adding mobile payments to your app, read aboutthe top online payment services: Stripe, Braintree, and PayPal.Also, consider integrating a QR code scanner to allow customers to pay quickly with your app using QR codes.

Apart from the features named above, you can consider including:

  • Push notifications to inform customers about offers, deals, and happy hours.
  • blog to share the latest news from your company and breaking stories. This will engage customers and market your brand.
  • Social media integration to allow users to connect their social network accounts with their loyalty profiles. Also, you can reward users when they share your content (such as special offers or company news) on social media and refer friends.
  • Geolocation-based search (if you have a restaurant chain). This will enable users to find a nearby location and special offers nearby.
  • Ratings and feedback to get insights into how to improve your app, service, or menu.

Restaurant loyalty app development at Steelkiwi

At Steelkiwi, we have experience in restaurant mobile app development. Restaurant app is one of the best examples of loyalty apps we’ve built.

Restaurant app

loyalty app development
source: steelkiwi.com

Before Restaurant app came to us, they had a loyalty app for each European country they operated in. However, it became tough to manage all of these applications when the number of Subway’s restaurants started to grow. This is when the Subway’s top managers decided to create a single app that caters to European users.

With Restaurant app, users can check the menu, pre-order food and drinks, customize orders, view their order history, get special offers, join SubSquads with friends, invite friends, add a plastic loyalty card number to their account, and find a nearby Subway restaurant.

For more information, read the full case study.

Tips for creating and running a successful restaurant loyalty program

If designed properly, a loyalty program can be an effective means of providing great customer experience and driving repeat sales. To help you build and run a successful rewards program, we’ve prepared some tips. Enjoy!

#1 Decide what actions to reward

Before launching your loyalty program, make sure you clearly define what you’ll reward customers for. For example, you can reward them for signing up for your loyalty program, making their first purchase, every dollar spent at your restaurant, their birthdays, and promoting your restaurant on social media.

#2 Deliver a personalized customer experience

Customers expect personalization. According to the State of Personalization Report by Segment, 49% of customers suppose they will become repeat buyers if they have a personalized customer experience.

Providing customers with rewards isn’t enough. Create real value for each customer and show them you care by giving away menu items they love or offering a discount on their favorites. At Starbucks Happy Hour, guests can get 50% off their favorite menu items.

#3 Listen to your customers

When customers know that you take their opinions into account and take action on their feedback, their loyalty will increase. And so will your sales. Let your guests share their thoughts and experiences on your app, menu, and service. This can help you direct your loyalty program strategy and improve your service.

#4 Keep it simple

Create a rewards program that’s accessible. Let’s take Starbucks as an example. With their old rewards system, customers needed to earn 300 stars within a year before they could redeem them for free items (other than birthday gifts and drink refills). Once customers got at least 300 stars, they could get free menu items for every 125 stars. Gold members could also earn more points on double-star days, which occurred once a month. However, Starbucks realized their loyalty system was too confusing and that a lot of people gave up on joining it when they discovered they wouldn’t get anything until they earned 300 stars. So they decided to simplify things. With the new system, customers can get free refills at 25 stars and free drinks at 50 stars with no 300-star minimum.

If you have any questions on how tocreate your own loyalty card appor if you want to find restaurant app developers to start one, message us. Meanwhile, we suggest you check out our portfolio ofcustom restaurant apps to see what we’ve built so far.

How much does it cost to build a loyalty app for a restaurant?

The How much does it cost to create a restaurant loyalty app? question is sure to come if you decided to build one. It’s your right to know where your money goes. Yet it’s difficult to say the exact number of hours it’ll take to develop your restaurant loyalty app. Every project is different, and so is the price.

App development costs depend on many factors such as features, design, platforms, and backend infrastructure. No less important is the country your software development team is from and their hourly rates.

Steelkiwi advice: Request an estimate for your restaurant project from a software development team you’re looking to hire. We hope this piece has provided you a better understanding of loyalty app development. If you have any questions on how to create your own loyalty card app or if you want to find restaurant app developers to start one, message us.

Useful links

If you decided to build an app for your restaurant, it’s important to stay up-to-date with trends and news within the restaurant industry. Below are some useful blog posts so you can learn more about software development in the restaurant sector:

You’re also welcome to learn about our expertise in the restaurant sector here.