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Developing a VIP Club to Increase Business

Mr. Menu, Tampa Menu Printer, Print Etc.

Mr. Menu now walks back a bit from short restaurant marketing tips, to a more indepth article on developing a VIP Club to increase your Restaurant Business.  Before you begin marketing through a VIP Club, you need to take a step back and look at your restaurant.  Make sure that you are ready for increased business.  Don’t attempt to market your restaurant unless you have above average food and service.  Good marketing can actually put a restaurant that provides poor food and service out of business faster because more people will have a poor dining experience, and the negative word-of-mouth will cause them to fail faster than if they do not market at all.

Gathering the Data:

Once you have taken an internal inventory and feel good about the food and service that you provide, it’s time to start using and building your database of existing customers. Remember that in most restaurants 30 percent of the customers are bringing in 70 percent of the business.  For the sake of our discussion, let’s say that Joe’s Family Diner has 10,000 customers a month. That’s 322 customers each day. Seventy percent of the diner’s monthly customers would be 7,000.  If the restaurant’s VIP Club marketing creates only one more visit per year per customer at an average check of $50, the volume will increase by $350,000 per year or roughly $30,000 a month.   $30K a month with  only one extra visit per existing customer per year.  It is fairly obvious therefore the benefit of achieving incremental customer visits.

Your restaurant patrons are your neighbors.  VIP Clubs enable you to market within your neighborhood to existing customers.   VIP Clubs are what is known as “Permission Based Marketing”.   Permission based marketing means that the person that is being marketed to  (Your VIP Club Member) has given you permission to contact them.  This is much more effective than sending out blind coupons to the entire neighborhood.   These are folks who know and frequent your restaurant; they took the time to fill out a VIP card and have shared personal information with you.  The goal of the VIP Club is not so much “New” visits, as it is for “Incremental” visits to your restaurant.

VIP Clubs, executed properly, build brand loyalty to your restaurant.  VIP club members should always be given some tangible form of a “thankyou” for joining.  A fee Appetizer at their next meal…. immediately achieves  the objective of incremental visits.  They need to come back for their bonus.   Remember to, that people tend to ignore flyers and coupons, and even ignore email.. but TXT messaging open rates are over 90%.  Be sure to capture address, email address, and cell phone, along with a specific statement that they will accept occasional txt from you.  If you don’t specifically have that permission, you can be labled as a SMS TXT, or EMail spammer.

A Special Offer should reach your customer no more than the  next day, so that they don’t forget signing up.   That initial welcome t the VIP Club offer, should be in all available media.   Mail, EMail or SMS TXT.

Many offers work.   You could offer a flat $ amount off their next visit, or a free desert, or a “Friends and Family” free meal if they give the coupon to a friend with their name on it  (so that you can followup with a thank you).

Offers with “scarcity” tend to work best.  Use this within the next week, or, “This special meal is Available only in February”.  A deadline frequently pushes conversion rates sky high.

Train and incentivize employees to promote your VIP Club Enrollment campaign.   We have seen Negative incentives for employees “Get email addresses, or suffer XYZ consequences.  We have seen Positive incentives, “Get Email Addresses, and get XYZ bonus.   Our experience is that negative incentives almost always fail.  You want enthusiastic ambassadors of your brand, not coerced.  Employee Contests, Prizes, meals,Paid Time Off , and family gift certificates,  (which create new buts in seats!) are all effective employee incentives.

As your printer, and restaurant marketing coach, we  of course recommend VIP Club displays and sign-up cards in very high-traffic, highly visible areas.   We’ve seen popup at the checkout counter.  Generally, table top, where your customer has time to read and get excited about your offer, are far more effective than “at the register” displays where the customer is “on the way out” and not likely to stop and read the offer.  Use pre-printed “Post-It” pad messages and put them on your menus so that your customers and employees will be reminded to fill them out.

Always emphasize the benefits of VIP Club membership. Enter the names and additional information into the computer software program on a daily basis, using a part time employee.

VIP Club sign-up cards should have the following:

  • Name:
  • Address:
  • Birthdates of each family member, so that they can receive a birthday surprise.
  • Anniversary:
  • Email:
  • Cell Phone (for text messages):

Make sure that you include wording that they customer specifically does or does not give you permission to market to them in email, and via text message.   Opt-in and Opt-out ability are a legal requirement of digital marketing.

Actioning the Restaurant VIP Member application:


Don’t build a big stack of entries to put in a spreadsheet “later”   Urgency, immediate contact, are watch words for an effective VIP Club promotion.

Creating a database of your customers and immediately communicating to them on a regular basis will increase the frequency of visits to your restaurant. For almost any reason, or sometimes for no reason at all you should send the customer a postcard or an email with an incentive to bring them into the restaurant again. Remember, the goal is to bring the customers in at least one EXTRA time per year. By sending them a reminder postcard or email around a holiday or during a local community event will remind them to visit your restaurant. And if they make several EXTRA visits you have exceeded your goal and dramatically increased the sales and profit of your restaurant.

Everyone Appreciates the Contact!

Our digital marketing agency (StudioHOF)  recalls going to a typical breakfast type restaurant on a Sunday, and grimacing over the packed parking lot.  As they circled that parking lot, they got  a TXT message from one of their favorite local seafood restaurants, reminding them they had Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch Bars, and offering the first Bloody Mary for free.   They immediately stopped looking for a parking place, and drove straight to the Bloody Mary Sunday Brunch Bar.   It works!

Create a Birthday Club:

The National Restaurant Association said that the number one special occasion for people eating out is their birthday.  Over 1/2 of all Americans eat out on their birthdays.   We can almost guarantee that you have at least one customer every day with a birthday, 365 days a year.  Birthdays are the perfect time to encourage additional business.

Use the information gathered in your database to send out birthday cards for each VIP customer as you recognize one of the most important days in their lives. Their celebrations might as well happen at your restaurant. Always include a FREE offer such as a FREE dinner for the birthday guest.  Birthday guests rarely dine alone.  The average size of a birthday group is five individuals.

Go out of your way to make the birthday party a special event when a customer redeems his/her certificate. Your restaurant needs to become the “Party Place.” Develop definite policies to ensure that it happens that the parties are fun and your birthday guest is treated like royalty for their day. You must create a special party atmosphere. One Northwest seafood chain has a crazy fish hat that the birthday person wears while they take a Polaroid or digital photo of the birthday guest and his/her friends. The photo is then slipped into a cardboard photo holder and becomes a nice takeaway remembrance of the evening. Of course, the restaurant’s name and address is on the card. If you include a “year” sticker, it can become a collectable item. In today’s Social Media heavy world, naturally, the wait staff should be encouraged to take pictures of the party, so that it is easy for the party goers to share their birthday.. AND YOUR RESTAURANT.. on their Facebook page.

Celebrate Anniversaries:

Another great marketing campaign can be centered on your VIP customers’ anniversaries. Forty-three percent of American couples say they go out to eat to celebrate their wedding anniversaries. If you own a fine dining restaurant, try to make your guests dining experience special and romantic. Doing “little extras” is what will set your restaurant apart from the competition. Value-added incentives are more important than discounts on anniversaries. You must make it a “special occasion.”

Quick Service Restaurants and Pizza Shops can effectively wish mom and dad a happy anniversary by giving them a great offer for their children’s meals that way, Mom doesn’t have to cook for the children before she goes out to dine. This let’s the children celebrate the anniversary too.

Advertise Specials or New Menus:

With a marketing database, you are prepared to communicate with your regular customers. It’s a great way to introduce a new menu or a new menu item.  Always include some special offer just for VIP members.

Many companies have developed a newsletter for VIP members. Others are sending out e-newsletters. This is a great way to say thank you to your frequent customers. It’s also a great medium to tell them about new menu items, new employees, and new recipes.  All this helps to make our customers take an interest in your restaurant and keep your restaurant’s name in front of your VIP members. Be sure to make the newsletter newsy and fun to read. Always include some sort of incentive for those members to stop by for a meal. Change your incentive in each newsletter and track the results.

Sponsor Contests:

One restaurateur saw a substantial increase in VIP member visits when she started having a weekly drawing. She sent out a postcard to the VIP members and asked them to bring in the postcards for a FREE offer. When redeemed, the postcards were entered into a weekly drawing for a free lunch or “Dinner For two”. Monthly drawings were also held with prizes such as a digital camera, CD player, clock radio, etc.  Grand Prize Drawings held twice a year gave away a grandfather’s clock or a cruise. With every mailer, she reminded her customers of the grand prize drawings.

Restaurant Promotions for any Celebrations:

Create theme nights to attract your VIP members back to your restaurant. Tie your theme occasions with holidays. For instance, February is National Chocolate Lover’s Month. Offer your VIP members a special chocolate dessert promotion for the month of February. One creative Italian restaurant owner did a VIP promotion for its St. Patrick’s Day celebration. He sent out an email invitation saying, “Come party with real Italians on St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll show you how to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style.” Any holiday will do. One restaurant celebrated Agatha Christie’s Birthday by offering a surprise entree special.

“It’s not your customer’s job to remember you.  It’s your obligation and your responsibility to make sure the customer doesn’t forget you! 

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