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Chili’s peppers up sales with mobile loyalty, wait-list feature

Chili’s is serving up a double helping of mobile with plans for a new loyalty program that will integrate with the chain’s order-and-pay tablets as well as a new service for texting guests when their reserved tables are ready.

During its 2015 third quarter earnings call this week, Chili’s revealed its plans to soon introduce the loyalty program, called “My Chili’s Rewards,” in a bid to ramp up sales and in-store traffic. Guests will be able to use the Ziosk-powered tablets in restaurants to sign up for the platform, check accumulated points and redeem them when paying for meals.

“By rewarding customers for repeatedly visiting Chili’s and letting them use the points they have accrued at all locations, Chili’s will see their regulars become even more regular – especially because those customers are treated to an experience, and benefits, that aren’t available to casual diners,” said Shira Anderson, marketing manager at Como, Israel.

“It’s something small to medium-sized businesses working with us at Como seem to understand intrinsically, i.e., incentivize your loyal customers to spend more with your business by rewarding them through a mobile app with exclusive offerings, updates, and sales.”

Catching up on loyalty
Chili’s loyalty platform announcement arrives on the heels of Taco Bell’s decision to introduce a similar program this year, suggesting that rolling out reward features is a now-or-never deal for food marketers that did not previously offer them.

This is a smart move by Chili’s, which will be able to collect valuable data on customer preferences and target consumers in more specific ways.

“The biggest value and advantage for food marketers to follow Chili’s move will be the ability to digitize the understanding of their customers and utilize data-driven thinking methods to learn and improve on offerings to customers,” said Maor Sadra, managing director at AppLift, Berlin, Germany.

“Beyond this, many retailers have and will continue re-selling their data to DMPs and third parties as the time spent during ones leisure hours is very valuable to many brands.”

Customers who want to sign up for the program may do so on the Ziosk tablets placed in its bricks-and-mortar locations. Once a designated amount of points has been accumulated, guests can redeem them to help pay the bill.

Chili’s is partnering with American Express in addition to Ziosk to power the points-to-pay solution, which will also accept rewards points from the credit card brand.

Consumers who wish to only pay with points may browse menu items within their available balance.

Olive Garden is the latest restaurant chain to employ Ziosk tablets in its restaurants, enabling customers to order and pay via the devices, suggesting that mobile has a strong role to play in streamlining the dining experience and increasing tip percentages for servers (see story).

Chili’s earnings call also revealed that the brand saw an 11.9 percent increase in third quarter earnings per share from the previous year.

Eliminating wait times
Chili’s is also planning to update its mobile app in July with a new technology titled “NoWait,” which enables hosts to offer guests more accurate wait times and can send SMS alerts to customers notifying them when their table is ready.

The app will also place the guest’s name on the wait list.

“One of the biggest consumer frustrations–in any context–is lack of transparency,” Ms. Anderson said. “Nowhere is this more pronounced than in a restaurant waiting area.

“By simply illuminating the ‘black box’ of the host or hostess’ seating schedule, restaurants have an unprecedented opportunity to promote real customer engagement,” she said. “Specifically, sharing wait time (precisely, not just according to the guy at the door) with customers gives them real agency: now customers can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to wait for a table based on real data.

“This knowledge also leads to other informed decisions, often to the benefit of the restaurant–such as the decision that 15 minutes is just enough time enjoy a margarita or deliciously cheesy appetizer.”

Chili’s cohesive strategy displays how other food and beverage marketers can take advantage of all mobile features. While mobile loyalty programs are imperative for any brand in the restaurant industry to leverage, providing no-wait options and a variety of payment solutions can offer a leg up in the competitive sector.

“Programs like Chili’s new loyalty platform enable chains to simulate the experience that consumers’ expect at their local establishment–personal attention, relevant updates, and a little extra in the form of rewards such as redeemable points,” Ms. Anderson said.

“When it comes to dining out, consumers who are made to feel special will associate that feeling with the establishment that is rewarding them for their patronage, and continue to patronize it in turn.”

Final Take
Alex Samuely is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York