Beyond the punch card: Restaurants lean into loyalty programs to hold onto pandemic digital gains

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Forget the battle for chicken sandwich supremacy. The loyalty program wars are coming. Restaurant digital orders surged 124% in the year ended March, according to market researcher NPD Group.

And the skyrocketing popularity of online ordering during the pandemic is motivating big fast-food chains to use rewards programs to hold onto new mobile app customers. By now, most restaurant chains automatically sign customers up for loyalty programs once diners order via a mobile app. , Panera Bread and paved the way, while launched its own version in 2019. But the last year has brought even more players into the arena. , Taco Bell and Burger King are among the new entrants, and and are . “With Covid-19 and consumers’ shift in behavior, we’ve really seen a giant uptick in it, from the biggest brands that were kind of holding out, I’d say, are now launching programs to keep consumers returning and keep that loyalty,” said Elle Kross, director of more...