In the midst of a soft economy and an industry with heightened brand competition, loyalty marketing, or the way in which restaurant operators market to the most faithful customers, has achieved a new level of importance. Loyalty marketing and rewards programs vary in terms of their size and scope, but they all share one goal: to recognize unwavering customers and keep them coming back.

Only about one third of consumers (36 percent) say they participate in a restaurant-based loyalty program. However, 80 percent agree they would sign up if the restaurant they visit most often offered a program. This indicates opportunities for more restaurants to offer loyalty programs—or to simply build awareness of existing programs and related benefits. And by providing incentives for frequent use, loyalty programs can also be an excellent way to turn light users into “regulars.”

Using industry and chain data, Technomic has issued a new Market Intelligence Report that defines loyalty marketing, identifies current leaders, analyzes performance and identifies trends. Noteworthy findings include:

58 percent of loyalty-club members say they are likely to base their where-to-dine decision on whether they have a membership at that brand.

Of the consumers who say they currently participate in loyalty marketing programs, membership is higher among casual-dining brands (57 percent) than fast-casual brands (44 percent).

77 percent of loyalty members say e-mail is the preferred method for receiving rewards communications.

A vast majority (96 percent) of participants in rewards programs say they have visited a restaurant associated with their membership within the past six months.

Consumers are concerned about privacy. 70 percent say they would be more inclined to sign up for a rewards program if they could be guaranteed that the restaurant would not pass along their information.