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Getting in the Game: How to Use Gamification in Your Restaurant Marketing

Consumers are becoming smarter and more independent every day, no longer easily swayed by same-old, same-old marketing tactics. With the ability to compare choices, prices, and deals in real-time, simple discounts featured in emails, social media posts, paid ads or other traditional marketing strategies are no longer driving consumer behavior.

In an industry where margins are low and expenses are high, old-school marketing methods just don’t cut the mustard anymore.

But, there’s a new game in town in the food industry.

Gamification involves turning an everyday activity into a game, weaving play-based incentives like points, stamps, badges, and VIP status into non-game environments by rewarding customers for participating. And just like any other game worth playing, participants earn rewards for completing different activities. Customer loyalty programs that incorporate fun, feelings, and gratification with customer participation is what “gamification” is all about.

Stats playing into consumer behavior:

Gamification turns something as ordinary as ordering a meal online or visiting a restaurant into an activity that is engaging, fun, and a win-win for everyone involved.

There is a psychological phenomenon called “loss aversion” that suggests that avoiding loss is actually more motivating to consumers than experiencing gain. In other words, a person would rather not lose a dollar, than find one on the sidewalk. This aversion to loss plays an essential role in restaurant gamification because users who get rewarded do not want to lose their rewards, and they’ll do whatever it takes to retain these rewards.

Tapping into this psychological aversion for loss in the restaurant game takes place in loyalty programs that include levels, stamps, point systems, badges, and more. All of these features inside an interactive loyalty program work together to create a positive experience for users that encourages them to engage and come back to pick up where they left off. A gamified loyalty platform is a perfect fit for restaurants due to the frequency of brand engagement, both online and offline.

Gamification works by convincing customers to do what you want such as buying more of a specified menu item, visiting on certain days, or ordering a set number of times from your online delivery menu while rewarding them with something that makes them happy like free menu items, a generous discount, or complimentary delivery. It’s basically saying: “if you do this, you’ll get that.”

Advantages of restaurant gamification:

  • Builds customer loyalty

  • Increases retention rate of new customers

  • Increases sales

  • Raises profit margins

There are several ways gamification can play a part in your restaurant loyalty program.

#1) Accumulate points to receive a free menu item.

The simplest example of loyalty gamification is a stamp or a digital rewards card. When your customer buys a drink, they get a stamp or point, for example. This repeats until they reach the goal - make their 10th purchase, for example - and the customer wins a reward.

A loyalty card program that rewards customers with points for purchasing a certain item promote repeat business because customers are driven to continue coming back to gain more points.

A well-designed loyalty points program that encourages customers to buy high, and sell low, so to speak, by motivating them to purchase items from your menu that yield higher profit margins, and reward them with lower-cost items, raises the stakes even more. An example would be, “Purchase 10 specialty coffee drinks and get one small coffee.”

Just knowing that they’ll be rewarded makes them feel acknowledged and instantly gratified. Even if it takes 10 visits to get the free reward, every stamp makes them feel like they’re getting something, so they’ll likely come back.

We humans hate to wait and desire instant gratification – (the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment) – so giving that one stamp fulfills that desire. This feeling of instantaneous gratification will make customers feel good, and they’ll associate this good feeling every time they think of your restaurant.

So what happens next? The hope is, they’ll want to continue experiencing this exhilarating feeling and they’ll continue coming back to your restaurant to feel good. And presto, magico, they’ve become converted into loyal customers.

Try this:

1 lunch entree = 1 stamp

10 stamps = 1 free soda


  • For every large pizza, get one stamp. 10 stamps = one free small pizza

  • For every specialty coffee purchase, get one stamp. 10 stamps = one free regular coffee.

  • For each visit (minimum order of $25), get one stamp. 10 stamps = one free dessert item.

#2) Redeem points for tiered rewards.

Take your gamification rewards to the next level by creating a point system for your restaurant loyalty program. This “game” plays on the desire to avoid the pain of spending money.

This type of system can involve monetary rewards or discount tiers.

Monetary rewards: One type of tiered rewards program rewards points with dollars. Once a guest earns 100 points, for example, they can redeem $10 off their next meal.

Discount rewards: Alternatively, you could associate tier levels with an added discount.

Try this:

Give customers a stamp or point every time they visit your restaurant and spend a pre-set minimum or place an order on your website. As they accumulate points, the discount or monetary reward grows.


  • For every $10 spent, get one stamp. After 10 stamps, receive a 25% discount on your next order.

  • For every $10 spent, get one stamp. After 20 stamps, receive a 50% discount on your next order.

  • For every $10 spent online, get one point. After 10 points, receive $10 off your next meal.

  • For every $1 spent online, get one point. After 100 points, receive $10 off your next meal.

#3: Combine gamification with urgency

To spice things up and motivate customers to take action fast, adding a sense of urgency to your gamification plan by adding expiration dates or deadlines, ups the stakes.

Try this:

  • Buy 10 pizzas between “now” and “then,” and get a free pizza on “this date.”

  • Spend $X before “this date,” and get a free menu item.


  • Buy 10 pizzas between 11/25 and 12/30, and get a free pizza on New Year’s Eve.

  • Spend $150 before 12/31/2022 and get 25% off your first purchase in 2023.

#4: Increase table reservations

If your goal is to increase reservations, reward customers every time they make one.

Try this:

  • Reward customers one point for every reservation.

  • Add tiered programs by increasing the value of the reward with the number of reservations.


  • For every reservation for 2 or more guests, get one stamp. After 10 stamps, get one free dessert for every guest.

  • For each reservation of 4 or more after 5 pm, get one stamp. After 10 stamps, get 25% off your next meal.

  • For each reservation of 2 or more Mondays and Tuesdays, get one stamp. After 10 stamps, get 25% off your next meal.

#5) Birthday loyalty program

Who doesn’t love a birthday present? Another way to encourage customer engagement and collect valuable data at the same time is to offer rewards to customers on special days like birthdays and anniversaries. Not only will this increase customer loyalty, but it’s an all-around feel-good incentive that encourages customers to eat at your restaurant on special occasions.

Offer free items or delivery to existing customers who are already enrolled in your loyalty program and remind them as the big day arrives with well-timed, personalized emails. This will plant the seed in their minds and encourage them to celebrate their big day with their favorite menu items from your restaurant.

Offer birthday rewards to first-time users to encourage enrollment and increase the likelihood of their return to your restaurant or website on their birthday.

Try this:

  • Offer one free menu item on a customer's birthday. Make sure to promote with personalized emails in the days and weeks before the big day arrives.

  • Offer free delivery for customers already enrolled and active in loyalty program on their birthday


  • Free delivery on customer’s birthday

  • Free dessert on customer’s birthday.

  • Buy one, get second menu item free on birthday

Winning strategy

Just like we consume food to feed our bodies, our ego is fueled by pride. Encourage your customers to grab likes by posting photos of their rewards on social media.

By having customers “brag” about their results and achievements, you’ll increase your restaurant’s brand presence and online visibility.

Armed with the knowledge that consumers are no longer easily swayed by marketing mumbo-jumbo, gamification taps into the core human drives to feel good that motivate certain behaviors.

Upping your restaurant’s marketing game by adding strategic gamification to your restaurant’s loyalty program is a winning play.

By Eileen Strauss


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