Despite the on-going efforts of many operators to completely wean the eating-out public off discounting, this year has seen a flurry of meal deals in the casual-dining sector in order to get bums on seats.
But, as the recent Horizons Breakfast Briefing concluded, ‘discounting has been a little bit different’ as operators are beginning to become more specifically targeted in their voucher marketing approach.
“Discounting has been a real issue for restaurants over the past three or four years now,” said Horizons' managing director Peter Backman. “We monitor it through our voucher tracker service.
“This year, the trends are indicating to us that the supply of vouchers is qualitatively different in that operators are now using vouchers in a much more targeted and creative way."
As the below graph shows, the number of discount vouchers offered by restaurant chains was significantly lower at the beginning of 2013 in comparison to previous years.
“In the past it would have just been a more simple, money-off approach," added Backman. "It is now much more targeted to day parts and to particular customer categories.
“Nevertheless, the use of vouchers has squeezed operators margins and continues to do so.”
In a move away from paper loyalty cards, family restaurant chain Giraffe has launched its first mobile app which specifically rewards customers for repeat visits.
The app offers two rewards – a free takeaway coffee and 50 per cent off food - both of which can be redeemed after a number of visits have been reached.
Customers who download the Giraffe app before the end of June will receive one free pre-loaded stamp for each offer. Users can also gift each other stamps and swap them with friends by entering their email address.
Giraffe’s co-founder Juliette Joffe said: “We’ve tried to keep it as simple and concise as possible to appeal to a wider audience, whether they are popping in for a regular coffee or visiting us for a meal.”
Other functions of the Giraffe app include reservations (powered by Live Res), geolocation mapping (for the nearest giraffe), browsing the menu and viewing general Giraffe restaurant news.
Meanwhile, Strada - the Tragus-owned chain of Italian restaurants – is offering customers an incremental discount on their food, which increases each time a customer visits an outlet.
Customers who register with Strada by 17 June will be eligible to receive a special ‘pop-in voucher pass’, containing three codes which must be used in the order they’re listed. The first is for 25 per cent off food, the second for 30 per cent and the third for 35 per cent.
All three vouchers are also valid on Strada takeaway orders and can be used for up to six people. They exclude Saturdays, Sundays before 5pm and bank holidays.
So the shift from simple money-off deals to promotions that encourage loyalty and repeat custom is beginning to take shape. And, as a recent survey of 2,000 UK restaurant-goers concluded, almost half (48 per cent) of 18-24 year olds would be more likely to visit a pub or restaurant that offered a loyalty scheme, compared to one in four for a discount programme.