When most people think “customer loyalty program,” they think punch cards that earn them freebies or discounts when they spend a certain amount of money at a retailer or restaurant. One major restaurant chain is testing out a new kind of loyalty program—one that encourages its biggest fans to chow down on its food for seven weeks straight.
Olive Garden introduced a new Never Ending Pasta Pass that, for $100 a pop, allows customers to eat all of the pasta, salad, bread and soft drinks that they can for the next seven weeks. Beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern on September 8, the chain will sell 1,000 of these passes on its web site. The special promotion is tied to Olive Garden’s annual "Never Ending Pasta Bowl" promo, which lets folks eat all the pasta they want in one sitting for $9.99 and runs from September 22 to November 9.
The idea behind the new promotion is to give some ultra-loyal Olive Garden customers and pasta lovers a very good deal. But it’s also about giving the chain some social media buzz and publicity. Surely, many people will tweet or blog about a promotion that encourages people to gorge on pasta for two months.
“We're trying to make our fans feel like VIPs,” Jay Spenchian, executive vice president of marketing for Olive Garden, told USA Today, adding: “What we’re trying to do is get some attention. It’s sure to provoke a reaction.”
“All-you-can-eat“ deals have been a longtime go-to promotion at restaurants, and many chains from TGIFridays and Red Lobster have created such promotions in recent months as the restaurant industry has struggled. But Olive Garden’s new pasta pass takes it to a whole new level by extending the concept for several weeks.
Will other restaurants and businesses follow suit and roll out their own “all-you-can-consume” loyalty promotions?
With customer rewards programs now so prevalent, many businesses have to push the envelope to make their deals stand out from the pack. An “all-you-can-eat” deal for one flat price—$100 in this case—allows a business to better forecast how much revenue that promotion will generate. What it can’t predict: How much those loyal customers will actually consume.
For small businesses, however, a well-designed loyalty program can be a great way to compete against larger businesses that spend more money on advertising. However, so many small businesses have loyalty programs these days that designing a unique, short-term program—like the Olive Garden promotion—can generate some extra publicity and buzz.
Gail Oliver, a small-business marketing expert, features some unique promotions offered by small businesses on her website, Attention-Getting.com. She writes: “The press always loves writing about a unique promotion, especially if it can be part of a story relevant to something currently going on in the news—be it a holiday, event or a trending topic.”
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