restaurant gamification tips: this is the back of a reward card
by Andreea Dobrila

What Is Restaurant Gamification And How Can It Benefit Your Business?

Here’s a simple definition explaining what restaurant gamification really is. It’s the process of integrating game elements (rewards such as points, trophies, badges, etc) into a non-game context (like your restaurant business) to foster…




& Loyalty towards your restaurant

It’s a bit like transforming your business into a game to make your customers excited to come dine at your restaurant and pursue a reward.

Building Loyalty through Restaurant Gamification

You might be wondering how to use gamification to build loyalty. Here’s one of the most encountered restaurant gamification examples:

collecting points with each purchase


getting your coffee card stamped every time you purchase a coffee or any other hot drink .

The rule here is that once you get 10 stamps, you receive a free drink. It’s called gamification, because it’s like completing ten levels and being rewarded for it. In essence, ever since man appeared on this Earth, his instincts have always been to hunt for food. We are all hunters. And these days, we have evolved towards being reward hunters.

Gamification in restaurants

Within our industry, the potential that restaurant gamification holds is huge. Because, you see, people hate losing things. And psychologists call it loss aversion .

This is a theory which suggests that on a psychological level, avoiding losses is more important than gaining something. And according to the famous American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman:

“If there is even a small chance they may lose what they have earned, people will go to great lengths to protect against the loss.”

(Kahneman, 2013)

So, one would rather not lose money, than find them on the street. Coming back to our restaurant gamification topic, researchers say that the loss aversion theory plays an essential role in gamification.

And that’s because users who get rewarded as a result of gamification do not want to lose those particular rewards . And, so they will continue doing whatever it takes to retain them.

Advantages of restaurant gamification

Gamification embodies a remarkable way of making users do what you want (bring more people in, increase sales, etc.), while giving them something that makes them happy (free meals, drinks). It’s a more complex way of saying: “if you do that , then I’ll give you this ”. It’s transactional in nature.

And more and more business owners are beginning to realize the multiple advantages of using restaurant gamification:

  • Building on customer loyalty
  • Skyrocketing the retention rate of new customers
  • Increasing sales
  • & Raising profit margins

Why gamification works – the bare naked truth

restaurant gamification tips: video game meme


Up until now, countless studies have recognized that without a doubt, video games inherently possess a high level of motivational potential (Garris et al., 2002, Gee, 2007, Hense and Mandl, 2014, Przybylski et al., 2010, Rigby and Ryan, 2011, Ryan et al., 2006, Yee, 2006).  And why is that?

Well, it’s because gamification appeals to and satisfies basic human desires and instincts like:

  • competition,
  • exploration,
  • curiosity,
  • as well as the need for recognition, reward, status, & achievement .

These urges helped us conquer the world, evolve as a society and got us where we are today. And as humans, we feel impelled to respect our urges. It’s beyond us. We can’t control it because it’s written in our DNA code. Just like werewolves transform when it’s a full moon. OK, I’m kidding, but you get the gist.

Learn how to set-up a loyalty system for your customers. Create a program that rewards your returning customers.

Gamification Stats

Here’s a clear-cut example from the real world showing us the power of gamification in action. According to the The European Mobile Game Market, there are more than 2.5 billion video gamers from all over the world . That’s more than one third ( 34%, to be more precise) of the world’s total population.

That’s more than enough proof that gamification works. And it’s all due to its emotion-appealing nature. Gamification sparks people’s motivation and enthusiasm to follow something through:

  • you have excitement given by the thrill of the chase ( of killing aliens, being the first one in the race, etc.)
  • & then there’s the happiness and satisfaction of getting the reward (like when you’re experiencing when you’re able to move to the next level or receive something in return, like: lives, guns, ammo, stamina -> …that enables you to proceed onto the next level.)

And what you’ll also discover about video gamers is that they can’t stop playing the game until they pass the level they’re at. But in over 99% of the cases, they’ll continue spending hours playing and completing level after level. Gamification is undeniably hooking .

And once again dopamine ( the same chemical substance that resides heavily in addictive drugs ) will be flooding their brains when they’ll win virtual rewards and experience the thrill of victory. So then, imagine how you can use gamification for customer engagement.

If they are hooked by virtual rewards, imagine how easy it is to hook your clients by offering them actual, real-life rewards. Now, I’ve saved the best for last.

Let’s see exactly how you can use a few of the most effective restaurant gamification tips to attract new customers, much like pollen attracts bees. Or honey attracts Winnie the Pooh.

Tips to Gamify your Restaurant

Restaurant gamification tips #1: Enable your customers to accumulate points in exchange for freebies

restaurant gamification tips: gamification loyalty programs examples -> stamps on reward cards

And giving them rewards cards are a great way to do that. Reward cards actually help you gain repeat business because they motivate your clients to continue coming back to your restaurant .

Since they know that they’ll be rewarded for it . And every time they get something from you, they’ll feel acknowledged. Even though your customers may be 10 stamps away from getting a reward, at least he’s still getting something.

Because you see, waiting is hard, but that one stamp he gets upon making one purchase is a form of instant gratification – (which is the desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment).

This will make them feel good. And they’ll associate this feeling with the restaurant experience every time they’ll think of your restaurant.

So what happens next in the life of your customers? Well, they’ll want to continue experiencing this acknowledgment feeling. Over and over again. And they’ll continue coming and eating at your restaurant. Voila! That’s how you convert them into becoming your loyal clients.

So try giving your clients reward cards, which you can then stamp every time they buy something from you.

1 dish = 1 stamp

5 stamps = 1 free pizza

For instance, give them 1 point for every pizza they order & tell them that when they accumulate 5 points (or you could go as far as 10), they’ll receive a pizza on the house. Completely for free.

Now, you could try printing out those reward cards yourself, or you could have someone do them for you. Alternatively, you could ask people to keep the receipts in a stack and show them once they accumulate ten of them.

Whatever you do, make sure you make them feel good about coming to your restaurant. That’s how you’ll manage to create a large base of loyal clients.

Restaurant gamification tips #2: Offer your clients the chance to redeem points for lower dollar amounts

restaurant gamification tips: offer your clients the chance to redeem points for lower dollar amounts

Alternatively, you could provide them with the opportunity to gain points and redeem them for lower dollar amounts. That will take the pressure off from having to dig too deep into their pockets when they come to you.

So you’ll actually combat their pain of paying . If you’re interested in finding out more about other ways you can help people forget all about the pain of paying, please feel free to check out my following article:

Related: 6 Menu Pricing Methods: Erase the Pain of Paying with Menu Psychology

So for every 5 points that they accumulate on their reward cards, they can have the chance to pay

  • 10
  • 20
  • or 50% less on their next order (or whatever amount you see fit)

And if you want, you could also use this reward card to make them spend more by adding a condition of price to the offer: “5 stamps will get you a 50% discount on your next order over $50” 

restaurant gamification tips: “5 stamps will get you a 50% discount on your next order over $50”

Restaurant gamification tips #3: Combine gamification with urgency

restaurant gamification tips: mix gamification loyalty programs examples with urgency to influence behavior

If you want to spice thing up, even more, to push people to take the action that you want them to, you could try even adding a sense of urgency to your gamification plan.

I.e., for every x no . of pizzas (or any other main courses) that they order from you within a specific time-frame of y no. of months/ days -> they can get a reward [like a free pizza].

*Set up the number that you want, and make sure it’s doable and realistic.*

So, for instance, for every 9 nine pizzas ordered (or any other main courses) within a time-frame of two months they can get a free pizza of their choice.

Restaurant gamification tip #4: Combine gamification with the “Order Ahead” feature

restaurant gamification tips: combine gamification with the Order Ahead function

By having your clients pre-order or order their favorite foods in advance, you’ll know exactly what to expect from a day’s work. And your clients will be thrilled that they won’t have to wait around for their food to arrive.

But they’ll have yet another reason to come eat at your restaurant more frequently: they’ll also get rewarded for ordering in advance . Plus, you’ll actually increase the number of your online orders . So win-win.

Restaurant gamification tip #5: Use gamification to get more table reservations

restaurant gamification tips: combine gamification with table reservation

You can replace the free pizza with pretty much anything you can think of. Including “table reservations”. And you can actually have 3, 5, 7 or 10 stamp spaces on the card. If you want to attract more people to your restaurant, then you may go for 3 or 5 space cards.

If you already have plenty of clients, but you want to increase your profit margin, then you could opt for 7 or 10 stamp spaces. Whatever you think it’s better for your business.

Restaurant gamification tip #6: Use gamification to gain social media traction

restaurant gamification tips: use gamification loyalty programs to gain more social media exposure and boost your brand awareness

Nike, for instance, designed a gamified app for its users who’re struggling to exercise more, called Nike+. This app helps keep their customers motivated to continue exercising because it rewards them with trophies and badges after they reach different levels.

And they’re also encouraging their users to share their rewards & results on social media. But here’s the reason why people actually do it: humans are selfish and have an ego bigger than the size of Mount Everest.

And just like we consume food to feed ourselves and survive, our ego is fueled by pride. We feel good (and proud) when we are acknowledged for doing something. And getting likes for it.

So by having people brag about their results and achievements, you’re also gaining… since you’re actually promoting your business indirectly. And you’ll increase your restaurant’s brand presence and online visibility.

So here’s how you can implement this tactic for your restaurant:

  • ask your clients to take photos of their stamped reward cards, alongside their free meals (or drinks) and post them online.

Other customer engagement activities ideas:

  • Free birthday reward : offer your clients something like a free drink or free cake for their birthday.
  • Offer first-time buyer rewards: incentivize first-time restaurant visitors by offering them a card with a stamp (which is the equivalent of a meal purchase).

That will make them feel acknowledged and respected. And quite fond of coming back to your restaurant and telling everyone about rewarding them. Every reward they get will bring your customers closer to becoming your loyal customers.

They will get hooked by a sense of achievement. And that will be a powerful incentive that will persuade them to come back to your restaurant time and time again.

Why Restaurant Gamification Will Always Be a Safe Bet

Have you noticed how women keep buying shoes over and over again and yet they never get bored of that? Or how men keep buying and playing video games over and over again? Everything happens because of one simple reason: it generates positive user experiences.

We feel good every time we do it. And we want to experience that feeling every single time we can. Even though we don’t actually need most of them.

But because we are intelligent beings, equipped with reason , we buy on emotion and justify it with logic . So when someone comes up to you, telling you that he/she “needs” a video game because it helps him…

  • relax
  • or improve his attention, coordination, or reaction time

… you’ll know better than this.

Because he/she won’t actually need it (like he /she needs food, water or shelter to survive) , but wants it. T hat’s why when we give in to our urges, we tend to buy loads of things. That’s why gamification will work every single time.

So use them to give your clients what they want. And since… giving your clients what they want = happy clients and more restaurant sales on your part… then you already know what you have to do to grow your business.

So don’t waste any more time and jump aboard this winning train.

Restaurant gamification tips: Summary

So to wrap it up, here is the restaurant gamification cheat sheet that will enable you to do increase customer retention & loyalty:

#1. Enable your clients to accumulate points to get freebies

-> Main benefit: to have them visit your restaurant more often

#2. Allow them to redeem points for lower dollar amounts

-> Main benefit: to make them forget about the pain of paying

#3. Combine gamification with urgency

-> Main benefit: to have them spend more in a shorter time-frame

#4. Combine gamification with the “Order Ahead” feature

->Main benefit: to increase the number of online orders

#5. Use gamification to get more table reservations

->Main benefit: so you can fill your seats & say goodbye to open tables

#6. Use gamification to gain social media traction

-> Main benefit: to attract & build a larger loyal fan-base

Game on.

photo of GloriaFood blog writer Andreea Dobrila
Andreea Dobrila

Andreea Dobrila is a proven web copywriter & marketing strategist. She pushes online restaurants on the fast-track to quickly growing their online sales. Win more business by using her bulletproof tips & secrets.

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