Learn How Gamification and Promotions Drive Measurable Results in the Restaurant Industry with CCO Aaron Lobliner


Everyone loves to eat good food and play games. But what if you could combine the two to help improve business in the restaurant industry? That’s precisely what employing gamification and promotions in restaurants can do!  

Gamification (adding game mechanics to routine tasks to make them more interesting) has been proven to engage customers and motivate behavior change. Businesses can use this tactic to grow their CRM, drive sales, highlight new menu items, or capture valuable first-party and zero-party data.  

And gamification works so well because, both practically and psychologically, people love to have fun. When coupled with prizing and other incentives, we tip the value exchange to give consumers great reasons to participate.

Keep reading to learn from CataBoom’s chief client officer and industry expert, Aaron Lobliner, how restaurant gamification can improve the way restaurant brands capture, engage and motivate their customers.  

What Does Gamification and Promotions Look Like in the Restaurant Industry Today?

“Much of restaurant industry marketing is mired in a sea of sameness,” states Lobliner. “Most loyalty programs are largely transactional, and many brands still heavily rely on discounts and coupons to drive sales. Consumers are bombarded with over 10,000 marketing messages daily, don’t open emails, and use ad blockers, so getting through to them is more challenging than ever. It is about cutting through the clutter and giving people tangible reasons to pay attention.”  

In other words, when every business uses the same form of messaging, consumers grow numb and stop paying attention. However, navigating this sea of sameness could be helpful for a restaurant that’s looking to stand out. Lobliner has five tips for driving better engagement with your target customers:

  • Make engagements simple to understand, easy to access, and FUN!
  • Campaigns must be worth a consumer’s while—aka, trading value to get value. Make the experience (and what discounts or rewards they receive) worth their time.
  • We are in a “now now now” world. Instant Gratification and personalization can make a huge difference in commanding attention.
  • Create opportunities for tentpole events that create ownable moments that consumers look forward to, are leverageable across media channels, and provide great value. (A great example is this White Castle initiative.)
  • Move beyond a mere transaction. Through loyalty, in-restaurant and digital initiatives create promotions infused with more ways to engage.

What Are the Benefits of Gamification in the Restaurant Industry & Its Effects?

Why put so much effort into this form of marketing? Simply put, years of data show consistent and predictable results throughout the industry. Gamification and promotions are regularly used to augment loyalty programs, gather customer data, drive sales, increase engagement, and retain customers.

Amplifies Loyalty

The key to any successful business is to maintain the loyalty of its customers. There’s a reason almost all restaurants have a similar loyalty program structure—because it works. Why wouldn’t customers come back when they get more for their money?

There is, however, a valuable opportunity for many brands to engage beyond only transactions. When you combine loyalty programs with game mechanics, including an instant win or sweepstakes, customers are 1.7 times more likely to enjoy those programs.

Given how successful restaurant loyalty programs are, is it any surprise that big names like Starbucks have a top-of-the-line loyalty program?

Provides Easier Customer Data Harvesting

Detailed customer data and targeted communication are crucial for driving sales. After all, it’s hard to sell to people you don’t know. While customers don’t readily provide personal information, 58% of restaurant guests would share their contact details to get personalized promotions.

Additionally, gamification is a proven tactic to mine other valuable data. For example, you can track demographic and psychographic data points, capture first- and zero-party preference data (flavors, food types, locations, etc.), and garner information from a brand’s media channels. 

Working with Ruby Tuesday, CataBoom created a 50th-anniversary promotion with a themed slot machine game. This mechanic required a name, zip code, and email for a player to unlock chances to win. Strategic prizes included free food (highlighting featured menu items) as velocity prizing, plus a grand prize of $500,000 to capture attention. The campaign saw over 125,000 new-to-file names, 900,000 impressions, and a 50% increase in website returns.

Encourages More Sales/Spending

Gamification and Promotions provide the perfect mechanics for sales drivers by leveraging fun, prizing, and motivation in a short-term participation window.

Everyone knows McDonald’s Monopoly as a classic, well-known restaurant industry gamified promotion. For years in the US (and ongoing in other countries), patrons have clamored to play this well-known game for chances to instantly win physical and digital prizes on their personalized gameboards. 

Other sales driver programs like the annual Taco Bell Xbox Win It Before You Can Buy It instant win game have also run for many years, driving sales within four- to six-week pushes. Users purchase participating products during these windows of time for chances to win.

Campaigns like these can see an average of 8-15% sales increases while doubling—or even tripling—customer frequency!

Promotes Positive Engagement

People love playing games, so use this to your advantage to garner more positive engagement. 

“And the games don’t even need to be complicated,” says Lobliner. “In fact, simpler mechanics like spin-the-wheel, scratchers, and trivia have proven to be the most popular for CataBoom because you don’t have to retrain behavior.”

CataBoom partnered with TGI Fridays to create Five Fridays—a program targeted to loyalty members where gameplay was available each month that has five Fridays. Members could earn points by playing well-known games such as scratchers. An array of prizes were offered that indexed high within the target demographic. The restaurant saw double the amount of engagement than in previous campaigns.

Finds and Keeps New Customers

Better engagement means more new customers—but you need to hang onto them if you’re going to maintain growth. However, restaurants that fail to capture consumer attention with excitement-inducing techniques will lose customers over time.

Lobliner believes the notion of a “straight line” customer journey is outdated. 

“The linear customer journey is not today’s reality,” he explains. “It is very much the opposite— filled with twists and turns, new media, and ways for consumers to tune in and out. Customer acquisition and retention requires a dynamic range of ways to capture, engage, and motivate.” 

Here’s a quick example: Subway did an instant-win sweepstake strategically designed to disrupt their traditional loyalty program with fun, instant-win prizing. This initiative drove significant engagement from existing customers while driving the most net new loyalty members of any campaign that year.

But you don’t have to go big and bold to have measurable success. Having a fun game and a simple prize is enough to grab people’s attention. 81% of consumers make a first-time purchase from a brand because of a promotion, discount, or special offer.

How Can CataBoom Help with Restaurant Gamification?

Finding a reliable partner to work with can be overwhelming if you aren’t familiar with the gamification world. 

“My rule of thumb is to look for a company with experience and knowledge not only of gamification but also your industry,” says Lobliner. “They should be adaptable, have clear measurement initiatives, and have proven technology. And the CataBoom Catapult—our adaptable platform with over 200 different games—has all that and more! We’re the only gamification company that allows you to string multiple games together for a smooth user experience as a customer pivots from one game to another.” 

Because the Catapult library continues to grow, and our prize engine offers so many creative configurations, there’s a tailored experience for every brand (and every consumer) that’s just a click away.

If you want to learn more about CataBoom’s services, contact us and schedule a demo today!