Two schools of thought have broken out about loyalty programs. The first is to build a collective currency for points or other loyalty incentives that can be used anywhere in the network. This is the approach taken by players such as Cartera, Edo, Mogl, LocalBonus and numerous others covering the gamut.
The second is to work specifically with merchants on a one-on-one basis, building their customers’ points based solely on the business they do with the establishment. Groupon Rewards has taken this approach, along with Swipely, LevelUp and many others.
Venga, a Washington, D.C.-based loyalty builder for restaurants, has opted for the latter approach. “We’re powering restaurants’ own loyalty program. We’re not trying to get between restaurants and their guests,” says founder Sam von Pollaro. He opines that collective currencies developed by players such as OpenTable “creates loyalty to OpenTable, not the restaurant.”
The company was launched two years ago as a verticals-oriented data analytics firm, with the intention of eventually serving multiple verticals. Working with restaurants, von Pollaro realized that “restaurants feel like they don’t know anything about their customers. They want to know who has kids, who likes red wine.”
An ideal solution for restaurants would automate activity and link to transactions, says von Pollaro. While a number of companies are linking to transactions, they may only know the check amount, date and time, he says. “They can’t tell what you ordered, who the server was or what the guest thought about the experience,” he says.
Venga is seeking to provide a full suite of these services, and is especially targeting higher end restaurant groups that have four or more properties. Solutions costs from $100 to $400 a month.
Early results have been promising. Von Pollaro says that “our restaurants get feedback from their guests over 50 percent of the time. Moreover, the average check for program members is 15 [percent to] 50 percent higher than non-program members.”
Most of Venga’s promotions focus more on loyalty enhancers such as free deserts or drinks and special events than discounts. Those digital punch card loyalty programs “are good for yogurt places and nail salons, but giving cash back is the last thing that restaurants want to do,” says von Pollaro. “Margins are notoriously thin. I don’t see how [cash back programs] are sustainable.”
Interestingly, the company’s consumer facing brand is not Venga, but “MyLoyalFamily,” which von Pollaro notes is a generic name that adds easily onto a restaurant’s URL. The URL for Pingpong Dim Sum, for instance, is Myloyalfamily.com/pingpong. “It is not about Venga,” he says.
While the company has developed roots in the Washington, D.C., area, it has now hired a salesperson in Denver and is taking the concept nationally. It is also talking to a number of larger restaurant groups.