The restaurant landscape is studded with loyalty programs galore, and after what seems like forever, The Cheesecake Factory is finally unveiling a rewards app of its own, the brand’s leadership announced in a recent earnings call. We know what you’re thinking: “Who goes to The Cheesecake Factory often enough to use this?” But in fact, the new Cheesecake Rewards program actually makes a lot of sense, and its model is one that more restaurants should follow.
Back in mid-2021, the initial buzz behind the scenes for this new loyalty program was that it would be “tailored to the chain and its hardcore customers” and “on-brand for The Cheesecake Factory and [its] guests.” Here at The Takeout, we made guesses about that the rewards program might net its users. Perhaps a free slice of cheesecake when you spend $50 in a single order? Or, even more fantastical, a chance to unlock an even more endless menu with 1,000 additional fried appetizer options?
As it turns out, our guesses were somewhat correct. Nation’s Restaurant News reports one of the benefits of the new program, expected to launch in June, is that members get a free slice of cheesecake on their birthday. Another perk of the program is that members get access to dining reservations. This is significant, because not only have reservations historically been unavailable at The Cheesecake Factory, but the lengthy wait times for dinner service are almost as well-known as Cheesecake Factory’s massive menu.
“We do know that access to reservations is an important component for people at Cheesecake Factory,” David Gordon, Cheesecake Factory president, said on the call. “We’ve historically been known for our long waits, and we think that’s a benefit that will certainly drive acquisition.”
Aside from the birthday freebie and the reservations, Cheesecake Factory’s new program is unlike many others out there. The new reward program is not based on points, nor is it based on dollars spent—the two components that define virtually every other program in the dining landscape. Instead, Cheesecake Rewards will revolve around surprise offers tailored to a customer’s own spending habits at the restaurant. For example, if someone tends to dine with Cheesecake Factory more often at lunch time, they might receive an offer or reward related to dinner, thereby driving up their spending and spreading it across the day.
When Cheesecake Factory first teased the upcoming loyalty program, it was clear that it was part of the company’s marketing overhaul meant to shed the brand’s image as only for special occasion dining. The program was pilot tested in June 2022 in Houston and in November 2022 in Chicago. In both cases, the restaurant reported strong engagement with the program, exceeding expectations.
Considering the vast amount of loyalty programs in the fast food category, it could be that full-service restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory are trying to differentiate themselves from the pack. Similarly, TGI Friday’s recently revamped its rewards program to be more straightforward and easier to use than its competitors, making its value more clear to customers. Under TGI Friday’s new program, members don’t have to download an app; the points tallying is handled on the restaurant’s end via the customer’s phone number.
We don’t yet know whether Cheesecake Rewards will succeed in “surprise and delight,” but we do know that when we’re waffling about whether to go out to eat, sometimes all it takes is that little nudge in the right direction. If this new loyalty program drops even slightly unexpected deals in the app once in a while, we might all be rushing to grab our free slice of cheesecake while supplies last. And we’re already delighted by the fact that we might not have to wait in line once we get there.