4 Most Creative & Effective Customer Loyalty Programs

How much does it cost to get a new customer vs. keep the old ones?

It costs FIVE TIMES more to get a new customer than keep a current customer, but most of us (40%) focus on getting new customers instead of focusing on retention (18%).

Here are a few other facts that could be critical to your business:

  • You can increase your profits by 25-95% with just a 5% increase in customer retention
  • Loyal customers are 5x more likely to repurchase, 5x more likely to forgive, 4x more likely to refer, and 7x (!!) more likely to try a new offer.

But, do those customer loyalty card programs or point systems actually work? Do they get people to come back? I usually lose any cards before they make it to my key chain.

Since you go through great lengths to be unique, from your craft cocktail menu to your Drag Queen Bingo Brunch…we found some of the most ‘crafted-with-love’ loyalty programs from east coast to well beyond the west coast.  Keep reading to see how they do it.

Why does a customer loyalty program matter?

I like getting my fuel points and flight miles as much as the next person, but do local restaurants really get a boost from loyalty programs? Local restaurants and bars can benefit from customer loyalty programs MORE than goliath corporations because they have (at least) 3 things in their favor:

  • Proximity to customer’s homes/work
  • Face to face encounters with real people
  • Customers might bump into their friends

And here’s why it matters to do something creative, unique, and if possible, tangible: this gives your customer a sense of ownership.  If they can touch it, bring it home, or put their name on it, it’s like taking a little slice of their favorite place home with them.

Customer loyalty programs don’t have to be FREE…Remember, you value what you pay for. The most effective loyalty programs are often those where people actually pay for the privilege to: be first, make a reservation, or have their name hand-written in ink on a wall.

4 Impressive Customer Loyalty Programs:

Newport, RI: Tourist Hotspot, Quaint Town, Playground of the Rich & Famous (from the Gilded Age to present)


From the Rockefellers to Taylor Swift, Newport has hosted the rich and famous, as well as everyday workers.  While most VIP programs give exclusivity that is meant to be private, Stoneacre Brasserie created a loyalty program that was meant to be shared and seen. Their highly visible Fernet Club created an instant “What is that?” “I want one!” customer loyalty program.  I spoke with Chris Bender (a former New York restauranteur and owner of 4 Newport restaurants), to learn more.

Fernet Branca (fur-nette) is an Italian brand liqueur that has “become a bartenders’/hipsters’ drink of choice” with an aggressive, unique flavor, sporting notes of Anise, bitter citrus, and a subtly sweet finish. Stoneacre’s Fernet Club allows customers to buy a bottle at a significant cost savings, put their name on it and place it on the wall.  When they’re ready to drink, they just pull it right off the wall, and enjoy.  Some members even call in to offer a shot from their bottle for friends who are visiting.

“It actually started by accident 4-5 years ago, but then we sold 50 bottles in the first 2 weeks. It gives people a sense of ownership and a way to love you even more than they already do,” says Bender. 

Fernet Branca bottles of Italian liqueur on a shelf at Stoneacre Brasserie in Newport RIFernet Branca Italian liqueur bottles on a shelf 

Portland, OR: Hipster Haven, Nature’s Playground, the “Silicon Forest,” home to the World’s Largest Naked Bike Ride.


ONE year after opening in 2013, the wait list for a membership was over 700 people, but now the waitlist is over 3 years long.  To be clear, this wait list was not for a reservation, no, their innovation was much more clever and effective: their wait list was for the ability to HAVE a reservation. Multnomah Whiskey Library completely reinvented the concept of membership, previously known to the stuffier private clubs that have never soared in popularity in Portland.  A membership lets you skip the line where waits for a bar could be up to 3 hours.

With around 1,500 labels, about 900 of which are whiskeys, the Multnomah Whiskey Library has become one of the most prized locations to drink and talk shop about, you guessed it, whiskey.  So dedicated to the spirit are they, that a series of art was commissioned to portray the major historical influencers of whiskey production: from tuxedo-clad Phylloxera beetle to some of the greats.  

And now?: “The waits are still long, the bartenders are still dashing, and memberships are still as hard to come by as a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle.” (pdx eater)

Current cost:

The current fee for MWL’s annual individual membership is $800, plus a one-time $199 setup fee for new members.  Add a Member’s spouse/partner to for an additional annual fee of $175. Corporate memberships begin at $2,900.

How to craft the perfect Membership Program

So what does a membership get you?  Of course, paying hundreds of dollars per year in Portland MUST come with something more than the ability to create a reservation, and so it does.  However, these items don’t need to cost Venue owners a hefty price. Get some ideas from MWL.

At Multnomah Whiskey Library, members are entitled to:

  • make reservations (in the bar, or private event spaces)
  • access the private Member Lounge,
  • get exclusive access to Single Barrel offerings, tastings and other events
  • Valet park for free
  • Priority access to rent a Spirit Locker
  • Access reciprocal clubs around the world
  • Nominate friends and family for membership, shortening their wait
  • Join members-only events, classes, pairing dinners, as well as networking and volunteer opportunities
  • Access exclusive member trips exploring iconic distilleries, towns, and local excursions.
  • Two Member Hall Passes per year, so friends and family can make a reservation
  • A complimentary drink of your choosing on your birthday ($20 value).
  • Member discounts including discounted room fees for private events.
A twist on traditional membership:

However, if you feel like the vibe of VIP-members-access doesn’t fit your Venue, take another look at their, once again, unique approach.  In admirable Portland style, their memberships aren’t just for the hoity toity men of means…they openly value diversity and community service and even bump people higher on the wait list for embracing those values.

Priority access can be granted for the following reasons. If you:

  • “demonstrate a commitment to your community through donation, volunteering, advocacy.”
  • “reflect our community and embody diversity of thought as well as a wide range of human experiences, values and perspectives.”
  • know a member who can nominate you.

And yes…they have been known to RECEIVE, but not take, subtle bribe offers to scoot past the membership wait list.


Multnomah whiskey Library wall of whiskey in Portland, OR
Multnomah whiskey Library wall of whiskey in Portland, OR, famous for their Whiskey and their 3 year member’s club waiting list.


We hate to leave you hanging, but an exciting part deux will be coming next, to bring you the other two most creative customer loyalty programs for customer retention.

But good things come to those who wait, just like… (say it with me:  Beetlejuice part 2!! Coming 2024.).


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