IHOP launches loyalty program

By Danielle Wiener-Bronner, CNN Business

    (CNN) -- The International House of Pancakes is opening a bank. A pancake bank.

That's the concept for the brand's new loyalty program, dubbed the International Bank of Pancakes (as in IBOP — not to be confused with IHOb, International House of Burgers, a 2018 marketing campaign).

Rewards programs are a good way for restaurants to encourage customers to use their apps, which help restaurants gather information about customer preferences and habits. Loyalty programs can also increase, well, loyalty, giving customers a reason to choose one restaurant over a competitor.

Here's how the loyalty program works: Customers who want to participate in the program have to make an account online or through the IHOP app (all app users have to sign up for the program). They earn one PanCoin for every $5 spent, and can redeem those PanCoins for pancakes -— one coin per pancake --— or save up for other rewards, which they can find in the app's Stack Market. The program opens to the public in April, but customers can pre-register this month for extra perks.


Restaurant customers get tech savvy


During the pandemic, more people bought food and meals online, making it a good moment for restaurants to expand their rewards programs.

McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's have all launched loyalty programs over the past few years. Starbucks, which has had its own rewards programs for years, updated its program during this time.

In November, IHOP president Jay Johns said during an analyst call that "consumers are generally more tech savvy now than ever before," adding that IHOP plans "to place a greater emphasis on digital marketing." One way to do that? A "very creative and fun loyalty program."

Johns went into more detail during a March analyst call, saying that the loyalty program will help "enhance our one-to-one guest engagement."

The program also lets people customize orders, Kieran Donahue, chief marketing officer at IHOP, told CNN Business.

And it's a way for the brand to be playful.

Loyalty programs are all pretty much the same: Members earn redeemable points as they shop. To set their programs apart, brands use specific terminology and gimmicks: Burger Kings points are called "crowns," Starbucks has "stars."

At IHOP, it had to be pancakes. "It's what we call a crypto-pancakes," Donahue, said. "We're having a little fun."

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