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The End of Senior Discounts? What to Know About Restaurant Apps and Loyalty Programs

Remember the days when flashing your AARP card meant a guaranteed 10% off your meal? Unfortunately, those days are fading. While some restaurants still offer traditional senior discounts, we’re now seeing the rise of restaurant apps and loyalty programs as a means to offer discounts, freebies and other benefits — in exchange for your sign-up.

Let’s explore why this is happening, what to know about restaurant apps and loyalty programs, and how you can still enjoy savings while dining out.

The Shift Away from Senior Discounts

There are a few key reasons why senior discounts are being phased out in favor of restaurant apps and loyalty programs:

  • Changing Demographics: With seniors now a more diverse and tech-savvy group, some businesses feel that traditional discounts are too broad. This is reflected in recent studies on consumer behavior, where personalized offers are shown to be more effective than generic discounts.
  • Data Collection: Apps and loyalty programs provide valuable data on customer preferences, allowing restaurants to tailor promotions and offer a more personalized experience. A study by PYMNTS.com in 2023 showed that over half of restaurant customers now use loyalty programs.
  • Engagement: Apps and loyalty programs create ongoing engagement with customers, encouraging them to return often.

Pros and Cons of  Restaurant Apps and Loyalty Programs

Pros:

  • Personalized Rewards: Instead of a one-size-fits-all discount, you get rewards based on your spending habits. This could mean free appetizers, birthday specials or even exclusive discounts.
  • Convenience: Most programs are easy to use through your smartphone. You can track points, redeem rewards and sometimes even order ahead.
  • Additional Perks: Some programs offer benefits beyond discounts, such as early access to new menu items or special events.

Cons:

  • Technology Barrier: If you’re not comfortable with smartphones or apps, these programs might feel daunting.
  • Data Privacy: Sharing personal information is necessary to participate, raising privacy concerns for some individuals.
  • Not Always a Better Deal: In some cases, the discounts might not be as significant as a traditional senior discount.

How to Stay in the Savings Loop

  • Ask Questions: When you visit a restaurant, inquire about their rewards program or app. Many places offer incentives for signing up.
  • Embrace the Tech: If possible, learn to use smartphone apps. Many are user-friendly and offer a wealth of convenience.
  • Do Your Research: Compare different programs to find those that best suit your dining habits.

10 Popular Restaurant Apps And Loyalty Programs to Know About

  • McDonald’s: McDonald’s offers a free Big Mac with a minimum $1 purchase, and every $1 you spend earns 100 reward points which can be redeemed on other orders. In addition, on Fridays you can get free medium fries with a minimum $1 purchase. It doesn’t sound like much, but if you frequent the nation’s largest fast-food chain, these savings can certainly add up.
  • Denny’s: In addition to a 15% AARP discount, Denny’s Rewards program gives you 20% off your next visit once you enroll, and sends deals to your email, which includes a yearly “birthday gift.”
  • IHOP: IHOP rewards earn you “PanCoins” for every $5 spent, which add up quickly; after spending just $15 you can redeem the three PanCoins for a short stack of 3 pancakes, for instance. In addition, their rewards program includes free birthday pancakes and other exclusive offers for app users.
  • Wendy’s: Just by signing up, you’ll get a free 10 piece Chicken Nuggets and 200 bonus rewards points.
  • Dairy Queen: Like other rewards programs, you earn points for every dollar you spend. DQ also has deals exclusive to app-users, and you’ll get a yearly “birthday gift.”
  • Applebee’s: By signing up, you’ll get a free appetizer in addition to a free dessert on your birthday.
  • Dunkin Donuts: Dunkin’s rewards gives you 10 points for every dollar spent, but you can boost that to 12 by visiting twelve times in a calendar month; if you make a morning coffee run to Dunkin, that can be beneficial for your pocketbook. 
  • Subway: Subway’s MVP Rewards gives you 250 points for signing up, and you can double the points you earn when you spend $20 or more. It also includes free chips with a sandwich purchase on Fridays, along with birthday rewards.
  • Chick-fil-A: Chick-fil-A’s reward program, Chick-fil-A One, awards you points for every dollar you spend, but as you spend more, you move up into different tiers, which provides you more benefits.
  • Starbucks: Starbucks Rewards is similar to other loyalty programs, in that you earn points (or stars, in this case) for every purchase. In addition, you get birthday freebies and free refills on coffee and tea while in-store.

Looking for more information about other ways to save before and during retirement? 

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