Red Lobster bets on a mobile app to get people out to eat

Red Lobster is rolling out its first app in a bid to develop direct relationships with diners.

The My Red Lobster Rewards app lures loyal customers with free food once they earn points by dining in at one of the chain’s 677 restaurants. The app, free to download for iOS and Android, is a bid to get people to go out to eat out at Red Lobster restaurants. Members will only get rewarded by visiting Red Lobsters and scanning QR codes found on their restaurant receipts. Every dollar spent at a Red Lobster is a point tallied in the app. They can then redeem points for free menu items like chocolate lava cake or a bowl of clam chowder.

Chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Chick-fil-A have introduced their own loyalty apps recently. However, the average person doesn’t collect a large amount of apps on their smartphones. App Annie’s 2017 report on app usage found that a person will use 30 apps a month and open 9 every day, but included in the 30 are pre-installed apps such as Safari. The majority of the rest are social media apps.

“The opportunity to engage with [customers] with an app is a huge opportunity,” said Salli Setta, president of Red Lobster Seafood Company. “It really starts to fit in with what they’re looking for with their lifestyle.”

Setta said the brand has seen success in tests this year in Colorado, Arizona and Wyoming. Setta said the brand found that more than 75 percent of the people who downloaded the app used it to scan a receipt, and 25 percent have redeemed points two or more times. “That is very high for this kind of loyalty program,” she said.

The app is also an opportunity to gather data. Setta said the brand’s goal is to customize what people see in the app based off of information the brand learns. For instance, Red Lobster can customize the rewards for each user based off of past purchase history. In order to become a member, people have to enter their email address, phone number and ZIP code. Red Lobster will then use this information to send members news and offers through email.

The restaurant chain is applying other mobile tactics to engage customers. This month, the brand began using SMS to target potential customers. The restaurant is also experimenting with delivery. For now, it is partnering with Grubhub to serve customers in specific cities including New York. The brand would not say whether it plans on bringing delivery options to its own app but, beginning in January, customers will be able to place an order to go through the app.