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IHOP unveils first loyalty program, the International Bank of Pancakes

Customers will be able to earn "Pancoins" with every order and exchange them in the "Stack Market" for free food.
IHOP exterior
Photograph: Shutterstock

IHOP thinks its pancakes are so valuable that it’s turning them into money.

The family-dining chain on Wednesday unveiled its first-ever loyalty program, dubbed the International Bank of Pancakes. Customers who open an account with the “bank” will be able to earn points, or Pancoins, with every order and trade them for free food.

The chain said the program will allow it to reward guests while also building relationships with them. It coincides with a revamped IHOP app and website that are intended to ease ordering and customization for guests.

Here’s how the program will work: Customers can open an IBOP account in the IHOP app. After that, they will earn one Pancoin for every $5 they spend at the restaurant. Once they earn three Pancoins, they can exchange them at the in-app “Stack Market” for a coupon that entitles them to free food, like a short-stack of pancakes, a burger or a burrito. Customers will need the IHOP app to use the program.

The chain will use data from the transactions to generate marketing offers for guests based on what they’ve ordered in the past.

“The purpose of us introducing the International Bank of Pancakes, our first loyalty program, is to reward and engage our guests and to create a relationship with them,” said IHOP CMO Kieran Donahue. 

IBOP logoIHOP's first loyalty program is a riff on the cryptocurrency trend. / Image courtesy of IHOP

The mechanics of the program will be supported in part by new pay-at-the-table technology. Dine-in customers can scan a QR code with their phone to pay their bill, which will automatically add Pancoins to their account. If they choose to pay the old-fashioned way, they’ll get a receipt (aka a “deposit slip”) with a code and barcode to collect their reward points. Delivery and pickup orders will also earn Pancoins. 

Donahue said the chain wanted to have some fun with the cryptocurrency trend when it was designing the program, which is how it landed on the bank motif. Pancoins are not actual cryptocurrency and can only be used within the program.

“At the same time, our pancakes, we do see as that valuable, that they could actually become their own currency,” she said.

The chain also wanted to make the program simple for restaurant staff to administer. When guests are ready to exchange Pancoins for food, the app generates a coupon code that they show to the server, which is the same way IHOP handles regular coupons.

“That was actually part of the design and part of the feedback from our franchisees, is how do we make it something they’re already familiar with?” Donahue said. 

Some loyal fans will get early access to the program starting today. They’ll become “founding members” of the International Bank of Pancakes and will get a signup bonus of 10 Pancoins as well as free delivery and other perks. 

The program will go live in restaurants in early April, Donahue said.

Loyalty programs have been sweeping the restaurant industry in recent years as brands look to drive frequency and collect better data on their customers. And guests have shown a willingness to sign up: About 80% of adults said they would probably join a loyalty program if it was offered by a local restaurant, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Industry report.

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