Marketing

Inside 7 Brew's no-frills loyalty program, where nearly every guest is a member

Thanks to a sign-up process that is baked into its operations, 92% of transactions at the fast-growing drive-thru coffee chain come from known guests.
7 Brew drive-thru coffee restaurant
7 Brew's loyalty program is designed to create human connection. | Photo: Shutterstock

Coffee giant Starbucks has one of the most popular loyalty programs in restaurants. More than 34 million people use Starbucks Rewards, and they account for nearly 60% of the chain’s sales, one of the best marks in the industry. 

But the much smaller 7 Brew has the bigger chain beat. And it’s not even close.

In fact, almost every customer that pulls up for a coffee at the 217-unit drive-thru beverage chain is a member of its loyalty program. A whopping 92% of 7 Brew’s transactions come from known guests, according to the chain.

That’s because everyone who comes “on lot” is greeted by an employee who asks for their phone number before taking their order. And just like that, they’re a loyalty member.

Guests can say no, of course. But “there’s really no reason to opt out,” said Head of Strategy Nicole Miller Regan. Once they’re in, the program works quietly in the background to give them a better experience, plus a free coffee for every 10 visits.

There’s no mobile app attached to it, but 7 Brew does use the phone numbers to send promotional texts to its 3.4 million loyalty members.

More features, including an app, will come eventually, Regan said. But for now, 7 Brew is quite happy with the results of the decidedly minimalist program, which works so well in part because it’s embedded into its operations. Once that front-line employee has entered a customer’s number, they’re able to pull up the person’s order history (assuming they’re a returning guest). The worker can then ask if they’d like to order the same thing as last time or if they want to redeem their free drink, if they have one.

The simple exchange is designed to create a personal moment for both the customer and employee, Regan said. “Instead of just putting somebody through an LSR or QSR order-taking process, the phone number gives us more time to interact,” Regan said. “It gives us more human connection.”

That’s important to Fayetteville, Arkansas-based 7 Brew, which has a stated mission of “cultivating kindness” and prides itself on its fun-loving, tight-knit employees known as the Brew Crew. Even its restaurants are designed to foster interaction: Customers place their order with a person rather than a speaker box, and their beverages are walked out to them through a door rather than handed down from a window.

The approach helped make 7 Brew the fastest-growing large restaurant chain in the country last year. Its system sales rose more than 267% on unit growth of 350%, according to Technomic data on the Top 500 U.S. restaurant chains.

The phone number system gives 7 Brew another way to deliver on its people-first identity. And on a more practical level, the reordering function can also boost speed and accuracy by simplifying order entry, Regan said.

Loyalty programs are becoming increasingly popular in restaurants because they’re a key source of customer data. According to the National Restaurant Association, 61% of limited-service restaurants plan to invest in loyalty programs this year. 

The challenge is getting people to sign up and participate. 7 Brew appears to have gotten that part down, and it’s sitting on a gold mine of customer data as a result. But it’s in no hurry to turn that info into marketing material. Instead, it's content to simply listen and learn.

“It’s not about telling a community how to use the brand, but listening to what customers say we are, and interpreting and understanding and being our best selves in that way,” Regan said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated inaccurately that 7 Brew does not text its loyalty members. 

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