Cooper's Hawk lets members pay with a signature

The service is part of the company’s ongoing efforts to increase benefits for its 340,000 Wine Club members.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 340,000 members of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants’ Wine Club now will be able to pay for their dinner without so much as touching their credit cards.

The 34-unit Chicago-based casual-dining chain is introducing Member Signature, which enables its Wine Club members to simply sign for their bills.

“Since we have our Wine Club, we have the folks’ credit card information in our database already,” the chain’s founder and CEO, Tim McEnery, said in an interview with Restaurant Business. “Once the check is presented, they can leave at their discretion. It’s speedy, but it’s also hospitality. It makes them feel like members.”

For Cooper’s, Member Signature is only the latest in a series of efforts to enhance the Wine Club—already one of the more unique elements in the restaurant chain business. The Wine Club is the country’s largest by membership, and the company expects it to have 1 million members in five years.

The club provides members with the company’s newly released wine every month and otherwise provides many of the same benefits as a typical loyalty program, such as points on purchased, birthday rewards and exclusive discounts.

It also has routine events for members, such as one in October in Chicago featuring chef and author Marcus Samuelsson, who prepared a menu, gave a cooking demonstration and told stories. Such events date back nine years to when McEnery took a group of 30 members on a tour of Napa Valley.

“Every brand has aficionados and folks who are really into what they’re doing,” McEnery said. “But they are just incredibly passionate about what we do. They feel like they’re part of something.”

But the club does give the company a group of loyal customers who will periodically come in for a dinner they can have with their wine of the month. It’s considered a key element in the chain’s strong growth, including nearly 30% system sales growth in 2017, according to Technomic data.

Member Signature is designed to give Wine Club members a feeling of exclusivity, the same feeling they’d get as members of a country club.

Indeed, it was at a dinner at his country club where McEnery developed the idea for the service.

He was entertaining friends when the bill came, and everybody was trying to pick up the tab, but McEnery took it because he was a member of the club. “I thought that we could do this in our restaurants,” he said.

The company already knows when a customer is a member of the chain’s Wine Club—they typically say so when making reservations or when they come in, but are otherwise asked once they are seated.

“We have them tied into their account, so for the rest of the time they don’t have to be bothered,” McEnery said.

While convenience isn’t traditionally a concern for a chain like Cooper’s, the strategy does improve expediency and eliminate a potential pain point for customers. “Some restaurants get kiosk devices. That’s not us,” he said. “You could pay with your phone, but again, you’d have to download the app.”

And while the Wine Club does provide the company with a growing group of loyal customers, McEnery said it’s important for the company to make sure that their experiences are good. Otherwise it doesn’t work.

“The only way the Wine Club works is if we’re focused on the right stuff,” he said, noting that the club wouldn’t have as many members if the wine wasn’t good, the food wasn’t good or the service was subpar. “The Wine Club is an incredible mechanism, but you’ve got to make sure you focus on the fundamentals.”

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