This article is for educational purposes and does not constitute legal or tax advice. For specific advice applicable to your business, please contact a professional.
Subscription services are not new, but they are not traditionally associated with restaurants. The pandemic, however, drove restaurants to explore additional income sources, including subscriptions.
The Square Future of Restaurants report shows that 50% of restaurants added new products or services because of the pandemic, with subscriptions and memberships topping the list. In fact, 75% of restaurants plan to continue with the pandemic-inspired products and services. Plus, customers are interested in supporting new revenue sources for their favorite businesses — 44% say they have bought items from a restaurant outside of standard meals, including food retail items.
Now is a good time to consider creating a subscription service for your restaurant. We’ve compiled some ideas to get you started.
How does a subscription service for restaurants work?
Subscriptions can help you build deeper relationships with regulars while ensuring a steady income stream. In the subscription business model, customers pay a recurring price at regular intervals to access a product or service.
Subscriptions usually come in three forms:
Curation: In this model, you create a curated collection of items intended to delight and surprise subscribers. This is the most popular model and a good example is a snack or meal box subscription.
Replenishment: In this model, you deliver consumable household items on a regular basis. A coffee subscription box is a great example.
Access: Here, customers pay a recurring fee to access a premium offering or service on a regular basis. For example, you can form an exclusive tasting club that customers pay to join.
Tips for creating a subscription service for your restaurant
Do your research
Check existing business data through tools such as Square Dashboard; identify what customers already love; send out a survey, if necessary.
Keep it personal
Ask customers about their food preferences and dietary restrictions. Use technology to streamline how you collect and manage customer data. For example, with Square tools like Loyalty and Customer Directory, you can track important customer details across online and in-store channels.
Customers can churn if the subscription does not meet their expectations. Encourage customers to give honest feedback about the service and make changes accordingly.
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8 subscription ideas for your restaurant
Need inspiration? Here are vertical-based ideas to inspire your subscription service.
Subscription ideas for quick-service restaurants
1. Coffee (or beverage) subscription
You can deliver a specific type of beverage or combination of beverages to customers for a monthly fee. For example, a coffee subscription can include a variety of different coffees and roasts so customers can experience a different flavor every month. Other beverages you can try are tea, smoothies, fruit juices, and soda. Panera’s Unlimited Sip Club is a great example — Customers get unlimited lemonades, coffees, teas, and soda.
2. Snack box subscription
Snack boxes can include anything from chips and chocolate to healthy snacks like fruit or protein bars. You can package the snacks in reusable boxes so customers can store their treats between deliveries. The more creative you can get with box items, the better.
Subscription ideas for fast-casual restaurants
3. Takeout meal subscription
Takeout meal subscriptions are popular for people who don’t have time to cook or just want to add some fun to regular meals. You can create a subscription service that allows customers to pick up a curated takeout meal box on a regular basis. For example, Gado Gado experimented with a takeout subscription where subscribers pick up a mystery meal at the restaurant every Sunday for a month.
4. Meal box subscription
A meal box subscription service delivers pre-portioned meals to the customer’s doorstep. Customers love meal boxes because they get healthy and nutritious meals and save time and money. There are many different types of meal box subscriptions you can consider. For example, you can offer vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or vegetarian options.
Subscription ideas for full-service restaurants
5. Tasting club
Food tasting clubs are a great way for your customers to explore new foods and meet new people who have similar interests. The idea is that customers sign up for a food tasting club and then get invited to events where they can sample different dishes. A tasting club could work well if your restaurant is into experimental dishes so you can try out recipes, cooking methods, or cuisines.
6. Cooking classes
Similar to tasting clubs, you can create an exclusive membership where regulars sign up to participate in online or offline cooking classes. Cooking classes work particularly well if your signature meals are popular or you have experienced chefs who are willing to share their recipes.
7. Dine-in subscription
Subscriptions aren’t just limited to takeout and delivery, you can also create a dine-in subscription for regular diners. For example, El Lopo, a San Francisco Tapas spot, created a dine-in subscription club where members receive $100 in credits for $89 a month. Members are served meals based on their personalized sign-up selections any time they walk into the restaurant, so they don’t need to pick items from a menu or pay onsite.
8. Alcohol subscription service
If you brew beer or sell wine and other types of liquor, your restaurant may benefit from an alcohol subscription service. For example, BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse offers a beer club subscription that gives customers access to exclusively brewed beer, unlimited beer upgrades, takeout and dine-in perks, plus other loyalty rewards — all for $30 every two months. Keep in mind that you may need an appropriate liquor license or other relevant license required in your geographic area in order to sell alcohol subscriptions.