2021 Holiday Trends in Loyalty

By: Diane Le


Here our our top three trend predictions for the 2021 holiday season and insights on how marketers can stay ahead of the curve

While it doesn’t feel like we’ve recovered yet from 2020, somehow, we’re now squarely in the midst of the holiday season in 2021. For many consumers, this is the first holiday season that has returned to some level of normalcy after the COVID-19 related lockdowns of 2020. However, COVID-related supply chain shortages, rising labor costs and overall inflation continue to challenge restaurant operations. 

In working with 200+ restaurant and convenience stores brands, we’ve seen a lot of signals pointing to where the 2021 holiday loyalty trends are going to go. Here are top tips and predictions for how restaurant and convenience stores brands can stay ahead of the curve: 

Trend #1: Nostalgia is Back

Creamy mac and cheese. Pumpkin spice lattes. Pizza delivery. Familiar foods, drinks and traditions are set to return for the 2021 holiday season for good reason. For many adults, returning to the familiar routines of their childhoods is comforting during periods of uncertainty. Marketers are leaning into this trend through nostalgia marketing. 

According to Mintel, nostalgia marketing tends to explode around times of high consumer anxiety, as evidenced by its rise in 2011 during the Great Recession and again now in 2021 during the COVID-19 crisis. 

Fazoli’s, a leading fast-casual Italian eatery, depended on this strategy. “During the pandemic, we remained focused on our commitment to streamlining operations through technology, building omnichannel loyalty, and providing timely rewards and offers such as our Super Family Meal promotion, to meet rapidly evolving consumer needs,” said Will Hanrahan, Fazoli’s Sr. Digital Marketing Manager. The Super Family Meal deal included everyone’s favorite garlic buttery breadsticks. “As a result, in Q2 we drove a 182% lift in spend YOY at the height of the pandemic, grew loyalty program sign-ups by 28% from Q1, and hit our highest sales volume for any four-week period in our history.”

To take advantage of this trend during the holidays, lean into familiarity and comfort. If you have a legacy brand, consider bringing back and promoting familiar food and beverage favorites. If you’re a newer brand, consider promoting comfort favorites: sweet teas, soups, macaroni and cheese and similar comfort offerings. 

Trend #2: Deals and Offers Look Different This Year

There’s a perfect storm brewing in restaurant and convenience store operations right now between rising labor costs, slim food margins, rising inflation and supply chain shortages that makes it more difficult than usual for brands to run their normal promotions. 

From leaning more heavily into technology to providing new value-add offerings, brands are getting creative on their marketing promotions to bypass some of those roadblocks.

Pancheros Mexican Grill, a quick-service concept known for its handmade tortillas and massive burritos created a holiday Wrapped up in Pancheros campaign that provided five lucky loyalty members with five amazing prizes during the week of December 6-10. The fun prizes included everything from a bedding comforter and sheet set to a Segway Scooter.

Furthermore, to capitalize on their unified digital presence, Pancheros used the campaign to encourage online ordering and delivery adoption. They offered free delivery for members who entered to win a prize each day, increasing guest engagement and participation through omnichannel interactions. 

If discounting is difficult for your brand this year, consider leaning into added value instead of discounting. Reward loyalty members with bonus points instead of flat discounts. Or provide free high-margin items with purchase instead, like coffee or tea or drink refills with purchase. Those offers will still provide value to incentivize consumers to visit your locations while protecting your margins. 

Trend #3: The Rise of Family Meals and Catering Orders

If it feels like all of your family and friends are excited to reunite during the holidays after nearly two years apart, you’re not alone. According to Amex Trendex, 71% of consumers surveyed shared they intend on celebrating the holidays with more family members and loved ones than in 2020. For restaurants, the larger family gatherings mean you can expect to see a rise in demand for family meals and catering orders through the holiday season.

What does this mean? If you haven’t started yet, consider launching more family meal options through the holiday season. Due to overall inflation, consumers are more price-sensitive now, so consider promoting offers around family or catering orders. 

WaBa Grill, one of the nation’s leading healthy rice bowl chains, took this approach to serve up family meal deals during the first couple weeks of December. Because WaBa Grill looks to operate with a lower marketing accrual than most of their competitors, this puts pressure on their marketing team to maintain a “high advertising batting average” that drives in the best customers to their stores. Family meal offers are a winning combination for increasing participation and driving same store sales for franchisees. 

The 2021 holiday season continues to challenge brand marketers who are navigating uncharted waters. If you need personalized assistance on your loyalty strategy, Punchh can help provide unique, brand-centric solutions. Request a demo today.


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