What is a restaurant subscription like

Consumers are willing to pay monthly fees for streaming services, pet food, and even toilet paper. And now, some restaurants are betting on doing the same for their favorite meals.

Larger chains and neighborhood hangouts like Panera and PF Chang’s are increasingly experimenting with subscription models as a way to ensure steady revenue and customer visits. Some offer unlimited drinks or free delivery for a monthly fee. Others bring out their favorite appetizers each time you visit.

The average American has juggled subscriptions from 4.2 in 2019 to 6.7 in 2022, according to personal finance app Rocket Money.

“This is just another way for our customers to provide constant support, joy and love for our offerings,” said Matt Baker, chef at Gravitas, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Washington.

For $130 per month, Gravitas Supper Club members get access to a 3-course takeout meal for two. Baker said Gravitas transitioned to takeout during the pandemic, but demand declined when his dining room reopened. Serving about 60 diners each month, the Supper Club maintains its revenue.

Chinese luxury chain PF Chang’s also saw an opportunity to increase takeout orders with a subscription plan that launched in September. For $6.99 per month, members get perks like free delivery.

Other restaurants are experimenting with memberships, which allow diners to pay in advance to visit.

San Francisco bar El Lopo’s Take-Care-Of-Me Club has 26 members. They pay $89 a month for a $100 dining credit, or $175 a month for a $200 credit. When the members come in, El Lopo will start serving their favorite dishes. You can gift anyone in the bar a free drink each time you visit.

El Lopo owner Daniel Azarkman launched the club in March 2021, encouraging patrons to return when the pandemic eases. Now he is being approached by restaurants across the country who are interested in starting similar programs.

“What it really accomplishes is getting them more often,” he said.

Rick Camac, executive director of industry relations at the Institute of Culinary Education, said he expects more restaurants to offer subscriptions in the next few years. Consumers are used to them, and regular monthly income helps restaurants manage cash flow.

However, not all subscription programs have been successful. In 2021, On The Border Mexican Grill introduced the Queso Club, which offers free cheese dip for $1 a year. The program stopped recruiting new members after one year.

On the Border’s Chief Marketing Officer Edithann Ramey says more than 150,000 people have signed up for the Queso Club, with members visiting seven times more often than the average guest. But the Dallas-based chain wasn’t enough to cover the costs of the dip.

On the Border is currently reorganizing the program and plans to reintroduce it later this year. It may charge more or move to a monthly model, Ramey said, but the subscription element will remain.

“It’s kind of becoming a hot trend and we want to remain a top brand.

Taco Bell is also toying with the $10 Taco Lover’s Pass, which lets subscribers get tacos every day for a month. The pass was introduced in January 2022 and he in October. It made headlines, but the chain is trying to figure out how to make it more valuable to consumers, said Dane Matthews, Taco Bell’s chief digital officer. A subscription can promise faster service or unlock unique menu items, for example.

Other restaurants withdrew their subscriptions, saying they were too busy just running their kitchens.

In late 2020, Detroit fine-dining Italian restaurant SheWolf began sending subscribers boxes of pasta, sauces, and other treats for $80 a month. But when Her Dining Room was fully reopened six months later, it was a daunting task to put together hundreds of boxes.

Still, SheWolf has one foot in the subscription space. Dan Reinisch, the restaurant’s Beverage Director, sends his Italian wines to about 80 subscribers who pay $60 or more each month.

Other businesses have had better luck. St. Louis-based Panera had nearly 40 million members in its loyalty program in early 2020 and wanted to persuade them to stop by more often. That’s why we launched a subscription program that offers unlimited coffee and tea for $8.99 per month. Customers came to the store several times a week and purchased food about a third of the time.

Last year, Panera expanded its subscription. Currently, members pay $11.99/month or $119.99/year for unlimited hot and cold beverages. Free delivery is also available for annual subscribers.

Eduardo Luz, Panera’s chief brand and concept officer, could not reveal an exact number, but said members now account for 25% of the chain’s transactions.

“It’s a huge traffic driver,” said Luz.

The idea soon spread abroad. His Pret A Manger, a sandwich chain owned by the same private company as Panera, launched its own coffee his subscription in the UK in 2020. As of November, he was being used 1.2 million times a week. Pret also offers subscriptions in France and the US

Chris Hosford, a communications consultant in Southern California, joined Panera’s subscription plan a year ago. He passes through his 4 or he 5 Paneras on his normal route and often stops for coffee and snacks.

“It’s not a huge amount of savings for me, maybe $5 to $10 an average month,” says Hosford. “But I’m fine with it.”

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