Personalized customer experience: How industry leaders create loyal customers

Understand the customer experience strategies employed by restaurant giants like Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonald's to foster customer loyalty and engagement

March 21, 2022
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Personalized customer experience: How industry leaders create loyal customers
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Personalized customer experience: How industry leaders create loyal customers

If you’ve been reading our restaurant customer experience series, you’ve no doubt been wondering why it is that restaurant behemoths like Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonalds lead the nation in customer loyalty. 

In this article, we unpack the customer experience strategies used by restaurants with the most loyal customers.

A digital strategy for convenience

Since the need for social distancing sparked a convenience revolution, catering to the modern customer has pushed the customer experience digital. Restaurant giants have invested in digital hardware, mobile apps, and customer relation software that serve customers conveniently and seamlessly.

Digital hardware that simplifies each visit

These top 3-ers do everything they can to simplify their walk-in diner’s experience. In one form or another, Dunkin’ Donuts, Chick-fil-A, and McDonald’s have added digital hardware like: 

  • Self-serve kiosks for quick and customizable ordering
  • Touchscreen PoS terminals for an all-in-one solution for processing orders and payments 
  • Contactless chip-reading terminals for fast and sanitary payments
  • QR codes on tables and walls for contactless dining and scan-and-go feedback 
  • Wall-mounted menu boards to carousel popular order options  
  • Kitchen display screens for tracking, preparing, and confirming orders 

These tools are meant to create an atmosphere of comfort; each enabling diners in one way or another to receive their food quickly, safely, and according to their specifications.

Mobile apps that encourage engagement 

McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chick-fil-A know their customers have a lot of options, so each has integrated their restaurant into engaging mobile apps. Key features include:

  • Menu nutrition facts. Chick-fil-A is the perfect example of a restaurant going above and beyond to make nutritional information accessible. In addition to being able to view menu item ingredients, diners are able to update and calculate the caloric count on their customizable orders.
  • Order history data. Cataloging order histories is a clever way these restaurants collect personalization data while encouraging more frequent orders. On one hand, these restaurants create and send personalized offers based on their diners’ favorite menu items. And on the other hand, diners can sift through the previous orders for faster, easier future checkouts.
  • Loyalty programming. Promotion-rich programs are arguably the most valuable digital engagement tool for our loyalty leaders. They make engagement consistent and rewarding with sign-up incentives, promotional push notifications, in-app deals, and more.

There are a number of ways to drive engagement with loyalty programming.  

Chick-fil-A, for example, gamifies orders

  1. Customers automatically earn points for every purchase. 
  2. Points are applied to a four-tiered membership rewards hierarchy that resets every year.
  3. The amount of points a diner can earn compounds as they level-up. 
  4. As diners level-up, they gain access to exclusive benefits.  

Gamification, paired with mobile ordering, is one of the many reasons why Chick-fil-A earned its title as the number one fast-food restaurant with the most loyal customers.

Mobile ordering that caters to convenience   

These restaurant giants know their customers are on-the-go and need convenient ways to order food wherever they are. More than 70% of millennials say their lifestyles are dependent on being able to get quick food on the go. 

Each of these restaurants has rolled out its own mobile system for: 

  • Ordering
  • In-store dining
  • Curbside pick-up
  • Delivery

Technically this is an extension of their mobile apps, but the functionality has proven so effective for customer retention that it deserves its own category.

In-app orders are changing the way restaurants interact with customers, with options like:

  • Scheduled orders. Customers pick up their food, or have it delivered on their time.
  • In-app payments. Diners link their cards and wallets, so payments are instant and contactless.
  • Favoriting menu items. Favoriting previous customized orders means diners can order exactly what they want the next time they visit. 
  • Switching current orders between restaurants. On-the-go customers don’t have to plan their errands around one restaurant, they can update their order location, no matter where they go.  
  • Adding promos to mobile orders. App users simply copy and paste in-app deals to their orders. 

Each of these functions empower customers with accessible ways to initiate, customize, and purchase orders at their convenience. 

Analyzing and personalizing with CRM 

When you’re a multi-billion dollar business in a fast-paced industry, every step counts or costs. 

These top-3ers want to be the first to anticipate and respond to all their customers’ needs. As a result, each business has integrated a customer relations management solution to oversee all customer data and communications. 

Take Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, who partnered with Epsilon in 2013 and Salesforce in 2016. They needed a large, scalable solution to:

  • Analyze customer behavior,
  • Market on an individualized basis, and 
  • Create personalized interactions. 

Now they use cloud technology to improve and blend customer experience between their physical stores and digital channels. Using SaaS for personalization has empowered them to evolve with their customers’ needs and defend their title as the #1 Brand for Customer Loyalty for 15 years in a row.

A customer-centric model

In an earlier article, Why Does the Restaurant Customer Experience Matter, we discussed how business owners can make their diners F.E.E.E.L. like they’re a top priority. 

Here are some ways Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonalds apply

  • Familiarity
  • Engagement
  • Empowerment
  • Enchantment
  • Listening 

To stay in tune with their customer needs.


These companies create comfortable customer experiences because they know their diners on an individual level. Our loyalty leaders use data from sources like their mobile apps, social media, and online ads to analyze the factors that influence when they order, where they order, and what they order.  

Based on these behavioral reports, our loyalty leaders create, advertise, and send offers that incentivize their diners to come back time after time. 

McDonalds’ personalization platform uses decision-making algorithms to:

  • Customize mobile, kiosk, and drive-thru menus based on the weather, time of day, and current restaurant traffic
  • Send limited-time offers to diners who make repeat orders–like buying a Big Mac Combo Meal every Friday afternoon. 
  • Suggest new mobile orders based on previous baskets, customizations, and orders. 

Chick-fil-A, Dunkin’ Donuts, and McDonalds create an atmosphere of comfort within their brands by delivering menus, deals, and content that anticipates their diners’ preferences. 


A Harvard Business report reveals "fully connected customers are 52% more valuable, on average, than those who are just highly satisfied–” and these big brands know it. 

Our loyalty leaders harness emotional connectivity throughout their websites, apps, and physical stores using a variety of techniques, with some of the most effective being:

  • Engaging diners with friendly, polite service. 
  • Sending personalized offers based on purchase history. 
  • Meeting trending customer expectations for sustainability, convenience, and freshness.
  • Giving back to their community through grants, sponsorships, and charities. 

Our loyalty leaders prioritize positivity with every customer interaction. They create an atmosphere that makes their diners feel like they made a good choice–for themselves, their community, and the world at large–by ordering from them. 


McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Chick-fil-A are always creating new ways to give decision-making power back to their diners – whether by making their orders faster, smarter, safer, or personal. Tactics include: 

  • Low contact and contactless order, payments, and restroom fixtures
  • Mobile curbside pick-ups, drive-thru check-ins, and deliveries
  • Flexible mobile orders options like scheduling, location-switching, and wallet-linking

By empowering customers to make orders on their own terms, our loyalty leaders are changing the standards for what restaurants can do for their customers by looking for opportunities to do less. 


Our top-3ers deepen their customer experiences by offering meaningful experiences that can’t be served anywhere else. 

Consider Dunkin’ Donuts, who, during nationwide COVID-realted closures, capitalized on the +50% of consumers who say they would buy meal kits from their favorite restaurants. They encouraged their diners to make a weekly ritual of togetherness by taking home a Dunkin’ Donuts DIY sundae kit. 

On another note, consider McDonald’s, who collaborated on a custom menu with BTS, an internationally recognized K-POP group with a diehard fanbase. They gave in-app fans exclusive, limited-time access to the menu and band merch through their mobile app. 

For these companies, enchantment is all about keeping excitement and joy at the heart of every meal. 


More than 70% of restaurant customers will recommend a restaurant that responds quickly to them. So it’s no surprise these top 3 brands have made it a priority to open as many channels for communication as possible. 

These loyalty leaders communicate with their customers through a variety of ways, like:

  • Responding to DMs, comments, and mentions on their social media platforms
  • Asking for menu and flavor ideas online and in-app
  • Printing feedback survey invitations 
  • Providing live web chats for customer service issues

They account for everything their diners say and do–whether they complain, post memes, or comment on a Twitter thread–because every interaction is a chance to enhance the customer experience.    

Upside: A small-business’s solution to personalization

What these top 3 restaurants have in common is that they are always investing in ways to deepen customer loyalty with personalization. They work to bring news customers through their doors, whether that means going in-app for a new menu drop, getting sundae kit deliveries, or checking-in mobile orders at the drive thru.

But many of the strategies listed in this article require substantial financial investment. Smaller restaurant owners can innovate their customer loyalty strategy without this kind of capital investment. 

Upside is the most profitable tool that works to give your business the same level of personalization as our top three loyalty leaders.  

Profitable and attractive customer acquisition 

Upside simplifies customer acquisition by giving your customers what they want—great value at restaurants nearby—in a way that’s profitable for business. 

Just like our top-3ers, we use previous customer order data to create personalized offers based on their favorite, regular, and trending menu selections.

Unlike our top 3ers, we use the data you already have–anonymized credit card transactions data–to analyze customer behavior and generate cash back promotions to drive new and repeat customers through your doors. That’s incremental profit with larger, more frequent purchases. 

Plus, with Upside, you don’t need to:

  • Maintain and market a customer loyalty program
  • Subscribe to a CRM software for online advertising, tracking, or data analytics 
  • Manage hardware installs, software updates, or staff training

And unlike other cashback apps and online advertisers, Upside doesn’t eat away at your profits. We don’t earn a cent until after you earn your profit and your customer receives their cash back reward. 

Empowering communities to thrive

Just like our loyalty leaders, we work to bring positivity to every transaction. We believe in your restaurant, and want to show your customers how their choice to dine with you makes local businesses stronger, vibrant, and sustainable.

We’re on a mission to:

  • Give local businesses accessible ways to connect with nearby shoppers
  • Reward diners with personalized cash back offers
  • Reward business owners with loyal, long-lasting customer relationships 

Contact us today to see how personalization can elevate your business. 

Personalized customer experience: How industry leaders create loyal customers

The Upside Team

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The Upside team is made up of data scientists and industry experts who are passionate about delivering empowering content to our readers. With a focus on providing practical insights and meaningful perspectives, we create engaging materials across a wide range of topics. From exploring industry trends and offering expert analysis to sharing useful tips and inspiring ideas, our team works diligently to provide you with the information you need to thrive.

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