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Brands from Wow Bao to Starbucks are trying out blockchain-backed customer memberships that remove loyalty from the dollars to discounts loop, and add more intriguing and exclusive perks for members.

Tech Tracker: NFT memberships are the next chapter for loyalty programs

A new NFT membership program launched in partnership with Stakes and Unlock Protocol; DoorDash unlocks more data for operators; and more

While we’ve known for over a decade that punch cards are not enough to keep customers’ interest, as it turns out—traditional digital rewards programs are starting to become passé as well. Enter the NFT membership program: brands from Wow Bao to Starbucks are trying out blockchain-backed customer memberships that remove loyalty from the dollars to discounts loop, and add more intriguing and exclusive perks for members.

Recently, NFT-based protocol Unlock Protocol announced a partnership with customer loyalty platform Stakes that would allow restaurants to launch personalized blockchain-backed membership programs—providing another pathway for restaurants to delve into this burgeoning world of NFT loyalty programs.

In other news this month, DoorDash is giving operator partners access to some of the merchant data that it has previously kept under lock and key including sales trends, and Wingstop is the latest brand to outsource calling centers to AI.

Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know and why:

Unlock Protocol and Stakes launch NFT membership programs for restaurants

NFT-based protocol Unlock Protocol is partnering with customer loyalty platform Stakes to make NFT-based memberships easier and more accessible for restaurant brands of all sizes to play around with. Like many operators that are delving into NFT memberships, these programs are blockchain-backed but no cryptowallets or specialized knowledge of cryptocurrency is required either for operators or customers to access the perks and benefits.

Operators can personalize the perks and benefits rewards members receive when they sign up and receive a unique NFT -- including access to secret menu items, premium table seating, special events, cooking classes, and free drinks or desserts. Representatives with Unlock Protocol said that it is designed for and can be customized to fit the needs of chains, independents, limited service, or full-service brands.  

“This partnership allows restaurants to go above and beyond the traditional customer loyalty program,” a representative with Unlock Protocol told Nation’s Restaurant News. “Through their memberships, customers can receive tangible perks as well as opportunities to become involved in the restaurants like voting on seasonal menu items. Through this level of participation, patrons can become more than just customers, increasing the value they experience with each visit.”

In the future, the membership program will be able to encourage repeat visits with benefits like voting on new menu items, exclusive tastings, and referral bonuses for friends that join. Restaurant operators can also interact with other brands that use the platform, with the opportunity to set up collaborations with local shops, venues, and sports teams.

We predict that Stakes/Unlock Protocol will not be the only vendor to come out with all-in-one NFT membership platforms so that restaurants can have several options to plug and play these capabilities into their own digital loyalty operations.

DoorDash makes some merchant data available to operators

DoorDash announced the launch of a new Merchant Reporting API tool, which will remove some consumer data from behind the DoorDash firewall, including sales data (average ticket size and total order volume), sales details broken down by new and returning customers, and operations data like order accuracy and cancelations.

It is no surprise that third-party delivery platforms like DoorDash are continuing to roll out new personalized features to operator partners in response to continued backlash against commission fees and lack of access to customer data. DoorDash confirmed, however, that they still do not share customer-specific data like demographics breakdowns or other personally identifiable information. The Merchant Reporting API tool is more like an overall trends report to guide restaurants that offer delivery and takeout.

The data can be accessed either through DoorDash directly or through its integration partners, ItsACheckmate and Nextbite. There is no additional cost for operators to access the Merchant Reporting API tool.

Toast acquires Delphi

Toast is getting into the drive-thru technology business: The popular restaurant software platform announced in February the acquisition of Delphi Display Systems—the drive-thru digital signage, hardware, and software company.

Together as partners, Toast customers now have access to Delphi’s suite of physical products for drive-thru centric restaurants, including indoor and outdoor digital menu boards, and drive-thru order confirmation systems.

“As the needs of guests rapidly evolve and the importance of developing incremental revenue streams grows, restaurants increasingly want to diversify into more service models,” Aman Narang, COO and cofounder of Toast said in a statement. “Integrating Delphi into the Toast platform will enable us to deepen our support for customers who operate a drive-thru service model.”

Wingstop adds AI to voice centers

Wingstop recently announced a pilot partnership with AI voice provider, ConverseNow, to add AI-powered virtual assistants to its call centers. The technology will be added to select Wingstop restaurants based on need, automating phone orders placed to the restaurant concurrently without the need of using human labor to pick up the phone. Similar technology has been added to Papa John’s, Domino’s, and Chipotle, emphasizing the industry’s need for labor-saving automated technologies.

“While restaurants have had to face many obstacles over these past few years, it’s also opened the door for even more innovation that’s pushing the industry forward,” Rahul Aggarwal, Co-Founder COO and CPO of ConverseNow said in a statement. “This partnership with Wingstop is a prime example of leading brands seizing the opportunity for change.”

BurgerFi adds FlyBuy for smart order pickup

Fast-casual brand BurgerFi and its subsidiary Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza & Wings announced an investment in off-premises geofencing technology with the rollout of Flybuy Pickup for curbside, in-store, and delivery driver pickup optimization in partnership with Radius Networks.

The partnership gives BurgerFi and Anthony’s the ability to track customer arrival using geofencing intelligence and can prepare orders based on exact arrival times. Staff are notified when pickup customers will be coming to pick up their order in the exact order of arrival. Restaurants can also add custom tags to the order so commonly forgotten items in an order like drinks or desserts are not mistakenly left out of the bag.

“We went through a rigorous process when selecting our technology partners, and we were very impressed by the innovation, collaboration, and flexibility of the Flybuy Platform,” Ophir Sternburg, executive chairman at BurgerFi said in a statement. “At BurgerFi, we continue to leverage innovative technologies like Flybuy in order to provide the best restaurant experience.”

SoCi announces investment in ChatGPT marketing

Multi-unit foodservice marketing platform SOCi announced $120 million in funding, which it will use to expand into new markets and invest in a line of ChatGPT-backed AI marketing tools. The round is led by growth equity firm, JMI Equity, along with Vertical Venture Partners, Blossom Street Ventures, and strategic investor Renew Group Private Limited.

In the future, SOCi will be rolling out a line of “Genius” marketing products, that will be able to automate select marketing tasks at scale, including real-time responses to online reviews.

"SOCi’s customers have thousands of marketing decisions to make across hundreds or thousands of locations,” Afif Khoury, CEO and co-founder of SOCi said in a statement. “The opportunity for optimization is incredible, but at such a scale it’s stunted by true human capacity issues. Our 'Genius' products are the answer, as they will leverage sophisticated data science models to drive recommendations and automate data-driven decisions across the organization."

Danny Meyer is investing in SevenRooms

Guest experience platform SevenRooms announced this month a major investment from Enlightened Hospitality Investments, the strategic growth equity firm affiliated with Union Square Hospitality Group founder, Danny Meyer, joining the likes of other culinarians like José Andrés, Wolfgang Puck, Michael Mina, Thomas Keller, who have also invested in the technology platform.

Over the past few years, Enlightened Hospitality, Meyer with Enlightened Hospitality has invested in a number of restaurant projects including Dig Inn, Slutty Vegan, Chip City Cookies, Goldbelly, and 7shifts labor management platform.

Contact Joanna at [email protected]

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