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The New York Times reports that Ben Leventhal, the founder of Eater and Resy, has developed a new project called Blackbird, described as "the first loyalty platform for independent restaurants … Like all rewards programs, Blackbird is designed to entice customers into becoming regulars. It arrives amid a sweeping post-Covid self-evaluation by independent restaurants about how to survive high labor costs, new price plateaus and the relentless march of national chains."

The Times goes on:  "Aiming to recreate what it calls an “old school maître d’ mind-set,” Blackbird tags diners who sign up (at no cost), then tracks their visits, identifies repeat customers and rewards them with perks such as free cocktails, extra desserts and birthday discounts. And unlike those maitre d’s, whose favor could be purchased with fame, looks or cash, Blackbird is interested only in your swipes.

"About 20 restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn already have Blackbird readers at the entrance. Most are relatively new arrivals with a high cool factor, like the cozy Vietnamese restaurant Di An Di, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn; the high-end Principe, in SoHo; and the fast-growing local chain Upside Pizza. For independent restaurants like these, direct marketing to diners has always been a challenge … Like other rewards programs, Blackbird collects basic personal data — name, ZIP code and birth date — as well as the details of each check: what you ordered, special requests, food allergies and the like."


"In traditional restaurant terms, Blackbird performs the 'guest relations' role that most can’t afford. It doesn’t take or manage reservations, but runs alongside popular tools like OpenTable and Resy and Tock for reservations, BentoBox for web hosting and Toast for management. And so far, it can’t be used for ordering deliveries.

"The most adventurous feature of Blackbird gives restaurants and customers a line of direct communication: via text. This 'SMS concierge' service means that customers who are running late or need an extra seat can message the restaurant directly. (Texts pop up on the iPads that most restaurants already use to manage the dining room.)

"In the other direction, perhaps on a balmy evening, a manager who notes that indoor tables are going unfilled can directly alert Blackbird customers to last-minute openings."

And, the Times concludes:

"'If two groups arrive at the restaurant and there’s only one table,' Mr. Leventhal said, the restaurant will have the information it needs to determine who gets it: the tourist who may be a once-a-year visitor, or the regular who lives down the block."

KC's View:

To me, this is an example of a loyalty program that, while there is a rewards component, makes demonstrating loyalty to the consumer a tangible priority.

Very smart.  I wonder if food retailers - especially independents - could find ways in which they could mimic Blackbird's benefits in a way that really caters to best shoppers in ways that are relevant and resonant.