Commentary: Card-carrying consumerism

When I look into my wallet, I see a very colorful blur.

For the past month I thought I’d try an experiment for you, which was to say yes to every place that offered me a “membership card” to eat there. Now, my wallet is 10 cards fatter, and I turned down a few opportunities because I didn’t think the leather could bear more plastic. And, of course, I try to make the habit of going to big, card-giving chains as much as possible.

Why are these “loyalty cards” suddenly all the rage? Maybe it has something to do with the “always increasing price of food.” Items which once were on the dollar menus at big chains have suddenly had their prices beefed up to…well…more than they are worth. (Burger King, I don’t care if lettuce becomes $300 per head. Your Whopper Jr. will never be worth $1.69.) With prices going up and up basically everywhere, maybe companies are now pushing to keep people coming back any way they can.

Some places let you accumulate points, others give you a “buy 10 get one free” deal, while still others promote special offers if you show your card at the right time. My personal favorite is the  Fox and Hound chain’s “All Star Brew Club.” Buy 50 beers and you get half price wings for life. 75 beers means half price beers for life, and if you’re ridiculous, 500 beers gets your name on an in-store plaque. Oh, by the way, 500 beers could cost you as much as $2,000. Yeah, that number has some people salivating.

Gimmicks like these, to me, are insulting. Like I’m a dog, and my owner is giving me extra scraps for doing tricks. If I came back to a place time and again, I want something more than an extra footlong for sinking $100 into your business. I want someone to remember my name. I want someone to remember what I like. I want more for my investment than a $50 T-shirt.

You can’t replace  genuine, friendly service with cheap gimmicks. You can’t reward a customer’s extensive support of your place by expecting them to come back and buy more. That, at least, is one way corporate chains will never be as good.

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