A new vision of restaurant loyalty is unfolding in New York: Here’s what we know so far

Resy founder Ben Leventhal is betting blockchain-based loyalty will turn you into a regular.
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· 3 min read

Leveraging blockchain technology to boost customer engagement is still a fairly nascent concept. Loyalty NFT test cases have been primarily on the fringes of the retail world, including for under-the-radar coffee subscriptions or high-end wines.

But many of retail’s most influential founders and trendsetters have been quietly investing in blockchain-based loyalty: Outdoor Voices founder Ty Haney is betting on blockchain to help brands build community, and both Starbucks and Nike have turned to NFTs to create enhanced, invite-only loyalty programs.

Ben Leventhal, who founded Resy and Eater, debuted his latest attempt to disrupt the restaurant sector, Web3 membership platform Blackbird Labs, late last year.

Blackbird is using a mix of traditional and Web3 tools to “[enhance] connectivity between individual restaurants and their guests,” Leventhal wrote on Substack at the time.

He’s kept Blackbird’s plans fairly under wraps, but in December described one of Blackbird’s projects as “a visual way of collecting restaurant perks that will ultimately make the dining and restaurant discovery experience just that much more fun.”

In the following months, Leventhal teased upcoming projects but kept the full extent of his vision under wraps, weighing in on loyalty stamps, the problems with dynamic pricing, and the enduring success of the American diner.

It wasn’t until this spring that Blackbird began unveiling beta projects in New York and giving the industry a glimpse into its plans to revamp what it means to be a regular—first with Williamsburg diner Gertie, then with ice cream mogul Nick Morgenstern’s new dairy-free soft-serve store, Bananas.

Tap in: Both programs are enabled by near-field communication chips, which operate similarly to traditional QR codes posted at the restaurants, which allow visitors to “check in” on their phones.

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Blackbird users will have a digital card (read: NFT) for each partner restaurant they join, which will verify visits and store visit history on the blockchain, but aren’t currently tradeable.

But the restaurant programs themselves are unique: As Blackbird’s first restaurant partner, Gertie is using the platform to introduce a “Friends & Family” loyalty program. The program’s membership tiers—“neighbors” on first visit, “fam” at 15 visits—and design were customized by Gertie, and rewards range from free cookies to personalized coffee mugs.

At Morgenstern’s Bananas, in Manhattan, Blackbird is powering a paid membership offering, Bananas Country Club. This model is temporary, and designed to help Bananas “jumpstart their audience.”

For $33.33, club members gain access to a variety of perks including tastings and free cones for the store’s first 10 days. After that, Bananas will continue with its own tiered loyalty program, allowing guests to level up with each visit.

So, what’s next for Blackbird?

“Over the next three months, the full range of our platform will start to come into focus,” Leventhal wrote in a Substack post announcing Gertie’s project in early April.

Blackbird’s easy-does-it approach to Web3 loyalty mirrors that of other big name players (Nike’s Dot Swoosh program’s first NFT drop for members came six months in.)

And that strategy doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon, given Leventhal’s determination that each restaurant partner have a unique, personalized project.

“For the restaurant industry to get loyalty right, these programs have to be bespoke and organic,” he said.

“We’ll turn good restaurants into bonafide thrill rides—spontaneous, consistent, and compulsively enjoyable.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.