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Will Belly Replace Restaurant Punch Card Rewards?


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Digital technology is changing the restaurant business faster than you can spell IPO. We make reservations on Open Table, have our orders taken via iPods, snap smartphone photos of our favorite new cocktail so we can disseminate the news on Twitter, and, finally Yelp our review of the experience.

When I stopped in Sushi Do the other day, I met the latest thing in restaurant tech: the Belly card.

Belly is a Chicago-based startup that launched last August as a sort-of universal local business customer loyalty program. (Finally, we can slim down our wallets and get rid of all those dog-eared punch cards that we’ve spent years carrying around to accumulate, like, 1/3 of a free drink, or whatever...) Belly currently works at 29 Twin Cities businesses, including Sawatdee and Tea Garden, plus salons, pet groomers, and the like.

I know people feel hassled and skittish about businesses collecting customer data—i.e. the video store that wants your social security number to rent you a movie?!—but the Belly program is fairly non-invasive. I gave Sushi Do my email address and they gave me a card to scan (or you can scan your smartphone) every time I return to their shop and rack up points toward free food and beverages.

Businesses can tailor their rewards and some of those offered by Belly merchants are rather unique, including a bakery that rewards loyal customers with 10 minutes of all-you-can-eat cupcakes and a comic book store that offers seriously loyal customers the chance to punch the owner in the stomach!

Merchants pay a monthly subscription fee to participate and, in exchange, get far more customer data than the paper punch cards ever offered (though not direct, unbridled acces to the customer email addresses). Seems like it could be a win-win for both customers and businesses—or investors seem to think so, at least. The company has received a boatload of venture capital, including from the firm founded by two of the guys who started Groupon, and has been getting a lot of attention from business media, such as TechCrunch and Fast Company.

Does Belly sound like a rewards program you’d actually use?

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