Sweetgreen Relaunches Subscription as Restaurants Weigh Paid Versus Free Perks

Sweetgreen restaurant

As restaurants balance loyalty and profit concerns, some offer paid subscriptions and others free rewards.

Fast-casual brand Sweetgreen, for its part, is looking to have its salad and eat it too, as it were, with its Sweetpass relaunch, announced Monday (April 24). The program, whose name initially referred exclusively to the brand’s first test of its paid subscription offering, now encompasses both the brand’s latest iteration of its free loyalty program and its Sweetpass+ paid membership.

The former continues the chain’s Rewards and Challenges model, where perks are doled out based on completing specific spending-related tasks. The latter effectively brings back the brand’s former subscription model, where $10 a month gets customers up to one daily $3 discount on their purchase, and additional perks for members include delivery benefits, merch access, better customer service and more.

“This next phase of loyalty is an exciting result from years of testing, iterating and listening to our customers, leading to a personalized program that further enhances their sweetgreen experience,” Sweetgreen Co-founder and CEO Jonathan Neman said in a statement. “With Sweetpass, customers can more frequently access delicious, craveable food that feels good and fuels a healthy lifestyle.”

The news comes two months after the brand initially announced that it would be bringing back the subscription on its fourth quarter 2022 earnings call, at which point the company also began an initial rollout of the program in Colorado.

Throughout this inflationary period, many restaurants have been adding, updating or reviving subscription offerings. Last month, Subway announced the return of its Footlong Pass, which offers customers half-priced footlong subs up to once a day for 30 days for a flat $15 fee. The month before, fast-casual chain Panera Bread created an annual option, with an additional free delivery perk, to its existing monthly Unlimited Sip Club beverage subscription.

Meanwhile, other brands are maintaining that giving daily rewards away for free is a more effective way to build long-term relationships with consumers, yielding greater sales overall.

In an interview with PYMNTS, Stacey Pool, chief marketing officer at fast-casual brand Noodles and Company, which recently launched its “Extra Goodness” program that offers new discounts and giveaways each day, spoke to this approach.

“One thing that we found is that most of our members said, ‘We would come more often if we felt like we were getting something every time we come,’ and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to be the same thing every single time,” Pool said. “This was all really driven by what our rewards members were telling us would engage them and would get them to come back more often.”

Research from PYMNTS’ study “Digital Divide: Restaurant Subscribers And Loyalty Programs,” which draws from a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults, finds that restaurant subscribers are significantly more loyal than non-subscribers.

Specifically, 78% of subscribers and 73% of those interested in subscriptions reported being very or extremely loyal toward their preferred quick-service restaurants (QSRs). Conversely, just 41% of those uninterested in subscriptions said the same. Similarly, 79% of subscribers and 70% of those interested said the same of their go-to full-service restaurants (FSRs) compared to just 47% of those uninterested.

Noting this demand among restaurants, technology providers are getting involved as well. For instance, financial services platform Square announced earlier this month the addition of many new features including a handful of additional restaurant capabilities and a new Square Subscriptions feature, in beta, that allows “all kinds of businesses” to set up periodic billing models.