Greater Cincinnati Independent Restaurants is working to bolster its ranks.

The association had 44 member restaurants in 2011 before starting its rewards card program. Adoption of the rewards card, which gives diners a point for every dollar spent at member restaurants that can be used for $10 rewards, was mandatory for members.

When the group added the card, 18 members opted out, said Jon Diebold, president of GCIR and owner of Washington Platform. A couple of restaurants wanted to see the results of the rewards card before agreeing to it.

Since the card launched last year, membership to the rewards program has grown to more than 8,000 card holders. More than 17,000 card member visits have been recorded through May.

With detailed information about where and how often diners are eating at local, independent restaurants, Diebold hopes to lure back past members, as well as bring in new ones.

“Now we have a track record to demonstrate,” Diebold said.

As an added incentive, GCIR is working with the Business Backer, a private small business funding company that provides customized alternative funding and capital solutions between $10,000 and $75,000 for cash flow, expansion or growth, to add new members. Current members who bring a new restaurant to the group by the end of August will have a chance to get $10,000 in upfront capital from the Business Backer. The restaurant will have to pay the $10,000 back, with no interest, in 10 to 12 months.

The money can be used for renovations, equipment, expansion or other business purposes.

“It’s a great incentive for our members,” Diebold said.

Dan Royce, business development manager at Business Backer, said working with GCIR to boost membership was a natural fit. Many of the more than 2,600 small businesses Business Backer has helped gain access to working capital are restaurants.

The group would like to add 10 restaurants during its membership drive.

Current members include Bella Luna, Golden Lamb, Meritage and the recently added Clough Crossing. Diebold said Jean-Robert’s Table is expected to join by September.

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