Archive for December, 2011

Restaurants List More ‘Healthy’ Menu Items

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

As consumers get ready to make New Year’s resolutions to eat more healthful foods, restaurants are preparing to cater to those intentions, according to new MenuMonitor data from Chicago-based Technomic.

The research firm found that many restaurants have increased menu offerings that are low in fat, calories and sugar and are promoting them more prominently on menus.

“Dieting consumers don’t always view restaurants as a safe place to eat, either because they don’t recognize diet-compatible options or are too tempted to indulge themselves when eating out,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, said in a statement “However, the number of healthful dishes offered at restaurants continues to grow, and operators are increasingly interested in touting healthy benefits on their menus.”

Technomic found that:

• Use of the word “healthy” within menu descriptions has increased 86 percent over the past year.

• Use of “low fat” within menu descriptions has increased 33 percent over the past year.

• Use of “fat free” and/or “nonfat” has increased 12 percent over the past year.

• Use of “no sugar” has increased 51 percent over the past year.

• Use of “low-calorie” has increased 154 percent over the past year.

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Top Restaurant Marketing Trends for 2012

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

With the battle for market share expected to get even tougher next year, restaurant operators will have to be smarter in how they target “influencers” — people others turn to for restaurant advice — to drive traffic.

So says Carin Galletta Oliver, president of the San Francisco-based world-of-mouth marketing agency Ink Foundry, who predicts six restaurant marketing trends for 2012 — plus one trend she contends restaurant operators should rethink in the new year. Ink Foundry has worked with restaurant brands such as Bonefish Grill, Fogo de Chao, California Pizza Kitchen, Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill and Carl’s Jr.

Consumers are growing ever more selective about restaurant choices as they cut back on dining out occasions, Oliver said.

“They’re going to want to feel they’re making a safe choice,” she said. “And that puts more pressure on restaurant operators to make a connection.”

Oliver predicts five key tactics restaurant operators will use next year:

Data. The number of tools that allow restaurant operators to collect information about social media, public relations, e-mail marketing and advertising is growing. Savvy restaurant operators are also collecting data on their customers in various ways.

The key, however, will be how well restaurant operators integrate that data and develop a more holistic analysis across all platforms.

Most restaurants keep data in separate silos, Oliver said, thinking of marketing, public relations and influencer relations as separate departments.

“You need to break down those walls,” she said, and merge that information to more effectively mine insights.

Identifying and activating influencers. Restaurant operators tend to define their customers in demographic terms, but today’s restaurant influencer is likely to defy or transcend more traditional demographic characteristics, like income level, gender or age.

A powerful restaurant influencer today, for example, might be a young woman who traveled through Europe, living in bargain-rate hotels so she could spend more money on high-end restaurants.

“If you looked at her on paper, she probably wouldn’t be on your list” based on demographics, said Oliver. “But if you listen to her conversations, you’d realize she’s in your restaurant five times a month and spends more money” than the average diner.

Those are the people who are driving restaurant recommendations these days, Oliver said, and restaurants next year will be developing tools to encourage those people to spread the word about their brands.
“We need to identify those folks and create programs for them so they can more easily pass along information to friends and family,” Oliver said.

Some restaurants, for example, have used gift certificates given to specific influencers to share with friends and family members. “That’s like a third-party endorsement from someone they really trust,” Oliver said.

And as gift certificates become more available in digital form, restaurants can track how they’re used, who is sharing them and their impact.

Signature items. Most restaurants have a signature item or two that stands out, but Oliver sees the role of the signature dish becoming increasingly important.

Having a great signature dish is one way to offer influencers a “wow experience,” Oliver said. “It gives them something to tell their friends about.”

It also gives people something to search, she said.

Consumers tend not to search online for generic terms like “steak restaurant.” Instead, they’ll look for where they can find a great macaroni and cheese dish or taco.

Oliver noted the Bonefish Grill chain, which is known for its Bang Bang Shrimp appetizer, an item that creates positive chatter on Yelp.

“It’s extremely challenging to sway diners from one restaurant to another, but a great signature item has the power to do it,” she said.

Loyalty programs look to gaming. Loyalty programs are effective tools for driving traffic, but next year Oliver predicts more restaurant operators will be integrating aspects of social gaming — offering rewards for certain actions, like referring friends or multiple visits.

Rather than offering guests nebulous titles, like the mayors of Foursquare, Oliver said restaurants will offer more tangible offline incentives for participation in loyalty games.

One-to-one accessibility. Restaurant chefs used to stay closed in their kitchens, but the age of social media has allowed those who cook to engage with those who eat in ways that were formerly impossible.

In 2012, however, Oliver predicts that customers will be demanding even more direct interaction with chefs, both on and offline — and not through an intermediary on the marketing team.

Expect to see personal messages directly from the chef to his or her best customers informing them of menu changes, nightly specials and suggestions based on past orders, Oliver said.

“As chefs get more comfortable with being in the limelight and with using technology, we’ll see even more engagement,” she said.

Coupon personalization. In 2011, many restaurants experimented with social coupon sites, such as Groupon or LivingSocial, with both positive and negative results, Oliver said.

Next year, Oliver predicts restaurants will continue to experiment with social couponing, but they will do so with more realistic expectations. They will also look for ways to have more control, to customize the offers and to ask for more data on results.

Oliver said more restaurants will use their customer lists to promote such social coupons, focusing on top influencers to provide a value-added experience and reward pass-along recommendations.

More generalized coupon seekers “tend to just come for the coupon and never come back,” Oliver said. “And you can’t upsell them.”

Search local. Allocating resources to enhancing local search engine efforts is not likely to drive traffic, Oliver said.

Surveys by Ink Foundry have found that consumers tend not to select where they dine out based on online search engine results, she said.

Word of mouth is far more effective, Oliver said. Once consumers have a recommendation from an influential friend or family member then they turn to sites like Urbanspoon or Yelp to look up information.

Restaurants may be better off spending marketing dollars on identifying and courting those influential guests, rather than pouring dollars into local search enhancements.

“You want a well-rounded approach,” Oliver said. “Remember, most influence happens offline.”

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Famous Dave’s, Charley’s Launch Fast-Casual Concepts

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Famous Dave’s of America Inc. and Charley’s Grilled Subs have debuted new store prototypes designed to compete within the rapidly expanding fast-casual sector.

Minneapolis-based Famous Dave’s opened one of its “Famous Dave’s BBQ Shack” prototypes Monday in Eden Prairie, Minn. Unlike other BBQ Shack units, the location includes counter service and a pick-up window.

Famous Dave’s president and chief executive Christopher O’Donnell said the company-owned unit allows for faster service while serving the same St. Louis-style ribs and barbecued meats smoked on-site as the fare available at the chain’s 184 casual dining locations in 37 states.

He added that the BBQ Shack also would be a lab where the brand would try out new menu items.

O’Donnell said the fast-casual concept will feature the same menu items as Famous Dave’s, “but in a smaller footprint and with quicker counter service for both dine-in and to-go orders”

In addition, he continued, “Our founder, ‘Famous Dave’ Anderson, will use this location to try new menu ideas and to experiment with new seasonings, sauces and flavors.”

The BBQ Shack prototype also will accommodate phone-ahead orders with a pick-up window, which is not traditionally part of a fast-casual restaurant, but would benefit Famous Dave’s carryout and catering business, O’Donnell said.

“We understand that sometimes guests are in a hurry, need to pick up a quick dish for a party, or just want to get home quickly with a delicious meal they can share with their family in the comfort of their own home,” he said. “The pick-up window is our version of curb-side service.”

Throughout December, Famous Dave’s is celebrating the debut of the BBQ Shack by accepting entries for a drawing for free monthly, catered All-American BBQ Feasts for a year to one winner, who will be selected on Jan. 6, 2012.

Columbus, Ohio-based Charley’s also makes its initial foray into fast casual waters this week, opening the first Charley’s Philly Subs unit in its headquarters city Wednesday. Since opening its first restaurant 25 years ago near the Ohio State University campus, Charley’s has grown mostly through on-site locations at malls, airports and military bases. But chain founder and chief executive Charley Shin said the new freestanding fast-casual concept gives Charley’s several ways to grow.

“This is the next step in taking the Charley’s brand around the globe,” Shin said. “Charley’s Philly Steaks is a two-fold achievement: better options for our loyal customers and more opportunities for interested franchise buys.”

The Charley’s Philly Steaks prototype also has a drive-thru, and the brand has included several more upscale service features inside. The paper plates of Charley’s traditional quick-service locations will be replaced with real silverware and ceramic plates, and the to-go packaging is made from 60-percent post-consumer recycled materials. Modern décor, lighting and seating are also featured.

Charley’s has paired several new menu features with the debut of Charley’s Philly Subs, including an option for three different sizes of sandwich rather than a “one size fits all” approach at its quick-service locations.

Philly Bowls, which ditch the signature sandwich’s bread and combine the ingredients and toppings with rice, will be available for the first time. Also, all of the brand’s signature lemonades will be prepared fresh with real fruit, in strawberry, blueberry and peach flavors.

Charley’s Philly Subs will offer eight types of French fries, including Ultimate Fries with Cheddar cheese, bacon and ranch dressing, or Philly Funnel Fries with cream-cheese icing and powdered sugar. Desserts include new Signature Frozen Treats, all made with low-fat frozen yogurt.

Charley’s said it would open between five and 10 more Philly Subs locations in 2012. The chain’s system of more than 430 units in 44 states and 16 countries is 90-percent franchised.

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Starbucks in Chicago to Get Alcohol

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Chicago will be the next market to see Starbucks locations selling beer and wine and expanded food offerings, the company said Tuesday.

Alan Hilowitz, director of corporate communications for Starbucks Corp., said five to seven locations — both new and existing — are scheduled to open or be remodeled in Chicago before the end of 2012 with the beer-and-wine options and new design elements.

The addition of alcohol is something the coffeehouse giant has been testing for about two years in its hometown of Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Currently, six Starbucks outlets offer beer and wine as well as various small plate options like almonds, bread with olive oil dip and salumi plates designed to accompany such beverages.

The goal was to explore ways to build sales later in the day, Hilowitz said. So far, units testing the format have shown double-digit same-store-sales increases after 4 p.m.

In Chicago, the format will no longer be considered in test, although Hilowitz said the company will continue to refine both menu offerings and the design of such locations.

“This is definitely not something we’re bringing to all new stores across the country; it will depend on the neighborhood,” he said. “It has to be right for the specific store.”

Hilowitz said the goal is to offer customers another occasion to visit Starbucks later in the evening for something other than coffee and cake pops.

“We want it to be a transitional place between work and home where people can stop for coffee in the morning, but where friends can stop in later and finish their day with a beer or a glass of wine,” he said. “Customers are telling us that’s what they want.”

Hilowitz said Chicago — with its East-Coast-meets-the-Midwest feel — is a good market to continue working on the new design.

When the chain was just starting out, Chicago also was the second market to have Starbucks stores, after Seattle.

Mobile payment systems

Chicago also is one of the cities where Starbucks customers like using their smart phones to pay and manage their loyalty accounts. Other top cities for mobile app adoption include New York, Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose, Calif.

Starbucks said its mobile payment program in the first year recorded 26 million transactions.

For the last nine weeks, starting in October, the 6 million transactions were double the 3 million recorded in the first nine weeks of the program, the company said.

The mobile payment option is available in the company’s 7,000 company-operated stores across the United States, as well as in Starbucks locations in about 1,000 Target and 1,000 Safeway stores.

With the mobile Starbucks app, guests can pay using their smart phones. They also can manage their Starbucks Card accounts, find stores and check the status of their Starbucks Rewards.

Globally, Starbucks said customers loaded $2.4 billion onto their cards during fiscal 2011, and Starbucks cards are used in one in four transactions in the United States.

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