Three executives spoke about issues in the restaurant industry at the Fast Casual Executive Summit held last month in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Three executives spoke about issues in the restaurant industry at the Fast Casual Executive Summit held last month in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s one of several industry events organized by Networld Media Group, the parent company of Fastcasual, Pizza Marketplace and QSRweb. The annual three-day Fast Casual Executive Summit event draws executives from leading brands around the world. The media company’s next event is the Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit March 20-23, 2023, in Coral Gables, Florida.
Using TikTok as a marketing tool
Speaking first was Shawn Lalehzarian, co-founder of Red Chickz, who talked about using Tik Tok as a marketing tool.
Lalehzarian moved to the Unites States in 1998 and didn’t know how to speak English. He began his career as a dishwasher in a local restaurant. He worked in every position in that restaurant and eventually moved to a position where he opened a slew of restaurants in the U.S. and Canada. He co-founded Red Chickz in 2018.
With just one store, they were able to gain a strong following on social media with 145,000 followers on Instagram and more than a million on TikTok. “Within the past century, we’ve used a lot of marketing and PR tools to influence consumer purchasing habits and these tools have been anything from TV to radio ads and newspapers. All these tools have one thing in common: they were all one big communication to the consumer. And these social media happened,” Lalehzarian said.
First, we have to know what each social media platform can deliver to the consumer. TikTok is a platform to be seen, Lalehzarian said. “Not a lot of people actually create content and post on TikTok, but I promise you, a lot of people are watching,” he added.
Communication is two ways on TikTok, and people have the opportunity to communicate with every piece of content a brand puts out. A brand can take that feedback and put it toward the next piece of content made.
Brands should be relevant, creative and outrageous. “We are dealing with a different generation, and I’m not just talking about age difference,” Lalehzarian said.
Have engaging content. “The content you post on social media doesn’t have to be perfect. You want it to be imperfect,” Lalehzarian added. It should be close to what you’re selling.
Keep TikTok videos short, around 15 to 20 seconds, and use influencers if you can. Follow trends but consider trying to start a trend as well.
“Having the opportunity to post a video as many times as you want and getting in front of your consumers in that format has worked great for us,” Lalehzarian said.
Sherif Mityas, president of Brix Holdings, spoke about getting personal with customers. Photo by Networld Media Group.
Getting personal with customers
Sherif Mityas, president of Brix Holdings, spoke about how restaurants need to get personal in an ever-competitive market. Brix is parent company to Friendly’s, Orange Leaf and Red Mango and other brands with 450 locations across 38 states.
Mityas is passionate about personalization. “How do you bring it to life when you’re a small to medium-sized chain, maybe just starting out?” he said. “When we say personalization what do we mean? … My big statement is loyalty is dead. I don’t believe in loyalty, and when I clarify that, I clearly believe in loyalty programs that work. But a lot of loyalty programs out there were the beginnings of personalization. Know those guests that are coming to you. Know a little bit more about them.”
Understand who they are and when and what they purchase, Mityas said. Try to engage them at a different level personally. He said 90% of loyalty programs in the industry are glorified discount programs.
If it’s a small restaurant, it’s easy to know who the regulars are. You know their names, their families and what they order. The restaurant can tailor their loyalty programs to better personalize their experience. “But how do you do that at scale?” Mityas asked. “How do you do that when you’ve now got 20 restaurants? 50 restaurants?”
First, how do you personalize the engagement? Mityas said you can personalize based on how and when you reach out to that guest. You can look for patterns. Say a person comes in every Tuesday. What’s the driving force behind that? Soccer night? “When do you reach out to that person and engage with them personally? Maybe it’s Tuesday at noon letting them know you’ve got something special for that evening, being there right when they’re thinking about that next food and beverage occasion specifically to that guest,” Mityas said.
Second, personalize the food, such as giving a guest a sundae and allowing him or her to personalize it with toppings you give them. That often leads to posts on social media. “Think about how you can do that on different parts of your menu,” Mityas said. “That is what people want to do. They want to show something that they created that is personalized to them.”
Finally, personalize the experience. During the pandemic, brands tried to personalize everything because everything was digital. It’s hard to personalize when guests are walking into your restaurant, Mityas said. It has to do with the team members that you have in-house.
Creating a one-to-one experience is core. Team members know who their core guests are, so what tools are they given to personalize the experience? Consider personalized items off menu for those repeat guests – something special, not at a discount. “It’s that connection that you can create,” Mityas said.
Emily Rugaber, vice president of marketing for Thanx, spoke about how to build a loyalty program without discounts. Photo by Networld Media Group.
Loyalty without the discounts
Emily Rugaber, vice president of marketing for Thanx, spoke about how non-discount reward strategies drive revenue and protect margins.
Rugaber said shareholders, operators and marketers are asking how they improve profits while at the same time growing customer lifetime value and how is it done in an unprecedented time of scrutiny on budgets?
“Loyalty in the restaurant industry has been a dirty word,” Rugaber said. It’s been equated to discounts, it’s been equated to generic, rote, one-size-fits-all loyalty programs and as a result many restaurant brands” have questioned the need for loyalty programs. The digital battlefield has completely transformed the industry, Rugaber said.
So where do you start?
First, look at your current content calendar. “You don’t have to invent a new menu. You don’t have to do something that’s crazy. Just look at what you’re already planning to do and say ‘where can I integrate these ideas in?'” Rugaber said. “If you have a product launch coming up, a seasonal menu item that you’re going to be launching soon, consider providing access to your loyalty members or to a segment of your loyalty members a couple weeks early. A couple days early even.”
If you have a menu hack that customers love, repackage it as a loyalty perk.
Once you get your feet wet, start AB testing those promos. Do you need to offer 20% off when 15% off will work as well? Is there a non-discount reward that you can offer that you can test against a promotion? Sometimes, you’ll find you don’t need the discount.
Next, brainstorm new ideas. Think about your brand. Get as many people together in your company as possible and start thinking about ideas. “Look at your brand and say ‘What would be on brand?'” Rugaber said. Look at your business goals, look at your customers and find the overlap. Integrate it into your core program.
Finally, iterate on your core program. “If your loyalty program hasn’t changed in the last year, in the last six months, you’re probably not doing something right,” Rugaber said.
Mandy Wolf Detwiler is the managing editor at Networld Media Group and the site editor for PizzaMarketplace.com and QSRweb.com. She has more than 20 years’ experience covering food, people and places.
An award-winning print journalist, Mandy brings more than 20 years’ experience to Networld Media Group. She has spent nearly two decades covering the pizza industry, from independent pizzerias to multi-unit chains and every size business in between. Mandy has been featured on the Food Network and has won numerous awards for her coverage of the restaurant industry. She has an insatiable appetite for learning, and can tell you where to find the best slices in the country after spending 15 years traveling and eating pizza for a living.