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Whether you’ve got one, or multiple, locations for your fast casual restaurant, you’ve got competition for the hearts, minds, and appetites of consumers seeking a fast meal. In this post, we’ve assembled 26 ways to help your fast casual restaurant thrive…not just survive.

Digital Domination

With so much happening outside your brick-and-mortar walls, and with consumers glued to their phones, getting your marketing online and into the inboxes and social feeds of your ideal customers is a need to do – not a nice to do.

1. Get strategically social.

Social media is second only to referrals as a customer acquisition source. Optimizing your social channels (and ensuring, if you’re a multi-location business, you have all your establishments integrated into your plan) means creating a digital storytelling map (aka a content plan) to not only share your goods but your brand story, too.

2. Put faces to the business.

Get comfortable with video – because it’s not going anywhere and it’s wildly powerful in connecting with your ideal customer base. From behind the scenes content to showing how favorite menu items are made, to celebrating regular guests and beyond, a video has the power to give prospective consumers a taste of your business before they even set foot in the door.

3. Create a user-friendly (and optimized) website.

In this digital day and age where consumers are always on the go, it’s essential that your website is mobile-friendly and easy for customers to navigate anytime, anywhere. Consider how you can make your website an extension of your restaurant experiences (design, voice, and tone, etc) and how you can make the primary reason customers visit it easy to use.

4. Localized Social Marketing

Localized social marketing leverages geography to create campaigns and offers for location-specific customers. For multi-location restaurants, offering specific customers specific deals or promos can draw them into the restaurant when the location makes sense for them and their daily life. Thanx captures valuable customer data, providing the ability for customers to be marketed to based on their geography; like delivering timely, convenient offers to the right people who are primed to use them.

5. Choose social channels wisely.

Fast-casual restaurants wanting to give independent locations the opportunity to market to their local communities may be missing out if they aren’t leveraging Facebook Local Page. These pages operate under the brand page and each location can create its own identity and offers for its users and guests. And the ROI is worth the time: Local Pages are experiencing nearly 2x the impressions of Brand Pages, and nearly three-quarters of all user engagement. One caveat… at the end of the day, building an audience on social networks can be akin to building a house on rented land. You don’t “own the audience” or the data…so buyer beware.

6. Newsletter bonuses and perks.

Building and nurturing an email list is an excellent way to organically grow an engaged, owned audience. And newsletters are an amazing way to not only share your brand story but to incentivize and drive foot traffic to come into the restaurant and boost revenue. Leverage your house email list to grow your relationships and stay front and center in your guests’ minds.

7. Text message marketing.

Want another way to deliver timely messages to users in a way that nearly guarantees engagement? Slide into their texts (with permission, of course). Whether it’s sending timely messages to their phone, sending weekly deals or updates to inspire a return visit, getting users to share their phone number is a whole new, and direct, way to market to your mobile-using guests.

Driving Revenue & Traffic

Seeking a boost in the foot traffic coming through your doors, or the dollars and cents in your sales reports at the end of each day? Marketing campaigns and tactics directed at amplifying sales and traffic can still be a value-add for guests. Gone are the days of direct sales-driving revenue and traffic is all about positioning the right offer at the right time, to the right person, and finding creative ways to bring people in for their first time – or their 50th.

8. Host a contest on social media.

Creative contests that ask users to participate by coming into the restaurant, taking a photo of something specific, adding a hashtag and posting it to their social channels is a popular way to ramp up foot traffic. And, to provide you with more content to use throughout your digital marketing, too. Seeing a community rally around the opportunity to participate in a fun and interesting contest with prizes or stakes that are high value to them is exciting. Getting to celebrate the process adds depth and texture to each location’s storytelling. Pitting one location against the other? Now that’s just some good old fashioned healthy competition.

9. Time-sensitive offers.

While delivery is taking off and only growing in popularity, creating time-sensitive offers that help your fast casual restaurant move through product also is a great traffic driver. With restaurant customer engagement platforms like Thanx, you can run campaigns to specific users based on location to get them through the doors to take advantage of short-term offers – giving them a memorable experience and helping you move product – fast.

10. Create and share sign up perks.

Signing up for an email list, enrolling in a loyalty program or liking a local page on Facebook; any time a guest signs up for something is an opportunity to bring them back into the restaurant. Find creative ways to offer something meaningful to a customer when they sign up to participate in your community; as a thank you gift for their choosing to give your brand some space in their market-to-me bubble.

11. Support local charities and events.

Swag bags might just be your newest best friend/efficient marketing tool. The opportunity to contribute to local fundraisers or not for profit events offer a great opportunity to get new guests through your door. Because the world of giving can be so vast, here’s our advice: choose 3-5 causes that you’ll be willing to donate to, and some guidelines for how much you’ll donate each time. Be willing to put your business out there to support your community, and be strategic at the same time.

12. Welcome, neighbor.

When new businesses open in your neighborhood, or you meet a new family that’s moved around the corner, take the opportunity to welcome them into your restaurant with a ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ offer. Another great way to drive traffic? Make friends with local offices or small businesses – and integrate your restaurant into their onboarding process for new staff. Seek incentives that add value and establish lasting relationships.

13. Be time-conscious.

Fast-casual dining is often a product of consumers seeking speed and convenience and making decisions at the moment. So, make time your best friend; market consistently and strategically with thoughtful ways of helping loyal customers beat the lunchtime rush (maybe by sending a ‘Heads up!’ text when your regular rush is about to hit). Getting in front of them regularly, and at strategic times of the day, matters. Think about consistency and think about optimal times to send engaging messages that can get them through your doors – instead of the competition down the street.

Customer Engagement

Marketing doesn’t end once a message leaves your mouth (or in this social age, your fingertips). Your customers are some of your most important marketing tools; with referrals being the highest ranking way people choose where to eat. Marketing directly to them to get them to take action and to create experiences that keep them talking about your business means keeping that referral loop rolling – a priceless practice.

14. Reward loyalty.

Create a loyalty program your customers feel excited about. And, find a platform that helps to facilitate it in a seamless, on-brand, can-handle-loads-of-data way. Why does loyalty matter so much? Because customers who are willing to promote your business spend at least 21% more each year are 8% less likely to churn and account for 80 – 90% of all referrals. It’s expensive to constantly find and gain trust with new customers – and referrals are a fast casual restaurant’s best source of consistency.

15. Lean into your users (content).

User Generated Content (UGC) can be one of the fastest ways to garner great engagement from guests. Fast-casual spots like Alfred (a multi-location coffee shop in and around LA) consistently share content from users who have tagged them in their social posts. Not only does it supplement your visual content bank, but creates a drive for customers to create great content that (hopefully) gets repurposed; a huge nod to today’s social age, and a massive point of creating brand championship. Your customers are your best influencers. Period.

16. Gather data to market powerfully.

Shoot for the bull’s eye – every time. Data rules in the fast-casual restaurant world as much as it does everywhere else. With more insight into who is coming into your restaurant, and when, you can send targeted campaigns and market with incredible precision and create a personalized experience that makes guests feel understood, even when they’re opening an email or a text.

17. Make feedback frictionless.

Handling customer feedback with agility is a marketing tactic in itself. Because here’s a fun stat: replying to feedback grows sales +22%. When you’re authentically open to feedback and offer the channels for guests to provide their insights and share their experiences, you walk the talk as a restaurant that’s willing to learn, open to doing better, and accessible to share with; all attributes of businesses that customers trust. Plus – creating a unique channel to receive feedback from guests, and responding quickly can keep them from going to social media to air their grievances – safeguarding your reputation.

Reputation Management

Speaking of reputations…if referrals and social media are where people turn to first to research places to eat – online ratings and rankings come in a close third. So, it’s not only important to ask for reviews, but to do it often, and to gather as many positive reviews as possible to keep your ranking high. Facilitating reviews through a private communication channel offers the opportunity to manage delicate conversations one on one with guests, and turn great private reviews into awesome public-facing ones.

18. Embrace automation.

When you’ve got data, you’ve got gold. Automated gold, that is! Automated campaigns can keep your communication running with your loyal guests in a meaningful way, acknowledging milestones and even letting them know you’ve missed seeing them in the restaurant when the days between their visits are stacking up. Which means you can keep those marketing campaigns rolling even while wearing multiple hats.

19. Use your autoresponder to convert.

Submitting questions through a business’s website is not dead – and as another great marketing tactic, your autoresponder can be an exceptional source of customer engagement and creating an experiential touch point. Create a ‘bounce back’ for your info@ or hello@yourbusinessnamehere.com emails that are aligned with your brand, and potentially offers the sender something special and unique; a recipe of a favorite menu item, a guaranteed wait time until their message will be answered, an invitation to an upcoming community event…the list of creative ways of using an email autoresponder to further connect with that guest are endless.

The Inside Job

Not all marketing happens outside the walls of your business. Every aspect of your business—down to the way you train your people to the decor and design of your space—is part of your marketing mix. It’s what guests remember when they visit, and what can make—or break—a healthy word of mouth reputation…one of the most powerful forms of marketing out there.

20. Tell a compelling brand story.

With consumers being blasted with so much choice in the fast-casual space, and more messages coming at them in a day than they know what to do with, creating and communicating a compelling brand story, beyond the food you make and sell, builds awareness and trust – with the trust piece being key to converting one-off users into loyal VIPs. Take the time to distill and define your story; make it authentic, craft it so you can deliver on what you say you’ll do and how you say you’ll do it. And share it across your platforms, in your physical locations on the walls, on your coffee cup sleeves…anywhere you can. It’s one of your most powerful marketing tools.

21. Hire smart.

Your team members are walking billboards for your business – and they can be a draw for customers choosing your restaurant over the competition. Hire individuals who will be a strong representation of your brand…and who can create the kind of engaging and memorable customer experience you seek.

22. Train thoroughly.

Giving your team members every opportunity to win with your guests means giving them the time to learn the job and understand their role in contributing to the business. Create a training program that’s comprehensive of the brand and brand story, the community surrounding their specific location, the way the business works, and the role they’re being hired to do. Your people are a reflection of their training – so how you set them up for success and the experiences your guests have as a result matters huge in your marketing game.

23. Offline to Online.

Give your guests a reason to come offline to share online. Offline to Online (aka O2O) is a tactic of creating unique, interesting, and ‘Instagrammable’ physical objects, spaces, installations, art, and more, that create the drive to share that offline experience, online. Whether we’re talking subtle art installations to well-laid floor tiles in the entryway of an establishment – thoughtful placement and design of physical spaces can be an exceptional tool to take that offline moment online – marketing to everyone who sees it.

24. Build a culture of ‘Cheers’.

Where everybody knows your name – right? Feeling connected to a restaurant community, no matter what location a guest visits, creates an enduring sense of belonging and amplifies the loyalty they’re already experiencing. Having staff that works to remember guests they see regularly and a tool for them to have guest information on hand at the point of sale help cultivate that belonging – and bring people back.

25. Love up on local.

When it comes to fuel a sense of community and a localized connection to the area around your restaurants, sourcing as local as possible shows support for those around you – part of a compelling brand story many consumers are beginning to care more about these days. And remember to add it into your brand storytelling – those local providers have their own followings and telling their story in conjunction with your own can be some powerful cross-promotion.

26. Leverage delivery.

If you haven’t added a means for delivery into your business yet, consider starting there. And, as you build out your delivery program, remember to create it as an extension of the brand. If you’re leveraging third party delivery programs, include something in the send-out that’s high value to the customer order; an offer for a complimentary dessert for in-store visits, for example. Handwritten notes on the takeout bags, thank you notes inside…any way to personalize the experience can leave a mark on the customer – and hopefully draw them into a store location soon.

Wrap up

The creative ways for you to market your Fast Casual restaurants are innumerable. We’re hoping this round up of ideas sparks some new tactics for your marketing plan, and gets you interested in how Thanx can make marketing across all your locations smooth, engaging and, dare we say it, exciting!