Top 5 Takeaways: How Restaurants Are Adapting To Consumers’ New Expectations & Habits

June 26, 2020 | Bounteous x Accolite

Last week, Bounteous and Punchh joined forces to assemble a panel of marketing pros from top restaurant brands Blaze Pizza, Dairy Queen and Portillo’s. We asked them to share how they have changed their strategies around loyalty programs, customer communication, and digital experiences to meet their consumer’s changing needs. We’ve compiled five of our favorite recommendations from our panel of experts.

#1: Review The Pandemic Playbook You Developed And Prepare To Rework It For The Next Potential Wave

Be prepared to adjust your menu. “We knew right away, as many in the restaurant industry did, we had to trim down the menu so that we could have operational excellence through the drive-thru and through a curbside model” said Nick Scarpino, SVP of Marketing & Off-Premise Dining at Portillo’s

Review all planned and automated communication. Director of Digital Marketing at DQ, Susie Moschkau, shared that their crisis communication has matured over the past few months. “We had to scrub all of our communication, even our behavioral messaging to make sure that we weren’t doing any, ‘Hey, grab your friends and come to a restaurant.’ And that took time, but we were able to really kind of crack down as a marketing team and take a holistic view of all of our messaging and tweak, and we continue to do that.” 

Rethink special offers. Each year on pie day (March 14th), Blaze Pizza has offered all pies for $3.14 as an in-store special that requires a loyalty account to redeem. But this past March, it just didn’t make sense to promote large gatherings at the restaurants. Blaze’s Director of Digital Marketing, Jerry Shen, explains that they pivoted and “extended the expiration date out to the end of the calendar year and allowed guests to use that online.”

Keep lines of communication open with franchisees. Jerry also shared that they held daily webcasts with franchisees in the early weeks of COVID to ensure everyone was aligned and “the processes that guests were going to be seeing in the restaurants were going to be consistent across the board.”

#2 When In Doubt, Refer Back To The 4 Cs Of Communication

Kevin Rice, EVP of Bounteous, shared that his team has been spending a lot of time speaking with clients about the four Cs of communication: Caring, Convenience, Cleanliness and Coupons (or offers). Kevin said, “Being able to shift to communicate with customers in a way that really connects with them in a time of so much uncertainty was critical.”

Susie agreed noting that building consumer confidence in a real and authentic way is key. “I think Dairy Queen does a great job and we have to pivot and learn and continue to pivot and go forward. But I think everybody is going through that”, she shared.

#3 Lean Into Your Loyalty Platform And Experiment With Pulling Different Levers.

At Blaze, Jerry and his team have been using the Punchh loyalty platform to try new things like a frequency compression campaign. “We’re trying to get users to order from us and they get increasingly higher point bonuses (we call them flames) and so it’s really trying to drive traffic in this concentrated period of time to try and build up that habit, cementing our place and sort of the consideration set for guests when they’re ordering.”

#4 When Reopening Stores, Consider How You Can Eliminate Or Limit Contact During Payment.

CEO and co-founder of Punchh, Shyam Rao, thinks it really comes down to the three things that consumers want: convenience, value and safety. While safety has been top-of-mind for months now, Shyam points out that as physical locations open, we need to start thinking about what on-premise safety looks like and what type of demands consumers will have. “I think once stores open up, a contactless payment is going to be really, really important. Most consumers don’t want to be touching these devices”, shared Shyam.

#5 Prioritize Operational Improvements That Make Sense During A Pandemic Or Otherwise.

At Portillo’s, they saw the explosive growth of third-party delivery coming over a year ago and this was, of course, only accelerated by COVID. It was starting to become more business than their stores could handle and after considering a number of options, decided to partner with Kitchen United to create Portillo’s ghost kitchens.

“We’re excited about it because our delivery business had been taking away from the guest experience in the restaurant”, Nick explained. “If you came to our flagship location in Chicago on a Friday evening back before the virus, you would have at least 20 delivery drivers waiting for their order. And it just wasn’t a good experience for the drivers. There was no parking lot. It wasn’t a good experience for our team members. It wasn’t a good experience for the guests getting their food. And so this will first and foremost, help us help us offload some of this demand. And then obviously we expect to grow it over time as we deliver a better guest experience.”