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Consumer Trends

3 ways restaurants are courting Hispanic customers now

When it comes to diversity in the workplace, the past couple of weeks haven’t been kind to restaurants.

In late January, McDonald’s announced that CEO Don Thompson would retire from his post atop the troubled chain—a move that, while inevitable given the company’s recent performance, notably cuts the number of African American CEOs at restaurant chains in half (from six in August to three today). A week earlier, a landmark lawsuit filed against McDonalds corporate by 10 former employees of a Virginia franchisee alleged that managers discriminated against black and Hispanic workers, discharging them because they “didn’t fit the profile.” And Palm Springs independent restaurant Billy Reed’s was forced to undo an a policy it had put in place requiring employees to speak only English at work after the media called attention to the controversial rule. The owner told one newspaper, he has since taken down the sign, and “everything is resolved.”

But while there may be work to do internally, restaurants do appear to be ramping up their outreach to Hispanic consumers. It’s not surprising given that the demographic group represents greater than 18 percent of the population nationwide (more than 50 percent in some major cities) and counting, making them an increasingly influential and important segment of restaurants’ consumer base. Here are some recent examples:

1. Pizza Hut sets its ‘site on Latinos

Pizza Hut’s menu overhaul in November came with a side of diversity. In addition to introducing 10 new crusts, six new sauces and five new toppings for customers to mix and match to their hearts’ content, the No. 1 pizza chain also rolled out a new Spanish-language version of its redesigned website, offering online ordering via mobile and Web. Some 45 percent of Pizza Hut’s sales come from online orders. And Hispanics, in particular, are mobile mavens, Univision reports; Hispanics are 80 percent more likely than non-Hispanics to purchase products they see advertised on their mobile devices.

2. Chipotle’s big bag theory

For the latest installment of its “Cultivating Thought” campaign, which features original stories from authors, poets and comedians on its bags and cups, Chipotle included three Latino wordsmiths in the mix. After catching heat from critics for a lack of diversity in the first go-round last year, the newest designs, introduced Jan. 27, feature works from poet and novelist Julia Alvarez, “The Alchemist” author Paulo Coelho and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of “El Principe de la Niebla” (The Prince of the Mist), along with seven other writers.

3. KFC translates lunch

A new Spanish-language commercial for KFC’s $5 Fill Up box aims to redefine lunch as a time to slow down and savor a complete meal rather than something to be scarfed down in a hurry. The spot, titled “Almuerzo” (Spanish for lunch) hopes to resonate with Hispanic consumers on two levels: “Lunch is the heaviest meal of the day in most Hispanic countries,” the ad agency that created the commercial has explained. And according to Univision, research shows that Hispanics demand more social experiences from restaurant visits; slowing down the midday meal is a way to provide that.

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