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Consumer Trends

Does a strong political reputation boost a restaurant’s top line?

Consumers tend to visit a restaurant chain more frequently when they view that brand as having a political stance, be it conservative or liberal, according to a new Technomic study, Restaurants & Politics report.

The study found that brand-wide dedication to a cause or a belief figures into guest satisfaction, raising the possibility that a chain’s socio-political views could impact profits.

“[Consumer perception] definitely plays a role,” says Robert Byrne, senior manager of consumer insights at Technomic, the research sister of Restaurant Business Online. “People are interested in spending their money on things that make them feel good. If it’s going to a company that has values and acts on those values, it leads to more engagement.”

Ben & Jerry's "Save Our Swirled" campaign in 2015 accumulated over 300,000 signatures in support of a clean-energy future at that year's UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. Christopher Miller, social mission activism manager for Ben & Jerry's, says “Save Our Swirled” brought a healthy return for the ice-cream brand. “A typical ROI for a media spend promoting a new flavor is three to one—a $3 profit for every $1 invested,” he says. “Our climate-change campaign beat that.”

Partnering with celebrities whose politics consumers identify with may also reel in patrons. A large majority of Blaze Pizza’s patrons (70%) say the chain has similar values to their own, Technomic’s report notes. During the 2016 presidential election, NBA superstar and Blaze franchisee LeBron James strongly endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying the former secretary of state could “…build on the legacy of President Obama." Although the chain's sales growth is heavily credited to its aggressive unit expansion, James—who has over 90 million social media followers—could have added topspin, Byrne suggests.

A discernible socio-political view can be dicey, however. Jason Praha, general manager at Chicago’s Acadia, says the Michelin-starred restaurant faced heavy backlash after closing for the Day Without Immigrants protest back in February. “We had quite a few people negatively respond on Facebook and Yelp, even though they’d never eaten here,” he says. Although the protest also caused a significant loss of the upscale diner’s sales for that day, Praha states the boycott was still worthwhile, as it felt good to take a stand and have Acadia’s voice heard.

Few chains have a stronger socio-political reputation than Chick-fil-A, which has visibly championed a number of conservative causes in recent years. The brand has been a sales standout, with year-over-year growth of more than 7%. Nearly half of consumers (47%) say the concept has similar values to their own, per Technomic’s report.

“People didn’t believe in its faith-based views as a company, and now they’re here and continue to expand,” says Byrne. “Their stance adds to the entire experience and, to a degree, feeds into frequent visitation.”

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