Recent signs point to a tilt in consumer preference toward independent restaurants over chains. All generations indicate increased visits to local independents in search of unique offerings, according to Technomic’s second-quarter Consumer Update, with all groups except Gen X hitting indies at least 10% more. “Growth in patronage of independent restaurants, retailers and c-stores presents a threat to chain restaurants,” the report says. “Exceeding consumers’ expectations will help chains maintain relevance.”
To do so, some chains are going beyond the traditional tailored marketing efforts of partnering with local celebrities or charities or hosting in-store events, and are using technology to execute hyperlocal strategies and compete against indies and others on their own turf.
1. Neighborhood callouts
Knowing that most of its customers live or work near a store, Snap Kitchen recently began using locally targeted social media ads, specifically around lunchtime, in order to drive more awareness to a new line of salads, says Kyle Hoedl, director of marketing and communications. “The ad is tightly targeted around each store with a locally relevant message,” he says. Along with a photo, the ad for Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, for example, suggests, “First, a quick City Gallery tour. Then, salad. Lunch is served. Right around the corner.”
Most chains are just starting to test beacon technology, if they have it at all. As part of its mobile strategy, Just Salad uses geolocation promotions to rope in nearby potential diners. Tracked by in-store beacons, close-by consumers with the restaurant’s app open receive information about deals and new menu items to draw them in.
4. Delivery partner promos
As more chains ink deals with third-party delivery services, Snap Kitchen is partnering with those services to do local in-app promotions targeting stores within specific delivery zones. In Austin, for example, the chain did a one-day free-delivery promotion with UberEats that drove a 400% increase in sales through the delivery service that day, says Hoedl.
5. In-store advocates
Every Uno Pizzeria & Grill has a designated “local brand marketer” on the store level responsible for connecting with and reaching out to the community—and that includes through social media. Instead of having someone at corporate post to Twitter all the time, the designated employee tweets locally specific messaging, often tied to product launches and other events.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.