Chick-fil-A and Firehouse Subs have a few things in common, one being that they top the rankings of consumers’ favorite restaurant chains. It’s clear that these brands not only understand consumers—and how they are changing—but are able to turn that knowledge into actionable insights, shifting operations to meet customers where they are.
So we asked their executives for a read on guests, how the consumer is changing and what the brands are doing in response. Some similarities in what they see: the importance of technology and an emphasis on nutritious foods. But there were profound differences as well.
Here’s the thinking behind the efforts of consumers’ favorite two chains to retain their rankings.
How has your customer changed in the past year?
Jon Bridges, SVP & CMO, Chick-fil-A, No. 1 QSR and top brand overall:
Our customers have continued to demonstrate the importance of speed, accuracy, great tasting food and a cared-for service experience.
Don Fox, CEO, Firehouse Subs, No. 1 fast casual and No. 2 brand overall:
We haven't seen a significant change in the consumer year over year; the changes have been more subtle and incremental in nature. I think it is fair to say that the general public continues to be increasingly health conscious (which manifests itself in a variety of ways) and tech savvy.
Also, it is clear that consumers are increasingly interested in spending their dollars with brands that care about them and their community. The benefits of philanthropy, above and beyond your pure belief in the cause, are increasingly obvious to all in the industry. And in the end, that is a good thing for everyone.
How are you responding?
Bridges: We are continually developing and testing—new menu items, service innovations, technology—to meet their needs when they visit Chick-fil-A.
Fox: Fortunately, we have stayed near the front of the pack on these trends. We have always been known for the superior quality of our ingredients, and that position in the marketplace continues to serve as well. We launched our menu labeling (calories) well in advance of the mandate, and I believe that shows the interested consumer that we are genuinely concerned with helping them make choices that are right for them (such as a selection from our Under 500 Calorie menu). And on the technology front, we are well out in front in the arena of mobile payments. Of course, when it comes to giving back to the community that supports your business, there is no better example in the industry than the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. There are hundreds of great causes out there, but few with the universal reach of supporting first responders with life saving equipment; equipment that has the potential to touch every single person in the communities we serve. To date, we have donated more than $15,000,000 for this cause (I love all of those zeros).
What customer-driven changes are you planning for 2016?
Bridges: We are really excited about our new mobile app technology, which will go live in 2016. We also have some new, nutritious (and delicious) menu options we will be announcing in 2016 on both our regular and kids’ meal menus, so stay tuned for those announcements early next year.
Fox: Since we are out in front on so many of these things, our main emphasis will be on refining and tightening up the execution of all of these initiatives, and creating more consumer awareness of the benefits. We think we have the ability to make Firehouse Subs an even more convenient choice. But I can't give away all of the secrets.