2013 Social Media 50: Winning Strategies

You’ve already gotten a taste of our list of 50 great social media tips and tactics. Now it’s time for the main course.

For this year’s package, we looked for chains that had shown strong growth in their social media following in 2012 based on data compiled by Digital Coco, a reputation tracking firm focused on the restaurant industry. Get ready for a deep dive into some winning social-media strategies.

CiCi's Pizza

1. Having an integrated strategy is key, CiCi's chief marketing officer Nancy Hampton believes, to the brand’s success. “We are looking for tighter and tighter integration every year—with our restaurant messaging, advertising messaging, our website and Facebook—we look at them all as ways to engage our guests. That’s why we are getting close to a million ‘likes.’ With an integrated strategy and conscious attitude of having a conversation with our guests, those likes have really grown in a year.”

CiCi’s also makes use of its advertising and public relations agencies to help the brand craft its communication. 

2. "We put together a rough monthly conversation calendar, so we know what we want to talk about and identify holidays, events like the Super Bowl—what makes sense for us to talk about to our guests,” explains Hampton.

3. In September, CiCi’s hosted its first national guest appreciation day. Promoted exclusively through social media and public relations, it was a phenomenal success, says Hampton. “We attribute that a lot to social media; we used the email club, our Pizza Perks loyalty program, public relations, talked about it on Facebook, had links on the website. The messaging was consistent through all of CiCi’s various programs, reinforcing one another—it was a terrific promotion.”

The promotion’s success was measured in a variety of ways: restaurant sales, new Facebook fans, new registrants for Pizza Perks. “We all had the best time, watching the Facebook posts and pictures, showing new fans, returning fans, seeing folks we see in our restaurants a lot,” says Hampton.

4. During the holiday season, CiCi’s launched a “Thank-you” campaign. “We ask our fans to let us know who are the folks they want to say ‘thank you’ to within their community,” says Hampton. “One week we thanked teachers, one week military personnel, one week first responders. We get incredible stories, and incredible comments that add to those stories.”

All of those who are “thanked” are either invited to a pizza party or sent a gift card to a CiCi’s buffet.

“It’s our way of making sure from a social perspective we are involved in our communities,” says Hampton. “Social media is great for that purpose, it’s a great way to understand what is going on with the local communities. With 500 restaurants in 34 states, it’s not always easy to know what is happening in each of our communities—social media gives us a window to know what’s happening.”

5. Rather than employing a full-time social media manager, everyone on the marketing team rotates in for a week, taking on that role. “What we like about that is that everybody stays in touch with our guests,” says Hampton. “What our guests say in social media is often more candid and spontaneous that what might take place otherwise. It’s very valuable for everyone to see what the guests are talking about.”


6. A Facebook scavenger hunt: Arby's strikes gold with a hidden coupon
Arby’s most successful social media campaign was launched last year, timed to the anniversary of its founding—July 23, 1964.

“We leveraged Facebook’s new timeline functionality, posting a coupon hidden in 1964,” explains Josh Martin, Arby’s manager of social media. “The offer was for Arby’s classic Roast Beef sandwich, which we were selling July 23 for 64 cents. In order to get the coupon, you had to scroll back in time. We were using the Facebook timeline promotion as a way to celebrate our history.”

A teaser post was published on Facebook, letting fans know that something was hidden in the timeline. Arby’s also used Twitter and Instagram to announce the coupon hidden on Facebook. Instagram’s post, with a photo: “Celebrate our 1964 founding by heading back to the past. On July 23rd, get an Arby’s Roast Beef Classic Sandwich for just $0.64. Visit our Facebook Timeline to get your coupon & explore 1964.”

Arby’s measured the success of the campaign based on the engagement metrics: the number of likes, clicks, shares, comments, coupon printouts. “We saw a lot of chatter about it,” says Martin. The chain would not release numbers.

Also, the number of redemptions were tracked, something Arby’s social media team does for all its offers. “Based on ROI, this was the most popular digital social campaign to date,” says Martin. “ It had a lot to do with the offer—it was a great offer. But our guests had to go to Facebook, scroll through the timeline, find the coupon and print it out. “

Typically, Arby’s special promotions are ‘gated;’ to get the coupon, you have to ‘like’ the brand. This time there weren’t any restrictions.

“One of our goals with this promotion was to increase engagement, so everyone had access to the timeline, whether you ‘liked’ us or not,” says Martin. “It was something unique, everyone had access to this great deal.

Typically, when you put in an extra step, it is a barrier to entry. Fans have to ‘like’ the page and give out their information.”

Adds Martin, “We wanted everyone to know that we’ve been around 40 years—check out our history, try one of our classic Roast Beef sandwiches. It’s all a part of using social media to increase business and the sharing aspect with our fans.”

Shake Shack

As Shake Shack has grown from its humble beginnings into a family of 15 stores in three countries, so has its social media fan base. To support their avid and active customers, they redesigned and relaunched their website.

7. The company loaded the fan page header with guest-submitted photos. “We plan to switch them out at least twice a year,” says Edwin Bragg, director of marketing and communications for Shake Shack.

8. The new site scrolls between sections instead of loading separate pages, making it very efficient and mobile-device friendly. Large, centrally placed icons also make it easy to jump to any of the Shake Shack social media sites with the tap of a finger.

9. Fans can see photos posted by other fans on the Shake Shack Instagram feed. Mousing over a photo will reveal the fan who submitted the photo, as well as how many likes and comments it has acquired.

10. The company launched its Instagram account in March 2012, posting fun, creative photos of themselves and reposting engaging photos from fans. By the end of 2012, there were 8,500 followers. They now have nearly 10,000 followers.

11. Shake Shack focused on making their Twitter presence more engaging and more fun, while using it to listen proactively to guest raves, comments and complaints. They posted more photos and used Twitter to cross promote back to, Facebook and their blog. Twitter @shakeshack traffic has climbed fast from 1,200 to 8,957 followers in 2012. They now have nearly 10,000 followers.

12. Facebook grew with nearly 50,000 total likes by year-end 2012 and over 50,000 in January 2013. The unique number of people that are talking about the page (sharing, liking content, making comments) on a monthly basis has grown from 1,462 to 7,636. Total reach (the unique number of people who have seen any content associated with the Facebook page) has increased from 32,674 to 74,219 in 2012.

13. “It’s all about the community, the neighborhoods and the connections online as well as offline,” says Bragg. “Your social media self is an extension of yourself. Making sure we stay true to that, we integrated Foursquare into each location’s webpage. We’re the most checked-in restaurant in New York City. It’s a fun way to see the activity.”

14. “We’re known for our lines, so you can see the lines on the Shack Cams. When it’s nice out, it does snake around the park. The line was an inspiration for our social media efforts. It’s where guests connected, talked, hung out and passed the time in the pursuit of food.”

15. Develop a solid plan
At the start of 2012, Zoe’s Kitchen had fewer than 14,000 Facebook fans. They needed a new strategy. “It was a year-long focus, with a number of strategic initiatives woven into the social calendar,” explains Rachel Phillips-Luther, vice president of marketing. “We revised our content strategy to ensure that our community was being exposed to messaging that not only resonated with them, but content they wanted to share.” Infographics on living a healthy lifestyle and “Fresh Take” recipes from the company were shared hundreds of times. They encourage friends to nominate “Superparents” who have the opportunity to contribute a recipe to the kids’ menu. Promotion of new store openings is also driving growth.

“We encourage fans in new markets to sign up online to receive one of 500 free meals,” explains Phillips-Luther. The company now has nearly 70,000 fans.

16. Say cheese biscuit!
Red Lobster saw fans posting pictures to Facebook from their most recent visit to the chain. They took advantage of it. “The LobStar of the Week program was started in August 2011,” says Heidi Schauer, manager, media and communications.
Each week the company reminds guests to share their photos; then they choose one for their Facebook cover photo. About 475 LobStar photos are posted each month, with over 1,000 photos in November alone.

Caribou Coffee

17. “Like” = charity dollars
“Caribou Coffee has always placed a high emphasis on connecting with fans on a very personal level,” says Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management. In 2012, the company deepened that commitment by dedicating part of its Facebook page to their Amy’s Blend program.

The 17-year program honors Amy Erickson, an original Caribou Coffee roastmaster who lost her battle with breast cancer in 1995. For each new “like” during a campaign last October, $1 was donated to CancerCare.

The company challenged fans to reach 10,000 new likes on the Caribou Facebook page by the end of the campaign. That number was exceeded in the first week. By the end, the campaign had generated 26,000 “likes” and $26,000.

18. Embrace your place in fans’ lives
When Caribou Coffee launched their “You + Your Bou” campaign on Twitter, they encouraged Caribou fans to tweet about how the brand fits into their lives on a daily basis. “We know our busy, on-the-go fans have only a limited time to browse through social properties, and we recognize that the easier we make it for them to participate, the more rewarding our results will be,” says Martel. Caribou awarded prizes to randomly selected tweeters. A yoga instructor received a Lululemon gift card, a Keurig Home brewing system and Caribou K Cups, while a musician received a keyboard and a Caribou Coffee Gift Card. During the month-long campaign, the company engaged more than 1,300 new Twitter followers, and users tweeted more than 1,800 times using the hashtag #MyBou.

19. Combine and conquer
Once you’ve developed a strong audience in one social media outlet, you can use it as a springboard for other platforms. “We launched the Caribou Instagram page in conjunction with our ‘Sip Up Summer’ Facebook photo contest in June 2012 and encouraged fans to apply Instagram filters to the photos they were submitting online,” says Martel. Over the six weeks of the contest, the theme for entries changed every week, and winners were picked for each theme, with a grand prize awarded at the end. Prizes included gift cards, an Amazon Kindle touch and a Coleman Grill. Their Facebook page reached more than 16,000 new fans by the end of the campaign, and their Instagram page is going strong with over 1,800 followers.

20. Allow negativity 
While social media is a great venue for fans to express their love for a brand, it can also be a venue for frustrated customers to speak out in a very public way. The temptation might be to delete the feedback or respond in kind, but Elaine Mesker-Garcia, social media manager with Luby’s Fuddruckers Restaurants, cautions against that sort of reaction. “Don’t take things personally. Allow some negativity. You need to respond as kindly as possible to everyone,” she says, “Let them voice their opinion and respond to them. We’ve done a lot of service recovery that way. If they have a reasonable complaint, I want to show people we’re taking care of it.”

21. Let friends of winners win
Cafe chain First Watch borrowed a popular idea from a successful grand opening event and turned it into a social media juggernaut. Fans were able to win breakfast, brunch and lunch for a year by entering a contest on the First Watch Facebook page. One of the winning fan’s Facebook friends was also guaranteed to win, too. “We went from 5,000 likes to 45,000 in a matter of a couple of weeks,” says Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer of First Watch Restaurants.

22. Use multiple outlets for big events
Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf launched a massive promotion where customers could trade in their coffee makers for a new CBTL machine. The chain used Foursquare, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to get the word out.

“We live-tweeted from the event. We also had a photo booth which allowed attendees and team members to post their photos to Facebook and Twitter with their new CBTL machine,” says Patrice Anderson, director of ecommerce and social media.

23. Target photos
Twin Peaks has a very specific strategy when it comes to posting photos on social media. Browse the restaurant’s Facebook page and you’ll see endless photos of servers in skimpy lumberjack uniforms. All of them have lots of likes, comments and interaction from fans. “Our guest is a beer-drinking male. We know what men like. If we post photos that connect with that, we’re successful,” says Meggie Miller, director of training for Front Burner Restaurants. By understanding who the customers is, Twin Peaks knows what to post in order to get the biggest response and keep customers coming back, both online and in restaurants.

24. Social media is a customer retention tool
Muscle Maker Grill isn’t worried when a customer shares a negative experience or opinion through social media. Rod Silva, founder and chairman of Muscle Maker Grill, sees it as an opportunity to make a positive impression. “We have found that through responding promptly to questions asked in Facebook posts and tweets, and by using the platforms to resolve customer service complaints, we have been able to build and strengthen customer relationships,” says Silva. The key is to be on top of it and not let complaints or concerns linger unanswered.

Chuck E. Cheese

25. Ask for opinions
CEC Entertainment Inc. decided to revive the Chuck E. Cheese brand and its mascot in mid-2012. “We’re always trying to talk with the parents via social media, the bulk of which are moms between 25 and 34, and we focus a lot on nostalgia. It provides a challenge when we do change things on them,” admits Michelle Chism, director of corporate communications. “We did a lot of work on social media in the weeks prior to the transition to the new character. We got to engage parents online and get their feedback on outfits, poses and music in a way that isn’t possible with television.”

26. Partner for content
There are a number of opportunities for brands to interact with Chuck E. Cheese customers during the in-store experience. Among those brands is Laffy Taffy, a Nestle product famous for its clean, if cheesy, jokes. The company partnered with CEC Entertainment and the “Joke of the Week” program was born. “We’ve found that moms want content they can share and post to their own pages,” says Scott McDaniel, chief marketing officer. “We talk with Nestle each week to select a joke that appears on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest accounts. It’s fun and interactive, and we get shares and likes that feed the pages.”

27. A website built for sharing
While Chuck E. Cheese still has a traditional guest services department, social media is increasingly becoming the primary form of communication between guests and the brand. “Parents favor brands they can have a conversation with. We do a lot of television advertising that we’re proud of, but it’s a one-way conversation. When we relaunched our website in November 2012, aside from being an entertainment hub, in talking to families and parents, we designed it to align with how they wanted to communicate with us,” says McDaniel. “Once they have their in-store experience, they want to be able to share it, so they want that portion of the website to also be a seamless connection to our social media outlets.”

28. Video, the ultimate transparency
How do you prove to parents that your gluten-free product is safe from cross-contamination? Make a video. “For families managing gluten allergies, advertising isn’t enough,” says Chism. “This is already a group that is much more active online than the usual parent.” The video shows how gluten-free cheese pizzas are meticulously prepared.

“We did a grassroots launch [of the gluten-free pizza] in our Minnesota stores to build the conversation before a wider launch,” explains Chism. “It gave more authenticity and peace of mind to the wider audience during the national launch because we had actual endorsements from those parents in Minnesota.”

29. Halloween all month
While parents may spend days on Halloween preparation, the children really only get to enjoy their costume for one day. In response, Chuck E. Cheese encouraged them to wear their costumes in-store all month. “Chucktober was a 100 percent social-media promoted event that was really successful for us,” says McDaniel. “We saw traffic increase, photos posted online and bloggers talking about it with their readers.”

30. The power of the mommy blogger
“We do a regular feature called ‘Momblog Monday’ on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest where we amplify [mom blogger] voices,” says Chism of Chuck E. Cheese. “We use it to share, in their own words, what they write about their in-store experiences and the lesser-known programs we don’t necessarily promote, like Kid Check and the Rewards Calendar.

“We interact with 637 different bloggers and their collective 74 million unique online visitors,” explains Chism. Utilizing the tracking system, the company frequently adjusts their blogger network based on each blogger’s reach.

31. A window on employees
Twin Peaks has discovered that Instagram provides a window into the lives of their employees. The marketing team is friends with many of the Twin Peaks girls on Instagram. “We can follow our employees and see what they’re into. We can see photos of them hanging out at work or if they’re bored at work,” says Meggie Miller, director of training for Front Burner Restaurants. “We can learn how to better motivate our employees and make work more fun.”

32. Turn “likes” into donations
Like Caribou Coffee, Romano’s Macaroni Grill’s found big success with a chartible campaign tied to social media. For every 10 shares or tags in September of 2012, Macaroni Grill donated $1 to No Kid Hungry, a nonprofit that provides meals to needy children. It tied in with a donation drive in the restaurants. “We ended up connecting kids with 3.2 million meals. That was a huge success. At the end of the day, making a difference was what I found was most impactful,” says chief marketing officer Brandon Coleman. While many of the Facebook photos for the campaign logged hundreds of shares, several topped the 1,000-shares mark.

33. Use pictures as branding 
Romano’s Macaroni Grill could post endless photos of storefronts and menu items on Pinterest, but the chain has decided to take a different approach. The company’s Pinterest page is full of evocative images of strings of light, fun wine labels and photos that feature the restaurant’s particular shade of yellow. “We have a lot of fun with it. We try to steer away from too much branding or marketing,” notes Coleman. This approach makes for an eye-catching set of Pinterest boards that shows the fun of dining at Macaroni Grill without any overt marketing that might turn off fans.

34. Keep it local 
Texas Roadhouse has over 300 locations, but every store has a local Facebook page. The company maintains a main page for the national chain, but the focus is always on the local experience. “Ninety-five percent of what we publish is local. When the information is local and specific to their home town, people really relate to that and connect to that,” says Dave Dodson, communications director for Texas Roadhouse. That means local pages feature fundraisers, community partnerships and food specials. This social media approach helps to elevate Texas Roadhouse from just another chain to a part of the fabric of the community.

Shake Shack

35. Photos can build excitement and your audience
“We evolved from copy-heavy posts in social media to strong visuals with short, clever copy,” says Edwin Bragg, director of marketing and communications for Shake Shack. Along those lines, they created Shack Fan Fridays. “Every Friday we highlight a guest’s photo from Instagram and share it on Facebook and Twitter, and give the guest credit. Their friends see it, and other guests will chime in and comment as well.”

36. New locations, new fans 
Creating a local community feel at every location is a hallmark of Shake Shack. When building buzz about a new location opening in Philadelphia, the company created a custom t-shirt with a design based on the iconic Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture and partnered with to give some away before the official opening. The catch? Fans had to leave a comment or send an email describing what lengths they would go to be first in line on opening day.

37. Don’t let the holidays pass you by
Before Christmas, the chain put together a Shake Shack Gift Pack, full of coupons and gifts. “All they had to do to enter [to win] was tell us what burger gift they’d most like for the holidays in the comments,” says Bragg. The company promoted the contest on Facebook and Twitter, gathering almost 400 comments.

38. Do more blogging
“Blogging gives us the opportunity to tell our stories in a longer format,” says Bragg. The blog title, “Stand for Something Good,” is also the company’s vision statement. The blog covers a variety of topics, from local partners to employee volunteering to green initiatives. “We’ll take more concise points and awesome images and promote them on Facebook or Pinterest and link back to our blog to share the whole story.”

39. Share your inspiration
Shake Shack launched its Pinterest account in late October 2012 and currently has more than 400 followers, with plans to gather more. “It has become a visual representation of everything that inspires us and our brand,” says Bragg. “Location, architecture and design are very important to us, so we use Pinterest to build on that visual interest.” Their page has a wide variety of categories with everything from clothing to inspirational words, books and music, parks and recreation and, yes, food.

40. Focus your social media resources
With so many social media options, it can be overwhelming to keep up with them all. First Watch has chosen Facebook and Twitter as its focus. “We stuck a stake in the ground and figured from a long-term perspective, Facebook is here to stay,” says Chris Tomasso, chief marketing officer of First Watch Restaurants. It was also a practical decision based on the staff available to update and monitor the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter pages. “That has worked out well for us. It’s difficult in today’s environment to dedicate too many resources to something you can’t really measure,” says Tomasso.

41. Remember the audience
When your brand’s hallmark images are attractive female cast members in minimalist uniforms serving food and drinks, you put a bit more consideration into what you post on Pinterest. “We’re just starting to delve into Pinterest,” says Torie Lynch, director of social media for Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery, a fast-growing “breastaurant” chain. “Knowing those users are primarily a female demographic, we focus on our food, drink, interior and exterior images, and of Tilted Kilt male and female cast members.” There are also photos of “Kilt gear”—shirts, hats and other promotional items for sale in-store.

42. Get visual 
Visual social media sites Pinterest and Instagram are full of buzz, but many restaurants have yet to explore their potential. Fuddruckers, however, has jumped right in with both services. “I always like to be an early adopter,” says social media manager Mesker-Garcia. “The Fuddruckers brand is very visual. Our fans love to post pictures of our burgers and themselves eating. I thought it would be a great way to engage with them.” Fudd-ruckers’ biggest Pinterest board is full of fan photos culled from pictures posted on Twitter and Instagram.
Mesker-Garcia is aiming to post more of Fuddruckers’ own photos to Pinterest. Her top tip is to make sure your restaurant’s photos have your logo or some other branding. That way, when photos are repinned around Pinterest, the origin is still obvious. Over on Instagram, Mesker-Garcia likes to bring a personal touch to the service. “I search for the Fuddruckers hashtag on Instagram and I ‘like’ their pictures and leave them a comment and engage them that way,” she says.

43. Resurrect a fan favorite
Red Robin’s latest social media initiative, Bring My Burger Back, featured 10 burgers that were formerly on the menu and fans were encouraged to vote on which one was allowed to rise from the recipe graveyard. “The program was solely promoted through social and digital efforts,” explains Marcie Everett, senior marketing manager of social media. “Our fans absolutely loved it. We had nearly 250,000 votes.”

44. Spotlight your culture
Unbridled Acts are random acts of kindness that Red Robin team members are encouraged to perform on a regular basis. “Unbridled Acts have always been a part of the Red Robin culture, and it’s impressive to see how our guests respond when we feature the stories socially,” says Everett. “The most popular post on our Facebook page is an UnBridled Act from West Hartford, Connecticut. This post and photo showcased a simple gesture that made this young guest, Reagan, feel on top of the world.”

45. How to use ads
Since January 2012, Tilted Kilt has grown by more than 100,000 fans on Facebook, a 150 percent growth rate over one year. “We feel strongly that organic growth is a key element,” says director of social media Lynch. “However, we also do some paid advertising through the Facebook Ads and promoting our wall posts.” Promoting a post costs a nominal fee per post, and pushes it out beyond your immediate audience and into the friends of your followers.

“We run ad campaigns on Facebook throughout the year focused on our national marketing campaigns and efforts. We also push ads to our local fan pages in addition to our national fan page,” explains Lynch. “Our local Pub Franchisees are happy with ads being pushed specifically in their direction, and we can target geographically to their potential Pub guests this way.” In addition to the 164,000 fans on their national page, Tilted Kilt has thousands more on each local Pub Franchisee page.

Taco Cabana

46. Keep your finger on the social pulse
In social media, topics and emotions can shift and flare faster than wildfire. “To really be successful online, you can’t operate on autopilot,” says Jennifer Lopez, marketing manager for Taco Cabana. “You have to live and breathe it in order to know what’s trending, be in the moment and ready to take advantage of it. We’ve actually deleted scheduled posts that were no longer appropriate to the moment.” On the flipside, when the lottery reached a high of $425 million in November, the day of the drawing it began trending heavily on Facebook. The company jumped in and asked their fans how many tacos they would buy if they won the lottery, and received 519 likes and 249 comments within 30 minutes.

47. Hiring events are news
If you aren’t announcing hiring events to your fan base, you’re missing out on a potential goldmine of talent that already has a relationship with your brand. “Our human resources department loves when we announce hiring events over social media,” says Taco Cabana’s Lopez. “It makes a noticeable difference in attendance, and a lot of interviewees report hearing about our job fair events through Twitter or Facebook.” For the most part, the company uses the geo-targeting feature of Facebook to push the message where it’s most appropriate.

48. A social spokesperson
In the first quarter of 2011, Taco Cabana hired a new advertising agency that brought the idea of “The TC Girl” to the table. “They went all out with their pitch, and had envisioned [actress] Anjelah Johnson in mind as our spokesperson from the beginning,” says Lopez. At the time, Johnson already had an online audience in the millions through her YouTube channels, as well as a blossoming comedy career. It was hoped that her fans would line up with Taco Cabana’s existing followers.

Almost two years later, Anjelah Johnson is still going strong as The TC Girl, appearing in commercials, doing in-store events and online promotions.

While they originally created a number of traditional long-format spots for use as commercials and YouTube videos, Johnson was also given shorter bits called “Small Bites” that were intended exclusively as social media fodder. The online shorts were so popular that Taco Cabana now uses the same “Small Bites” approach as their main ad buy.

49. Co-branding
Get more bang for your social-media buck by partnering with companies that can help offer incentives to boost participation. “Any time you can work in a co-brand opportunity that makes sense for both sides, do it,” says Simpson. “In this case, we were able to partner with the Hilton Waikoloa Resort on Hawaii, the Big Island, to offer the grand prize getaway. Co-brands help with any budget limitations, which we all have to work around.”

50. Make it personal
According to Simpson, contestants were very appreciative that founders Chris and Robin took the time to watch their videos. “It meant a lot to people, even if they didn’t win,” she says. “We were able to connect our customers to our brand in a human way.” The campaign was solely promoted online and through social media. Next time, though, it will have an offline component. “If we were to do something like this again, we’d expand to include inrestaurant elements as well.”

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