For restaurants, value messaging is more important than ever

Marketing Bites: It’s been a rough start to the year for many chains. Plus: Restaurants celebrate moms, nurses and more in May.
Chili's promo
Chili's is looking to compete head-to-head with fast-food chains on value and quality. | Photo: Chili's, via X.
Marketing Bites

Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.

Most everybody of a certain age can sing that McDonald’s jingle in their sleep.

But Chili’s Grill & Bar this week said it’s looking to go head-to-head with the iconic Big Mac, rolling out a nearly identical sandwich called the Big Smasher, as my colleague Joe Guszkowski reported. The casual-dining chain’s version has nearly twice the beef as the one from McDonald’s and it sells for $10.99 as a combo meal with bottomless chips and salsa, and a bottomless non-alcoholic drink.

The Big Smasher is just the latest salvo from Chili’s in its ongoing marketing efforts to persuade consumers that it’s a better value than its quick-service peers.

Chili’s recent posts on X (formerly Twitter) hammer home its desire to position itself as a better and more affordable meal option than fast food.

On Wednesday, the chain asked followers on the platform to share why Chili’s is better than fast food, for a chance to win a free meal.

Last week, Chili’s posted: “Them: I wanna get overpriced fast food / Us: Look between t and u on your keyboard.”

It’s that kind of marketing message that will be key to enticing inflation-pressed consumers in the quarters ahead.

Chili’s clearly understood the assignment and is engaging in the “street fighting” tactics that McDonald’s CFO Ian Borden said this week would be necessary to compete in this difficult environment.

All of this is potentially good news for deal-hunting diners. But it’s going to be a challenge for restaurant marketers to communicate value, value, value. They just may want to take a page out of Chili’s playbook.

Much to celebrate in May

So many pitches are rolling in as chains look to mark the varied May occasions of Cinco de Mayo, Teacher Appreciation Day, National Nurses Week and Mother’s Day.

A few that caught my eye:

Chipotle Mexican Grill is observing Cinco de Mayo with free delivery until May 5. The fast-casual, known for its frequent collaborations with influencers, is also promoting a TikTok-famous Grilled Cheese Burrito hack that has racked up 50 million views. The chain says diners can order a burrito with the free delivery offer and pan fry it at home with their favorite cheese to recreate the viral dish.

For Teacher Appreciation Day on Tuesday, TGI Fridays will give all teachers a free meal from a choice of several entrees, including Cheeseburger with Fries, Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken, Half Rack of Ribs with choice of side and more.

P.F. Chang’s is getting creative for Mother’s Day, offering up its first Fortune Cookie Flower Bouquet. The bouquet includes 12 cookies, all with humorous notes inside, such as “Don’t tell Dad, but you’re my favorite.” From May 10th to May 12th, all moms dining at P.F. Chang’s will also receive a card for a free buy one-get one entrée on their next visit, with a purchase of $50 or more.

A Leap Day promo that truly leaped

Firehouse Subs on February 29 offered an LTO for customers whose names started with L, E, A or P. The promotion coincided with the chain’s single busiest Thursday between March 2023 and March of this year, with visits up 21.5% compared to an average Thursday, according to Placer.ai data.

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