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In today's business climate, mobile should not be an afterthought for restaurants.

How Mobile-First Marketing Can Change Casual Dining

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Capitalize on mobile opportunities to reach diners and drive sales
By Ben Nemo August 2017 Vendor Bylines

Recent headlines have painted an uphill battle for the casual-dining industry. From the threat of fast-casual chains to the evolving priorities of target diners, there are many challenges that the industry must now face. Yet these challenges do not have to be a hindrance—in fact, they present key opportunities for marketers to help their brand stand out from the crowd. So where to begin?

To stay on top of the competition, casual dining marketers must be nimble and better communicate with customers. By diving head-first into a mobile-first marketing strategy, marketers can meet the right diners with the right message at the right time.

And the timing couldn't be better: according to eMarketer, the average US consumer spends 3.25 hours a day within mobile apps, and an additional 51 minutes a day on the mobile web. Perhaps these numbers aren't too surprising when coupled with the fact people check their smartphones an average of 150 times a day.

To best reach diners and maximize a mobile-first strategy, casual dining marketers should consider these three things:

1. Foster Loyalty with a Highly Relevant, Personal Approach

For today's customers, quality service and food is not enough to keep them coming back. Brands must over-deliver on customer relationships to create loyalty. One way to do so is with personalized service through 1:1 communication. For example, companies are increasingly using Facebook Messenger bots to communicate with customers. Instead of relying on snail mail or a phone help system, companies can create a meaningful, memorable and noteworthy experience with instantaneous, personalized support that further cements a customer's relationship with the brand.

Casual dining can take a page from QSR, considering new ways to deliver on personalized and efficient experiences in their restaurant. For example, Subway recently introduced an order ahead Messenger Bot, allowing diners at its 26,500 locations to place an order in advance with ease. 

Reaching people through mobile platforms like Facebook and Instagram is also an effective way to build brand and foster loyalty. Why? Because customers loyal to these platforms are also likely to be repeat purchasers. People who use Facebook more than five times a day are 1.25x more likely to be brand loyalists than people who use Facebook at least once a month. And the same holds true for Instagram: those who use Instagram more than five times a day are 1.26x more likely to be brand loyalists than those who use Instagram at least once a month. 

2. Outshine the Competition by Creating Crave

With fierce competition from fast-casual chains, other casual dining restaurants, and the amplified customer desire for takeout, marketers must outshine the competition with snackable content delivered to customers before they decide where to eat.

Instagram is a key decision driver: 60 percent of people trying to decide where to eat use only their mobile device to help with their choice, and 75 percent of those people haven't decided where to dine when they start their search. Ruby Tuesday ran a series of made-for-Instagram video ads, enticing users to stop in for a juicy burger and fries. With its campaign, the restaurant chain saw a 22-point lift in ad recall, outperforming similar campaigns by 96 percent. It also drove a 10-point lift in purchase intent among 45-54 year olds, which outperformed nearly 75 percent of similar campaigns for the same demographic.

This examples highlights the need for casual dining - and the restaurant industry overall - to think about the approach taken on mobile. To be most effective and efficient, brands must think 'mobile-first', tailoring creative for the way consumers behave on the small screen. People scroll through mobile News Feed 41percent faster than desktop News Feed. And when videos start to autoplay on Facebook, people watch them for 16.7 seconds on average. That's why on Facebook, we see that certain creative considerations in the mobile feed, like putting the brand up front and designing for sound off, offer 'thumb-stopping' experiences that best position a brand, like in the case of Ruby Tuesday, to drive recall, resonance, and ultimately sales. 

3. To Combat a Shifting Retail Market, Think Local

Instead of relying on nearby stores to drive restaurant visits, marketers must reach diners locally by providing the right messages to the right people at the right time. For example, Panera Bread wanted to bolster awareness of its Rapid Pick-Up program, which allows people to order and pay for a meal online and find it ready and waiting on a designated shelf inside the store. The brand used video ads on Facebook and Instagram to introduce the program, directing ads ad people who had liked the company’s Facebook Page, as well as health and fitness advocates, parents and people interested in competitor brands. The result was a 12-point lift in awareness of the program and a 6-point lift in consideration intent, reaching 10 million people on both Facebook and Instagram.

Additionally, mobile ordering is becoming a critical part of restaurants' strategy to reach local diners. At Brinker's restaurants, a company which operates Chili's Grill & Bar and Maggiano's Little Italy concepts, to-go orders make up 10.5 percent of all sales, representing the fastest-growing portion of the business. Facebook recently added an “Order Food” option to its mobile app, allowing people to order food directly from the app. Papa John’s recently tapped into this featuring, becoming the first national pizza brand to offer ordering through this new experience.

We know that casual dining restaurants face challenges from all sides, but a shift to mobile does not mean that common marketing truths are out the window. Marketers can use mobile as a tool to foster brand loyalty, differentiate from the competition, and target customers locally and on-the-go. In doing so, marketers can turn these common challenges into great results and sales-driving opportunities. 

Ben Nemo, Industry Manager, Restaurants, Facebook

Ben has led partnerships with major restaurant brands to drive their objectives on mobile since joining Facebook in 2012. Prior to joining Facebook he was Senior Director, Product Marketing at Burger King, Vice President Brand Management at Marriott International, and the lead consultant on the brand turnaround for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. He received his MBA from Stanford Business School and his BA from Duke University. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Tatiana and daughter Andrea.