Tech Platforms Want to Offer Diners a Unified Brand Experience
Full-service restaurants have had their fair share of loyalty companies, mobile customer management firms, and other technical partners to choose from in recent years, given the crop of tech companies that have popped into the space. What is starting to emerge more recently, though, are brands that give restaurants the ability to offer a unified experience, rather than a single, point solution.
One company offering a unified solution is HelloWorld, which has been in the digital space for 15 years and works with full-service brands including Olive Garden, Mellow Mushroom, and Bagger Dave's. "Most of the players would say, we can create the promotion experience, but you've got to talk to someone else to do mobile CRM, someone else to do your couponing—we can do all that on one platform, which we call a rich engagement platform," CEO Matt Wise explains.
Wise says it's a riveting time to be in the full-service segment of the industry, as the historic downtime waiting for the meal transitions into a 10- to 15-minute time the brand can utilize. "You're now coming into a generation where those full-service restaurants, as part of the consumer experience, are going to be filling that wait time," he says.
"It'll make a better user experience, because it's not dead time but entertained time, and that entertained time becomes an opportunity for the brand to enrich the consumer experience, to enroll the consumer in online and ongoing conversations, and bring them back into the restaurant by learning more about them."
Two examples Wise spoke to FSR about were Mellow Mushroom, which ran a promotional campaign with Coca-Cola using HelloWorld last summer, and Bagger Dave's, which uses HelloWorld for its brand-wide loyalty program.
"Mellow Mushroom and Bagger Dave's are two interesting ones, because they are not the biggest chains in the world; however, they are doing some really cutting-edge stuff," Wise says. "In my opinion, they are at the forefront of players who are using mobile to engage consumers."
The Atlanta-based pizza chain did a program called "Share Happiness" in conjunction with Coca-Cola throughout its 150-plus units. There was signage in stores for guests to participate in the program, which included a downloadable app and a Spin the Coke Bottle game on mobile devices; a table topper that advertised Coca-Cola and had a QR code that led to conversation starters and trivia questions for guests to ask amongst themselves while they waited for food; and an SMS sweepstakes offered to guests who purchased a Coca-Cola product.
Mellow Mushroom knew that 50 percent of its web traffic came from mobile devices, and as guests received SMS codes on their receipts after purchasing Coca-Cola products, 70 percent of the codes were entered on mobile devices, again. "We think it's going to be the same for most of the restaurants, as the participation and the drivers (to engage with the brand online) come more as guests are in the restaurant," Wise says.
An unintentional, but profitable, side effect of the campaign was it encouraged servers to double-check that they charged guests for Coca-Cola products, so guests could get their receive the SMS codes on their receipts.
"Having servers explain to consumers the No. 1 way to participate in the program can also have a positive effect on the servers themselves, and make them feel like they are on-message with what the brand is promoting at that time, whether it be Coca-Cola or another product," Wise says.
For 17-unit Bagger Dave's, HelloWorld implemented a solution that rewards consumers for joining the brand's loyalty program. The system enticed diners to join the program and then introduced opportunities for them to gain more points as they interacted with it more, sharing it with friends, for example, or buying products. It also involved a scratch-and-win program and an SMS component to bring people into the program.
"As you are a larger business, it's hard to be more nimble, it's hard to try new things out as fast as smaller players can," Wise says, explaining how using a rich engagement platform has given Bagger Dave's an edge. "Bagger Dave's is constantly thinking, how do we get an edge on bigger chains, how do we implement differently, how do we make the consumer experience feel different?"
The team at Bagger Dave's follows a learn-as-they-go approach, rolling out the loyalty installation in the fall and using trail-and-error in cloud-based solutions to learn what works for the brand and its positioning.
"With 17 locations, if they want to roll something out, in a couple months it can be out the door, and if they want to change their mind six months after that, they can make a pivot," Wise says. "Whereas some restaurant that has 700 locations or 1,500 locations, they have to put more thought into rolling something out—they have to think, how am I gonna motivate all of my stores to participate? And that slows them down."
Wise says the Bagger Dave's of the world that are embracing technology are setting an example for how the bigger brands can get into the space, and ultimately improve the customer experience for the entire full-service industry.
"So, it's easier for Bagger Dave's, but it also allows them to have the advantage," he explains. "With the bigger brands, we expect as 2014 progresses and into 2015, will also make a pivot into this arena. They will get to adopt what Bagger Dave's has already done and plow their way on."
By Sonya Chudgar