Christine Blank

Operators: Is Winter Over Yet?

Sales, traffic down in parts of country hardest hit by winter weather.

Quick service brands see slow sales growth from winter snow and ice storms.
Pancheros, which has 65 units and is based in the Midwest, has experienced slower sales growth due to winter storms.

As winter storms continue to wreak havoc in the Midwest, Northeast, and Southeast U.S., a bleak sales picture among limited-service restaurants is starting to emerge.

Foodservice sales in the regions most affected by snow and ice storms dropped between 7 and 8 percent in January and February, according to foodservice consulting firm Technomic. National foodservice sales declined between 3 and 4 percent overall as a result.

Are Bitcoins Legit?

Some operators accept digital currency, even as it stirs up controversy.

Quick service concepts like Rise in North Carolina are accepting bitcoin money.
Rise, a biscuit and doughnut shop in Durham, North Carolina, started accepting bitcoins last month.

Despite controversies surrounding the virtual currency bitcoin, a growing number of quick-serve restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, and bars are allowing their customers to pay for their food and beverages via the digital currency.

Bitcoins are a currency that is transferred directly between buyer and seller typically via digital wallets, eliminating the need for bank transaction fees. The currency’s value is based on an ever-changing algorithm.

Deep Dive

Quick-serve brands capitalize on seafood sales during Lent.

Quick serve Long John Silver's serves lobster bite option as special Lent offer.
Long John Silver's rolled out Norway Lobster Bites in time for the busy Lent season.

Recognizing the potential sales lift that seafood items produce during the Lenten season, many quick-serve chains are once again launching fish-based LTOs in preparation of Lent, which starts March 5. And with more pressure to stand out from an increasingly competitive field, many brands are enhancing their menu and marketing programs to get better exposure for their seafood LTOs.

This year’s more innovative seafood offerings include items like Mojo Fish Tacos from Tropical Smoothie Café and Norway Lobster Bites from Long John Silver’s.

Love is in the Air

Valentine’s Day promotions abound as operators take advantage of splurging consumers.

White Castle Valentine's Day promotion enhances quick service experience.
For 20 years, White Castle has offered a Valentine's Day promotion that turns the stores into white-tablecloth restaurants.

Quick-serve chains across the country are rolling out Valentine’s Day promotions to attract customers for the special day and, in some cases, the entire month of February.

C-Stores Eating Your Lunch

Improved foodservice offerings helping convenience stores steal business from quick service.

Convenience stores compete with quick service with fresh food menu items.
Nice N Easy, an 89-unit convenience store chain, offers high-quality foodservice offerings to compete with nearby restaurants.

Convenience stores have greatly improved their foodservice offerings in recent years, and a Technomic report released last month shows that those offerings may be stealing significant business from quick-serve restaurants.

Technomic’s “Consumer Brand Metrics (CBM): Convenience Store Shopper Insights Report” found that 26 percent of C-store customers would have purchased their meal or snack from fast-food restaurants if they had not bought them in convenience stores. Technomic surveyed more than 4,000 C-store shoppers in November and December.

Burgers By Design

McDonald’s, White Castle test ordering kiosks that allow for burger customization.

New touch screen ordering kiosks find home at fast food restaurants.
Last month, White Castle debuted a new touch-screen ordering system at a Columbus, Ohio, unit.

Recent technology enhancements by White Castle and McDonald’s show that even traditional quick-service burger chains are considering letting patrons customize their orders.

Last month, White Castle added two touch-screen ordering kiosks at a renovated restaurant in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio. It is the only restaurant in the family-owned, 406-unit chain to feature the kiosks, which are part of a pilot project. The large screens allow customers to order their burgers exactly as they like them in the privacy of the kiosk area, says White Castle vice president Jamie Richardson.

Game Time

Brands’ mobile games build customer sales, loyalty.

Mobile games like Chipotle's Scarecrow app give fast food restaurants promo tool
Chipotle's "The Scarecrow" game was downloaded more than 530,000 times. Chipotle

A handful of quick-service brands released games for mobile platforms in 2013, and the apps proved to be more than just for fun. In fact, some brands are reporting increased sales and customer loyalty by integrating games within their apps.

Among the restaurant companies that found success this year with app games were Blimpie, McDonald’s, and Chipotle.

High Prices? No Problem

Fast casuals thrive despite higher check averages.

Zaxby's new Cobb Zalad offers premium fast casual menu item for a higher cost.
Zaxby's has found success with its new Cobb Zalad, despite its higher price point.

The fast-casual category has been the fastest-growing restaurant segment over the past two years, according to market research firm Technomic, as operators in the category continue to effectively balance higher-quality, convenient foods with a more upscale environment.

This success has come even as fast casuals offer higher price points than traditional quick serves. A recent Technomic report found that consumers are happily paying more at fast casuals in both the lunch and dinner dayparts.

Fall Flavors Show Up Early

Pumpkin reigns as operators rush to capitalize on popular seasonal trends.

Krispy Kreme released its pumpkin-themed fall lineup a month early this year.
Krispy Kreme released its pumpkin-themed fall lineup a month early this year. Krispy Kreme

Quick-service operators are launching seasonal menu items earlier this fall in an effort to beat their competition to the punch. From pumpkin doughnuts to caramel apple frozen yogurt, fall-flavored menu items are popping up across the industry even before the season has officially begun.

“We usually launch [fall products] in October. But this year, for the first time, we are bringing them out in September,” says Lafeea Watson, spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme. “That’s what the industry seems to be doing.”

Daily Deals Evolve

Operators still look to daily-deal services to drive business.

NYC Bagel Deli sold more than 10,500 Groupon deals for the brand last May.
Corey Kaplan, owner of NYC Bagel Deli, says customers bought more than 10,500 Groupon deals for the brand last May.

Two years ago, daily-deal sites such as Groupon, LivingSocial, and a host of other regional and national players boomed as customers clamored for discounted products and services. Many of the sites eventually closed up shop as the trend faded and the space became too saturated.

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