Since the days when fliers, posters, and billboards ruled the marketing world, brands have searched high and low for the newest, smartest, and easiest ways to connect consumers with their products. And for several years, sports marketing has provided quick-service concepts the ability to reach a widespread audience while investing in something consumers are passionate about.
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.
The last decade in quick service was a transformative one. Fast-casual restaurants moved from novel ideas in urban markets to competitive powerhouses with seemingly no ceiling. Health and nutrition became critical filters through which brands vetted their new menu items. And the Great Recession reset growth strategies, with limited-service players shifting their focus to more efficient, streamlined, and calculated expansion.
My year-end top brand stories recap was well received last year, and I decided to do it again. I’ll break from my usual Q&A format to recap this year’s most important brand developments in fast food.
The women of foodservice are a savvy, confident, and—perhaps most importantly—growing group. They’ve fought their way to the top, led entire brands at young ages, chaired restaurant associations and organizations, and in some cases been the first female executive at their organization.
Despite a year filled with turmoil in Washington, the limited-service restaurant industry showed moderate growth and promise in 2013, thanks in part to creative new ideas and products, plus another good gain from fast-casual units.
With issues such as sequestration, a payroll tax increase, the government shutdown, and the Affordable Care Act hanging over the industry, it’s perhaps not surprising that gains have only been nominal, despite employment increases and an improving economy.
Q: What are the best ways to promote a new menu item?
A: Product innovation is no longer simply a positioning strategy; it's become a necessity for all quick serves. So it's smart to look into introducing a new menu item.
Today’s restaurant consumers are increasingly tech savvy and interactive, and much of the quick-service industry has catered to their habits and preferences with the launch of online or mobile ordering tools.
Until recently, that did not include burger concepts, which have struggled to integrate online ordering into established cooking systems. Now, however, more burger joints are figuring out how to incorporate online ordering and are rolling out platforms to improve the overall customer experience.
With everything from marketing and branding to menu development and promotions capturing the attention of quick-service brands and operators, it often seems like packaging doesn’t get its due. But as consumers become more sophisticated and discerning about where they spend their time and money, brands are discovering that packaging has the potential to be the differentiator that captures share of stomach.
Creating a simple brand image can be quite complicated—but it may also pay off.