Web Exclusive | September 2010 | By Robin Van Tan

Grab Lunch, Love at Just Salad

Customers were finding dates so often at the brand’s New York City stores, the company launched its own dating website.

“A salad bar on the corner of Park Avenue and 51st Street doesn’t seem like the most obvious place for youthful romance, but on a sunny day, there’s a mob of post-collegiate suits lining up at Just Salad for takeout of leafy green veggies—and each other.”

New York Magazine printed the line in 2006, when Just Salad was only a one-year-old concept.

Ever since then, the brand’s reputation as a midday meet market has been a point of pride for the Just Salad team—so they decided to create a free online dating site for customers. And SaladMatch.com was born.

“We wanted to capitalize on that mood we’d created, even though it was for reasons unknown to ourselves,” says Nick Kenner, the concept’s managing partner. “So much of our brand is just about having fun, and this is just kind of another way for our customers to have fun when they’re not actually in our store.”

The site asks users several questions about things like their go-to Just Salad location, their favorite toppings, and whether they usually visit the store or order delivery. Then, based on the answers, it gives them their top five matches, or “salad soul mates.” Since SaladMatch.com launched July 14, more than 1,000 people have created profiles on the site. In addition, users have sent more than 200 meeting requests and messages.

“I’d describe it as ground-breaking,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic. “It’s sort of like ballparks that allow people to get married in them: It won’t necessarily translate to a huge increase in ticket sales, but it creates a slightly different image for the venue. And by launching such a cutting-edge site, Just Salad is really going to create buzz.”

Salad Match has been covered in media outlets ranging from NBC to a North Dakota radio station. Many of the sources have never covered the brand before, particularly since the chain is made up of only five New York City locations and two Hong Kong stores (that market has a separate Salad Match site that’s getting its own attention).

“Some people are saying, ‘What are these crazy guys doing?’ …  And a lot of other people are saying, ‘This is a great idea,’” Kenner says. “It’s hard to quantify what it all means, other than we like what Salad Match represents, and we like that it’s attached with our brand.”

Marcia Yudkin, creative marketing expert and author of Persuading People to Buy, says Just Salad was smart to capitalize on the reputation it had unintentionally earned in the New York dating scene.

“The lesson that some quick serves would draw from this would be, ‘We’d better do our own online dating site for our chain,’” she says. “That’s not the lesson. What always happens is the first company to implement a new idea in its category gets the lion’s share of the publicity, and the copiers don’t get the same benefit.”

But that doesn’t mean that other quick serves can’t pick up valuable pointers from the strategy behind Just Salad’s development of SaladMatch.com.

“The lesson is really to come up with an idea that is working somewhere else in our society and apply it to your restaurant in a way that makes sense.”

“The lesson is really to come up with an idea that is working somewhere else in our society and apply it to your restaurant in a way that makes sense,” Yudkin says. “Be alert, notice what’s already happening with your brand and with your customers, and then think of a marketing strategy that moves things more in that direction.”

Despite the fact that Salad Match resulted in several media mentions for Just Salad—and that the concept expects the site to more than pay for itself in new customers and increased visits from existing ones—Kenner insists that Salad Match wasn’t originally developed as a marketing strategy.

“First and foremost, we set out to create a product that would involve and engage our customers and grow the brand at the same time,” he says. “But once the idea became more developed, we realized that this was going to be something that would be fun to talk about and write about. So we had an idea that this could also lead to some exposure for us.”

Kenner says Just Salad customers who learn about Salad Match through in-store signage or the concept’s newsletter have already started to vocalize how much they appreciate it.

“Our cashiers have told us how customers will come up to them and talk about how they think Salad Match is a great idea,” Kenner says. “Then in the end they’ll say something like, ‘I’m going to join, but don’t tell my husband—he comes to this store, too.’”