Industry News | September 4, 2013

Boston Salad Concept Gets Personal With Branded App

Technology may be made for the masses, but that doesn’t mean a small restaurant chain can’t tap into its power.

Sebastian’s Café, a five-unit, Boston-based salad and sandwich chain, was recently in search of a loyalty program to reach out to tech-savvy guests, and looked to its mobile payment provider, LevelUp, to give the brand a solution that went beyond the typical key fob or loyalty card.

“We didn’t like the idea of adding to people’s wallets,” says owner Mike Conley. “We wanted something that didn’t have any weight attached to it, that just didn’t get mixed in with the rest. We wanted something to set us [apart] from everybody.”

The loyalty program gave Sebastian’s the ability to create its own customized and branded app. “We just saw a huge opportunity to dive completely into the mobile world—not just for payments, but also to have our own app, to push information, our menu, all sorts of things through the app,” Conley says.

The customized app also gives Sebastian’s a new way to gather data on its customers, he says, which allows the concept to tailor marketing campaigns to each guest’s preferences and purchasing habits.

The loyalty program gives guests the chance to earn one of three “statuses”: Fresh, Fresher, and Fresh-a-licious.

“Each [status] represents a dollar amount that a customer has reached,” Conley says. For example, after spending $100, a guest will have “Fresh” status, entering him or her into the Birthday Club and providing e-mail deals and updates.

At $750, more deals and a free lunch are available, and the top level—$1,500—gives guests access to a complimentary lunch for two, among other perks.

“Before we even launched the app, we had somewhere around 30-plus people that actually had already reached that without having the Sebastian’s app,” Conley says of the top-tier Fresh-a-licious status. “So when we transferred everybody over, it was kind of cool to see that we already had this following of people that could reach this status.”

Guests can track how much they’ve spent through the app by progressively filling up a digital salad bowl. Each time a guest builds an entire digital salad—or, in other words, spends $100—he or she gets $10 in store credit.

“It’s almost like a game,” Conley says.

Aside from the data-collection and entertainment components, Conley says Sebastian’s looked to the loyalty app to help create a new e-mail marketing program. He says the statistics the brand has gathered since turning to the app “have been very beneficial to us.”

“I can tell you almost down to the time and dollar amount that people have spent,” he says. “So say John Doe comes in at lunch three times a week. … How can I get him to come in for breakfast? Can I send him $2 his way and say, ‘Hey, try us out for breakfast.’ Can I get him to come in with that $2? If he does, that’s a win for us.”

Since launching the branded app, Sebastian’s has seen a 30 percent increase in guest visit frequency, as well as a 7 percent increase in average sales and a 17 percent increase in total revenue.

But despite the positive results, there have been a few hurdles, Conley says.

“Being in Boston, you have a very unique crowd of people,” he says. “Teaching the customers how to [use the app] at first was a little bit of a challenge for us.”

In addition, the abundance of data coming in from the app was initially overwhelming for the Sebastian’s Café team, Conley says. “This is amazing data, but what do we do with it?” he says. “It took a little brainstorming to figure out how we should go forward with it.”

By Mary Avant 

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by QSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.