The back-to-school season signals a return to more regular meal routines for families, and quick-service and fast-casual restaurants are working hard to be a part of those routines. Many limited-service brands are entrenching themselves in and around elementary schools, high schools, and the lucrative university market as students across the U.S. head back to school.
“The fall and the fourth quarter are huge for us,” says Tiffany Kahill, senior field marketing manager for Which Wich. “We see a significant rise in sales when our franchisees see the importance of engaging in their communities.”
To create that engagement, some Which Wich franchisees provide teacher appreciation certificates, along with coupons redeemable at Which Wich, at their local schools. They also sponsor teacher meetings and back-to-school parent meetings with lunch or dinner. Some franchisees even work with a third-party vendor to supply certificates and coupons to students for perfect attendance and other distinctions.
On college campuses, Which Wich partners with the schools to sponsor freshman orientation, providing large yellow cups that are good for a free refill at Which Wich restaurants. “For college students, a free cup is indispensable,” Kahill says.
Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes also recognizes the importance of reaching students and families, and it launched a “Mix & Moo for Two” promotion in early August. The promotion allows customers to pick any two burgers—including turkey and veggie burgers—two fries, and two small drinks for $16.
“Summer is a time when families’ schedules are crazy and there is no consistency from week to week,” says Natalie Anderson, senior brand manager for Mooyah. “We want to bring families back to the restaurant and remind them of who we are. We want to get back on their radars when they are forming routines.”
The bundled back-to-school offer is resonating with Mooyah customers. The average number of redemptions per day per restaurant has increased by 10 every week since the promotion began. “This is a great time to get them back in, when we are launching a loaded house salad and a side salad. We are making sure they see what we have,” Anderson says.
Mooyah is also trying to snare more college customers via its partnership with foodservice provider Aramark. Traditionally located in shopping centers, Mooyah now has units on three college campuses and has around five restaurants in the pipeline. Anderson says college students like the concept’s customizable burger selections and, because they are more health-conscious, appreciate the wide selection of vegetables available as toppings.
Wing Zone executives also want a piece of the valuable college market and opened the chain’s first campus location at Georgia Tech this month. The store is set up to do big delivery business and is open from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m.
“A lot of time brands don’t know about delivery and are scared of it,” says Matt Friedman, cofounder and CEO of Wing Zone. He expects more than 60 percent of the restaurant’s orders to be delivery.
As a way to stand out from the crowded college foodservice market, Wing Zone will make deliveries via electric, street-legal golf carts. “It sets us apart from Papa John’s and other brands that deliver on campus. Also, we are able to hire students who don’t have cars, as long as they have licenses,” Friedman says.
In 2015, Wing Zone plans to add 12 locations on college campuses.
Which Wich is also expanding in the college market. While it has eight campus locations open, it is in the process of building 10 units at universities across the U.S. “Those [college units] tend to be our highest-volume stores,” says Jeff Vickers, senior director of development for Which Wich. “Our brand tends to be younger and more educated, and we are an edgy brand, so that fits the college student.”
Because the college market is a different beast than traditional operations, Which Wich is allowing for some real estate flexibility. While its typical footprint is 1,600 square feet, it just opened a location at Texas Women’s University that is 300 square feet. And, since the unit is in a classroom building, the university requested that Which Wich open at 7 a.m. As a result, Which Wich added coffee options—something it at just one other restaurant.