Within 30 minutes, all of the franchisees responded. Some before Natalie Anderson-Liu could even hit refresh on her inbox. “It was all, ‘I’m in. Sounds great. Sign me up. Let me know when,’” Liu says. “They couldn’t wait to get started.”
In early May, fast casual Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes announced it was being acquired by an affiliate of Balmoral Funds LLC and Gala Capital Partners, LLC. In other terms, the 94-unit chain, which was founded in Plano, Texas, in 2007, took a serious step toward national recognition and saturation.
While the company didn’t commit to a target unit count, there’s no denying growth won the day. And all of those new units, if everything goes according to plan, will reflect the tests Anderson-Liu, the company's vice president of marketing, and Mooyah are currently conducting.
Anderson-Liu asked those aforementioned franchisees if they wanted to incorporate Google 360 Tours into the restaurant’s marketing plan. These will become standard and part of the digital experience for all new restaurants, she says, and then the chain will “probably commit to a timeline of executing it retroactively to be able to have it for all of our locations.”
If you’re like most people, you probably had to Google Google 360 Tours. The premise is simple: when a diner searches their local Mooyah, not only will the typical information and details come back, but the user will also be able to virtually explore the location before stepping foot inside, similar to Google Street View.
Anderson-Liu wasn’t surprised by her franchisee’s enthusiastic response. When you dive into the technology, it makes ample sense, she says. It’s another way to separate from the gathering fast casual crowd, which is starting to feel more cramped than a party bus in Times Square.
“The industry is down right now,” Anderson-Liu says. “We jumped on this test because we need to find more creative ways to be attractive to consumers when they’re actively looking for a place to eat.”
According to an Ipsos study cited by Google, consumers use mapping products 44 percent of the time they search for businesses. Listings with photos and a virtual tour are twice as likely to generate interest, a 2015 quantitative market study showed.
There is really no reason to believe those numbers have declined. Diners continue to rely on technology, especially in mobile form, to decide where to eat, and, in succession, to actually find the place they landed on.
Ara Avagyan, a Mooyah franchisee who owns locations in Glendora and Monrovia, with a third Burbank store on the way, was one of those eager first responders.
He added the technology to his two units in June. A Google-trusted photographer came in and snapped pictures of all the dining areas. Other than removing some promotional posters outside so a customer could look through the windows, Avagyan just stepped back and let the professionals capture his restaurant’s ambiance in digital form.
“It’s an additional tool that can attract customers to us,” he says. “Because once you see the inside and you see the ambiance, you can tell right away that it’s very clean and colorful. … This is a tool that can help a guest figure out if they like the inside, which is always one of the initial impressions a customer has.”
Avagyan was also working with Yelp to integrate the virtual tour into his restaurant’s page.
“When people see star ratings and the previous reviews people left, and they see the link and the ability to potentially see the inside of the store that can be very, very useful,” Avagyan says.
For starters, transparency is currency in this business. Avagyan says he stresses cleanliness right alongside customer service and food quality. And here is an open window directly into those efforts. There’s nothing to hide and everything to brag on, he explains.
This sentiment is echoed by Anderson-Liu, who refers to Mooyah’s décor and presentation as one of its strengths. But, without Google 360, it’s a fact that could go unnoticed.
“I think the experience the guest gets and the look of the restaurant, both exterior and interior, is a big part of how they place the value equation on the restaurant,” she says. “Not just was the food good and was it hot, but how did they feel? It contributes to the overall assessment of the experience and whether they’ll return or not.”
In addition to being bright and hip, Mooyah has a “Moodle Doodle” chalkboard that kids congregate to and draw on. Parents searching the restaurant on Google 360 will see this and recognize the family-friendly nature of the restaurant, Anderson-Liu says.
“We want them to see that when they bring their kids in there’s this engaging aspect to it, there’s something they can have the kids do that entertains them while they take a moment to enjoy their meal,” she says. “That’s one of the bigger things we hope comes across in these videos.”
Another is Mooyah’s open kitchens. “We’ve always said our brand is we prove real,” she adds. “The guests can see all of the ingredients. They can see all the freshness. The fresh beef. They can see us prepping veggies. Dropping in those hand-cut fries. We’ve always been proud of that and always wanted to share that from the very first day of the brand.”
In addition to the California locations, Mooyah is testing two in the Northeast and one in Texas.
“We’re really excited and hopeful that the restaurants that we’ve chosen for this there will be an uptick in visits, and we’re really going to be watching the views very closely of course and all the metrics and hopefully it will deliver for us like it promises to,” she says. “We can’t wait to see what happens.”