By this point, brands are used to the evolving landscape of social media; they know that a new platform could quickly overtake a more established one.

Nevertheless, few businesses—if any—foresaw the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. According to app consulting platform Sensor Tower, the augmented reality (AR) platform has become the fastest growing mobile game with some 10 million downloads worldwide only two weeks after its launch. Sensor Tower also found that users are spending more time on the Pokémon Go app than social media titans Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.

But what does this all mean for restaurants?

Potentially, a lot of business.

“As a marketer, it’s great, but how can I apply it, how can I do something with it?” says Adam Terranova, marketing manager of Philly Pretzel Factory. “As I explored the app, I was able to draw people into the stores.”

Philly Pretzel Factory has left it to the franchisees to decide if and how they will market Pokémon Go, but he notes that several promotions are in full swing. At some locations, customers who catch a creature in store and post a picture to the Philly Pretzel Factory Facebook page will receive a $10 gift card. In other stores, guests get a free pretzel just for showing a picture of the Pokémon they have snagged. And then in some cases, stores will pay the $1.50 per hour fee to operate under the “Lure Module”—a feature that businesses can use to draw Pokémon characters to their stores.

“I think it’s an invaluable piece of social media strategy,” Terranova says. “Usually social media is the interaction, how many [consumers] see it.”

These promotions only began last Monday (July 11), but Terranova believes the return on investment has already been worthwhile.

“I don’t think I ever imagined having a staff lineup where the topic of the day would be Pokémon.”

Purchasing Lures isn’t the only way restaurants can bring in players. Many businesses and public areas are PokéStops, where users can gather virtual items they might need. Other places are Pokémon Gyms in which gamers use their collected Pokémon to fight others.

Atlanta-based Farm Burger was fortunate to have two locations as PokéStops and two others as Pokémon Gyms.

“I don’t think I ever imagined having a staff lineup where the topic of the day would be Pokémon,” says cofounder George Frangos. “I don’t know whether it’s a fad or just the thing to do in the summer of 2016.”

Farm Burger is enhancing its Pokémon presence by using the hashtag #pokemongoFB on other social media platforms since users are likely to post pictures or updates on their gaming progress.

Frangos adds that Farm Burger and other businesses also benefit from an interactive map created by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which shows readers where to find creatures, collect supplies, and do battle.

Just as restaurants designated as Pokéstops or Gyms enjoy an organic boost in customer volumes, so too do concepts in areas with high foot traffic.

Fast casual–gourmet grocer Babo: A Market by Sava created a special hibiscus tea–lemonade, the Pokebrew, but has little need for Lures given its stores’ locations in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“We haven’t really had to purchase Lures because there has been so much foot traffic that users themselves are generating Lures all over town,” says Taylor Higgins, director of marketing for Savco Hospitality, which counts Babo as one of its concepts.

Limited-service concepts might also have an edge over their full-service competitors. Philly Pretzel’s Terranova says that because store capacity is not limited by seating, the restaurants can accommodate a greater volume of guests; the quick turnaround time helps, too.

Higgins also says that Babo may have an advantage with Pokémon Go over its sister concepts in Savco Hospitality.

“It’s more beneficial for this to be occurring in a fast-casual scenario. There is room to walk around; we encourage people to walk around and see our beautiful specialty products,” Higgins says, adding that at such movements would be disruptive in a full-service environment.

The Pokémon Go craze spread like an influenza, but the speed and scope of its growth now have marketing experts questioning how long it will last.

“My gut’s telling me this will be hot through the end of the summer and then after that, it will start to fade off. It won’t ever go away, but I think that the craze will start to wear off as people go back to school,” Terranova says.

As of July 19, Philly Pretzel had 1,107 shares on Facebook related to its Pokémon Go without using the Boost feature. And while Terranova does not expect that kind of momentum to continue forever, he does see the game evolving and has even read on blogs that new versions of the app will come out with more Pokémon critters—and more financial opportunities. For example, businesses that are not already PokéStops or Gyms should be able to pay to become one in the future.

“I can see it start to display ads, registration fees, guaranteed gyms or PokéStops, that kind of stuff coming Q4 this year,” Terranova says. “I think the initial buzz will wear off, and then I think they’re going to really try to monetize the app.”

Nicole Duncan is QSR’s associate editor. Contact her at
Beverage, Consumer Trends, Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Web Exclusives, Babo: A Market by Sava, Farm Burger, Philly Pretzel Factory