Staying connected during a time of disconnect is one of those COVID-19 enigmas restaurants can’t escape. If customers recognized a brand for one trait pre-virus, how can they reinforce the feeling from afar? For Zaxby’s franchisees Nick and Amy Navarro, and Amy’s brother, Josh Chapman, it was memories of family gatherings growing up in Georgia.

As “National Family Day,” approached, Zaxby’s brainstormed ways to foster the once dine-in heavy occasion amid COVID-19 conditions. And so, it spun the opportunity with an offbeat twist—take-home jigsaw puzzles at Kansas City, Missouri locations (owned by the trio) on September 26. The stores offered the puzzles with the purchase of Zax Family Packs from 4 to 8 p.m.


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They were also sent to “super users” of Zaxby’s app. When customers put the 100-piece puzzle together, it revealed a QR code that could be scanned to redeem a coupon for a free Zax Family Pack, which generally include a choice of 20 Chicken Fingerz or 30 boneless wings, plus crinkle fries, Texas toast, and dippling sauces, starting at $24.99.

Zaxby’s CMO Joel Bulger took some time to talk with QSR about the effort, and how the brand plans to remain engaged with its guests, no matter what pandemic curveball comes next.

Let’s start with the jigsaw puzzle idea. Where did this start, and what was the goal?

There’s been a lot of data coming out of the pandemic that people are turning to board games and jigsaw puzzles for entertainment. It’s almost a throwback to family game nights. There’s something sweet and nostalgic about gathering around a puzzle as a family. We figured if we could feed families with our Zax Family Pack, why not entertain them with a puzzle that leads to a coupon for a free Zax Family Pack. It’s the best of all possible outcomes, right? And it happened on National Family Day.

How did you enable it with tech, namely the QR code feature?

We worked with our app partner, LevelUp, to incorporate the scanning functionality and generate unique QR codes that could be scanned into the app. Really this promotion was more about using the functionality in a new and fun way to engage with our guests. We already had a view on app super users who love Zax Family Packs, so we rewarded them by sending puzzles out in the mail. That was in addition to the onsite activation at our Kansas City, Missouri locations.

Talk about the family occasion in general during the COVID-19 stretch. How has Zaxby’s managed to meet the demand while also evolving into a pandemic world?

The term “family” speaks to so many different levels for Zaxby’s. We’re family owned as a company and many of our licensees are multi-generational owner/operators. Our team members at each location are like families. We had to come together as one big Zaxby’s family to make it through these tough times. And then we’re looking at our customers, who were homebound, some facing job loss and financial uncertainty. We had to morph our business model almost overnight, leaning into drive-thru and creating bundled menu items. We also created an ambient sound playlist on SoundCloud for brand fans who were missing the dine-in experience.

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How have Family Packs been received? Do you see them remaining a key option for months to come? Post-pandemic even?

Zax Family Pack is solving a need for guests that we didn’t previously offer. The response has been tremendous, breaking all sales goals and exceeding expectations.

What role is value playing today in these bundle offers? How do you see value remaining a part of the conversation as we progress into the winter months and beyond, and how will Zaxby’s play a part?

Zaxby’s – National Family Day Puzzle from Silver Cuellar III on Vimeo.

Value is always important for Zaxby’s customers and will continue to be a factor as we see the financial implications of the pandemic playing out. In fact, our guest survey data shows that our value perception improved with the introduction and promotion of Zax Family Packs. We’re committed to providing value without compromising quality. That’s what our customers have come to expect of us.

What are some other ways the brand plans to encourage families to spend time together? What role can restaurants play in that?

Restaurants like Zaxby’s have become the great American gathering place, particularly for two-income working families. We’re welcoming and inclusive, accessible and authentic, serving up real food. Like home but without the hassle. Family time is priceless. Offering Zax Family Packs is one way we can help families gather together at home if they can’t eat out yet. We also created Zax Pack Menu Hacks to mash up leftover ingredients to create additional meals. Going forward, restaurants have a role to play by ensuring the safety and well-being of our customers by adhering to safety protocols as we continue to operate drive-thru, delivery and curbside pickup. Reopening dining rooms will look very different in the months ahead. We’re taking it slowly to make sure we get it right.

How has the brand’s personality stayed on course throughout these past few months? There have been a handful of quirky promotions that bring the restaurant into the home. How has Zaxby’s stayed connected during this time of disconnection?

Quirky is definitely in our DNA. We like to think of ourselves as a premium quick service offering chicken with personality. On National Relaxation Day we gave away relaxation packs with fried chicken and crinkle fries scented candles to help folks destress as part of our “Peace, Harmony, Chicken” campaign. It was a fun way to roll out Zensation Zalads and sandwiches. Look for more playful brand activations from us in the future, because life’s too short for dull chicken.

Fast Casual, Marketing & Promotions, Story, Zaxby's