PJ’s Coffee did this by releasing a Mardi Gras–themed hot cup to celebrate the popular Southern Louisiana holiday. “It’s special to New Orleans,” Nolte says. “We took a functional brand touchpoint and created an emotional connection, and we’ve had tremendous feedback.” The company also draws inspiration from a traditional Mardi Gras treat, the king cake, which consists of a ring of cinnamon-roll-type dough with green, yellow, and purple icing. During the Mardi Gras season, PJ’s Coffee offers a limited-time King Cake–flavored coffee, which is also available in K-cups, plus the king cake itself.
Food-related national holidays are another obvious candidate for restaurants’ marketing calendars. Bubbakoo’s Burritos always schedules a promotion for National Taco Day on October 4 and National Burrito Day on the first Thursday in April, for example. Church’s Chicken makes sure franchisees know that National Fried Chicken Day is July 6. Mrs. Fields offers free cookies on National Cookie Day, and Dunkin’ gives away doughnuts on National Doughnut Day.
And for those restaurants serving smoothies, subs, or chicken wings? There are national days for those, too. Luckily, there are holidays that will work as a springboard for promotions even for restaurants that specialize in more obscure foods—from National Whipped Cream Day to National Oyster Day. And if there are no relevant days for certain specialized menu items yet, starting one is fairly straightforward: Businesses just need to send an application to the National Day Calendar website.
3. Mix and mingle
While each customer is important, brands need a lot more than one person at a time to thrive. So why not move some of the marketing focus from individuals to groups? One marketing promotion can bring in a whole school, sports team, or business.
Local businesses are good places to reach many like-minded new customers at the same time. “We have seen a pretty nice ROI on direct-mail programs that are targeted toward businesses,” Nolte says. “What’s nice about it is that you can customize your coupons where one-third will target morning daypart traffic, one third can influence afternoon daypart consumption, and the final third can focus on office catering programs.”
Then there are universities, which are full of hungry students who enjoy a quick bite out. At Bubbakoo’s New Brunswick, New Jersey, location, about 75 percent of sales come from students at Rutgers University, and 60 percent of the sales at the company’s two West Long Branch, New Jersey, stores is from Monmouth University.
Bubbakoo’s Burritos spreads the word by delivering to the sports teams at those universities. It even brings food to the visiting teams. “Any university that we’re around, we’re involved with one way or the other,” Hart says. “Most of the time it’s food drops for the teams or even the teams that are coming into town, so we can make sure they know who we are when they go back to their towns.” The company simply reaches out to the athletic departments to talk about their upcoming events and how Bubbakoo’s Burritos can be of help.
SkinnyFATS also puts the spotlight on college students as a way to attract new visitors. “We’ve been working with Pocket Points for several years, which has a large college-student subscriber base,” Faith says. “Pocket Points rewards college students for staying focused in class. For every minute they stay off their phone, they earn points, and with enough points they can earn free stuff or discounts at SkinnyFATS.”
Bringing in new customers is all about knowing when to stick with the tried and true—like doing promotions for the big holidays and using traditional marketing channels—and when to experiment with new platforms and reach out to new demographics. And by testing new strategies, limited-service brands stand to discover more fruitful marketing tactics for the ever-evolving consumer base.