Industry News | October 20, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

The Most Digital Savvy Restaurants in America, Ranked

Starbucks' digital prowess has been well documented. Starbucks
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The notion that technology and, specifically, mobile tools can remedy some of the restaurant industry’s traffic concerns isn’t a new one. Pretty much every major brand is either embracing the movement wholeheartedly or having boardroom discussions on how best to start. The question L2, a leading research firm that benchmarks the digital performance of brands, wanted to ask was: Which restaurants are taking advantage of every opportunity, and which have significant room to grow?

Given the lagging traffic numbers—4.1 percent decline in the third quarter—digital is an arena worth investing in. “As customers continue to shift to mobile, these innovations will become baseline expectations for restaurant brands. Brands need to invest now to stay relevant,” Bill Duffy, the associate director at L2, says in an email.

L2 released its inaugural L2 Digital IQ Index: Restaurants US 2017 report, which benchmarks the digital performance of 126 restaurants brands operating in the U.S. It was broken down like this: Site & Courier Services (25 percent); Digital Marketing (35 percent); Social Media (10 percent); and Mobile (30 percent).

Site & Courier Services included: Technology, search and navigation, customer service and restaurant locator, menu pages, order for pickup and delivery, account and loyalty, and courier services like Grubhub, Amazon Restaurants, UberEats, etc.

Digital Marketing broke down by search (SEO, web authority), display advertising, discovering platforms (Google Maps, Yelp, and so on), and email marketing.

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat.

Mobile: Mobile site, mobile search, display adversity, mobile apps (if applicable).

Any brand that scored over 140 earned genius distinction. Between 110–139 was gifted; 90–109 average; 70-89 challenged; and below 70 feeble.

Here are the complete rankings:

GENIUS

  • Starbucks (149)
  • Pizza Hut (143)
  • Panera Bread (142)
  • Domino’s (141)

GIFTED

  • Chili’s (137)
  • Olive Garden
  • Papa John’s (136)
  • Denny’s (131)
  • Chick-fil-A (130)
  • Dunkin’ Donuts (129)
  • McDonald’s (127)
  • Chipotle (125)
  • Buffalo Wild Wings (124)
  • Subway (123)
  • Wendy’s (123)
  • Applebee’s (121)
  • P.F. Chang’s (121)
  • Red Robin (121)
  • Outback (120)
  • IHOP (119)
  • Jimmy John’s (119)
  • LongHorn Steakhouse (119)
  • Hooters (118)
  • Jamba Juice (118)
  • Jersey Mike’s (117)
  • Cracker Barrel (116)
  • Wingstop (116)
  • Taco Bell (115)
  • Sonic (114)
  • Baskin-Robbins (112)
  • Moe’s Southwest Grill (111)

AVERAGE

  • Krispy Kreme (109)
  • Quizno’s (107)
  • Red Lobster (107)
  • Arby’s (106)
  • Burger King (106)
  • Qdoba (106)
  • BJ’s Restaurants (105)
  • Dairy Queen (105)
  • Ben & Jerry’s (103)
  • Firehouse Subs (103)
  • Teavana (103)
  • White Castle (103)
  • Zaxby’s (102)
  • Cold Stone (99)
  • Bonefish Grill (98)
  • KFC (98)
  • Peet’s Coffee (98)
  • Steak ‘n Shake (98)
  • The Cheesecake Factor (98)
  • TGI Fridays (97)
  • Whataburger (97)
  • Five Guys (96)
  • Panda Express (96)
  • Carrabba’s (96)
  • Texas Roadhouse (95)
  • Boston Market (93)
  • California Pizza Kitchen (93)
  • Checkers/Rally’s (93)
  • Noodles & Co. (93)
  • 7-Eleven (92)
  • Friendly’s (92)
  • El Pollo Loco (91)
  • Potbelly (91)
  • Sheetz (91)
  • Popeyes (90)

CHALLENGED

  • McAlister’s (89)
  • Yard House (89)
  • Papa Murphy’s (88)
  • Smoothie King (88)
  • Little Caesars (87)
  • Wawa (87)
  • Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s (86)
  • Culver’s (86)
  • Sweetgreen (86)
  • Bob Evans (85)
  • Maggiano’s (83)
  • Carvel (82)
  • Shake Shack (82)
  • Caribou Coffee (81)
  • Jack in the Box (81)
  • Tim Hortons (80)
  • Bojangles (79)
  • Ruby Tuesday (78)
  • Del Taco (77)
  • Golden Corral (77)
  • Pinkberry (77)
  • Coffee Bean Tea Leaf (77)
  • Coffee Stumptown Roasters (76)
  • Häagen-Dazs (75)
  • Blue Bottle Coffee (74)
  • Corner Bakery Café (74)
  • Bar Louie (72)
  • Saladworks (72)
  • Blaze Pizza (71)
  • In-N-Out Burger (71)
  • Yougurtland (71)
  • Juice Press (70)

FEEBLE

  • Chopt (69)
  • Zoe’s Kitchen (69)
  • Auntie Anne’s (68)
  • Church’s Chicken (67)
  • Philz Coffee (66)
  • Circle K (65)
  • Freshii (65)
  • Intelligentsia Coffee (65)
  • Pie Five (65)
  • Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen (64)
  • Le Pain Quotidien (63)
  • Argo Tea (62)
  • Au Bon Pain (62)
  • Johnny Rockets (62)
  • La Colombe (62)
  • Red Mango (62)
  • &pizza (61)
  • Nando’s (61)
  • Einstein Bro’s (58)
  • Miller’s Ale House (58)
  • Waffle house (58)
  • Cinnabon (57)
  • Dutch Bros Coffee (53)
  • Nature’s Table (51)
  • Long John Silver’s (50)
  • Gregory’s Coffee (47)
  • Huddle House (42)
  • Tasti D lite (41)

Taking a deeper look at some of the standouts, Starbucks topped the list due to a few factors. For Site & Courier Services, L2 said the brand, “earns high traffic with compelling video content, geolocation, and sophisticated merchandising; connects customers to all of the brand’s digital content.” It also leads in organic visibility against coffee keyword searches and dominates the report in terms of Instagram engagement with 80 million interactions, which accounted for one-third of interactions earned by brands across the major platforms. L2 also lauded Starbucks’ mobile presence by calling its app best-in-class for its loyalty integration, order for pickup, and voice-activated Barista Bot.

“Starbucks tops L2’s Index with an unparalleled mobile experience. The Rewards app has the most ratings in the Index on iOS and earns a rating of 4.5 stars with Starbucks Rewards integration, order for pickup, and the voice-activated Barista Bot. Starbucks also excels on mobile-centered Instagram, with its primary account earning one-third of total social engagements during the study period,” Duffy says.

Pizza Hut, Duffy says, thrives thanks to its mobile site. The chain also earned 5 million Facebook interactions during the study period with frequent Hut Rewards promotions. It also invests in display advertising, placing fourth in terms of desktop impressions.

Of Panera, Duff says, “Panera is a leader in digital in-store integration. In addition to facilitating orders for delivery, pickup, and catering, Panera offers Order from My Table, allowing customers sitting in restaurants to skip the line by placing orders on their phones and have the order brought to their table.” Some highlights include personalizing emails with customer names in the subject line and a So Much More Than Green campaign that generated more than 6 million views on YouTube.

Domino’s reigned on Android with nearly a million ratings and more than 10 million downloads. “Domino’s Pizza Tracker is also mobile optimized, allowing customers to see where their order is in real time. Domino’s also performs well in mobile SEO, appearing against two-thirds of keyword searches for pizza category terms,” Duffy says.

Overall, only 3 percent of all the brands tested ranked in the genius category. Gifted was 21 percent; average 28 percent; challenged 25 percent; and feeble 22 percent. This shows how much runway is available to restaurant brands looking to use digital to fill in some of the missing sales gaps.