Food chains in the US turn tech-savvy to attract customers

Restaurants, food joints and bars invariably thrive on increased quantum of repeat business. This is not getting easier, as customers now increasingly demand more than just satisfactory service, quality food and drinks. They are keen to be engaged and entertained. Businesses in a bid to reach out to food lovers are turning to social media. Many of them are employing location-based tools to win customers’ nod of approval and loyalty.

Tracking the trend, an interesting news report in The New York Times throws light on restaurant chains that are embarking on innovative campaigns. For example, Buffalo Wild Wings, a national food chain, which offers a mix of casual dining and televised sports, has decided to launch ‘Home Court Advantage’ campaign.

Involving a vital demographic online

The idea behind it is to involve its regular customers beyond the ubiquitous smartphone ‘check-in’ that they use to mark their arrival. It’s working with location-based social media service (Scvngr) to unveil contests and rewards beginning this month for its customers. Its target audience is tech-savvy basketball lovers, a vital demographic for the restaurant. The chain is trying to add another enticing layer to smartphone customer giveaways in form of rewards and incentives.

Customers can create their own challenges – digitally or in-restaurant – to win points for attractive prizes, like a trip to the NBA finals with Scottie Pippen. The new contests drew over 10,000 enthusiasts in the first week itself. Christopher Mahl, senior vice president of brands at Scvngr, explained: “It’s very social – quite akin to tailgating, albeit in a restaurant.”

‘Social engagement’ on the Web

The NYT writer  Elizabeth Olson points out that the social media ventures Foursquare, Loopt, Scvngr and Gowalla are looking to reach the people in their early 20s and 30s who make use of their mobile devices to flag their presence at a favorite spot, and to notify others of their location. Though millions of people have already signed onto such platforms, just about 4 percent of smartphone users in the US are estimated to have tried them out.

The most recent survey done by Forrester Research indicates that mere 1 percent of users turn to these sites more than once a week. Mostly men, roughly 70 percent of them in the age group of 19 to 35, they make the ideal customer profile of chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, looking for ‘social engagement’ on the Web.

Innovative digital approaches to increase business

Many food outlets are striving to increase business through innovative digital approaches, considered cost-effective than paper coupons and traditional print advertising. For example, a California-based chain, Fatburger, forged an alliance with Loopt and Fox TV to promote the new animated series. Incidentally, ‘Bob’s Burgers’ revolves around a family-run burger business.

The hamburger purveyor revamped some of its stores to resemble a Bob’s Burgers store as part of its marketing efforts. Some of them even served free Bob’s Burgers. The company sent its ‘Fatmobile’ to distribute hamburgers for free in Los Angeles. Loopt’s vice president of marketing, Alice Lancaster, was quoted as saying: “The idea got people off their feet. Some 1,300 of them happened to check in during a 4-hour period.”

Such encouraging user response is prompting the way tech-savvy brands are turning to social media, according to Ms. Lancaster. She added that the location-based social media service temporarily rebranded two taco trucks in a partnership with Virgin America with specials in California for marketing the airline’s Mexico flights.