Top 6 Restaurant Brands Dominating the Mobile Game in 2015

Take a look around you.

Whether you’re clinging to a railing on the subway, tittering at your desk, or sitting at a restaurant with your friends while waiting for your order to come sweeping in (maybe even especially then), you’d be hard-pressed to find someone without a nose to a mobile device, the glow of all of those electronic screens clustered together almost like a flurry of fireflies, or stars in the night sky.

But poetics aside, mobile usage has taken over, and no one’s surprised by its digital domination.

In 2008, analyst Mary Meeker of Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, released a bold statement in the headlines of her annual technology trend review: “Mobile to overtake fixed Internet access by 2014.”

She wasn’t wrong.

According to Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, nearly two-thirds of Americans today are now smartphone owners, many of whom declare mobile devices are their main point of entry into the online world. On top of that, one in five millennials no longer use desktop or laptop computers period, relying solely on smartphones and tablets. And with Forbes stating that at 80 million, millennials represent a quarter of the population and $200 billion in annual buying power, where does that leave our industry?

Mobile marketing is no longer a luxury -- it’s a necessity to keep things cooking in the kitchen. So, without further ado, meet the Mobile Masters for the first two quarters of 2015. These brands have the top scores for mobile, backed up with the unstructured data pulled from DigitalCoCo’s Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI). We’ve filtered mobile social transactions and took a look at how these mobile interactions impacted brand engagement.

How It Works

The RSMI is pulled from the largest culinary, restaurant and hospitality term database in the business, built on more than two decades of industry and domain expertise. More than 15K restaurant brands and 127M U.S. social consumers across 17 social media platforms are tracked. The Index also tracks more than 188K industry terms in over 430K locations. For more information on the RSMI, click here, or submit your information here to make sure your restaurant is included in the Index.

Top 3 Mobile Brands Q1: January to March

1. Panera | Mobile Score: 90.19

With almost 2,000 restaurants across the nation, it’s not all that shocking Panera Bread Co. is among the top in mobile. Consumers enjoy Panera’s commitment to flavorful and healthy food options. Back in an April 2014 press release, Panera executives unveiled technological upgrades they dubbed “Panera 2.0.” Along with an emphasis for kiosk ordering, operational modifications and plans for smaller restaurants, the company upped its mobile game.

Rapid Pick-Up gave customers the ability to place their orders online or through mobile up to five days in advance, and even at pre-determined times, without waiting in line. This was bolstered by its mobile app, MyPanera, which stores the customer’s purchase history and credit card information for future use. These efforts were not made in vain. In April this year, Panera’s stock rose by almost 11%. Now in its third national campaign, analysts predicted the company would increase store sales by another 3% toward the second quarter.

2. SONIC Drive-In | Mobile Score: 90.11

SONIC Drive-In and its more than 3,500 restaurants serves about 3 million customers per day, so whenever Sonic Corp. issues changes, literally millions of consumers are impacted. The company first dipped its toes into mobile waters back in 2011, when it partnered with OLO Online Ordering to test out a program that allowed customers to order via their mobile devices. The program launched as “Sonic On the Go.” Later in 2013, CARDFREE announced that SONIC selected it as a mobile commerce platform.

“We’re looking forward to launching an industry-changing and uniquely-integrated mobile solution that will enhance the way we engage with our customers,” Sonic Corp. CIO, Craig Miller, said.

And SONIC did. Its mobile app, My Sonic, allows consumers to manage their birthday freebies and print offers, as well as give guests the opportunity to receive news and exclusive offers via text. During the first quarter of 2015, Sonic Corp. announced double earnings per share and an 11.5% growth of same-store sales.

3. Firehouse Subs | Mobile Score: 89.25

Firehouse Subs is spreading like a wildfire, approaching 1,000 locations and aiming to hit 2,000 by 2020. Beyond its rapid growth, there are many other facets to the company that draw in consumers like a moth to a flame. Its Public Safety Foundation, which has donated more than $14 million to improving the life-saving capabilities of local heroes and organizations, as well as its spin-off blog called “HeroFuel,”* which shares a daily dose of feel-good news and positive stories and adds to its mobile traffic, has further solidified Firehouse Subs as a one-of-a-kind brand.

During the C-Level Roundtable Session at the 2014 CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit, CEO Don Fox discussed a mobile app in the works. The Firehouse Rewards app is currently only available in a few metros, including Jacksonville, Fla.; Chicago, Ill.; and San Diego, Calif., and grants guests points for each purchase, which they can use to redeem tasty gifts. If Firehouse Subs has already landed in the Top 3 Mobile scores without an official app launch, could you imagine where this brand will go once it becomes available nationwide?

*Editor's Note: Firehouse Subs is a client of Foodable's sister company, DigitalCoCo.

Top 3 Mobile Brands Q2: April to June

1. Chipotle | Mobile Score: 91.56

Chipotle, Chipotle, Chipotle. You’d have to be living under a rock (buried layers-deep to the Earth’s core) to not know that this brand is the poster child of all things fast casual. Despite not making it into the Top 3 in the first quarter, Chipotle has received the highest mobile score of all the brands in the first half of 2015 at a sound 91.56. A few factors could have driven this mobile traffic. There’s no doubt that its latest decisions have garnered much discussion: from its OMG-no-GMOs, “Food With Integrity” campaign this quarter, along with its unexpected backlash and scientific debate on the credibility of this movement, Chipotle has been all over social media.

In spite of the criticism it has received, Chipotle is still a well-loved brand -- and not only for its food and Chipotle Ordering App, which further streamlines its already easy-to-fly-through restaurant wait times. This brand captivates its consumers with its “Cultivating Thought” series, which features witty, inspirational bits of literature on its bags and cups, as well as its free “Cultivate” festival, which combines music and the sustainable, healthy food movement with local flair.

2. Dunkin’ Donuts | Mobile Score: 90.35

Dunkin’ Donuts, self-proclaimed as America’s favorite every day, all-day stop for coffee and baked goods, has upped the ante. Toward the end of the second quarter and as of late, websites such as Business Insider and Food World News have deemed Dunkin’ Donuts as the new threat to Starbucks with its exploration into teas. Its Dunkin’ Mobile App aside, which allows consumers to redeem reward points and exclusive offers, major company milestones have surely bolstered its mobile score.

For example, in the beginning of June, CEO Nigel Travis announced that the chain is looking to add a delivery service, as well as develop a mobile ordering system. That same month, Dunkin’ Donuts launched another payment option -- Visa Checkout became integrated into its existing app. With a few clicks, guests can sip a cuppa’ Joe with one hand and pay with the other.

“Visa Checkout gives us yet another powerful way to save our guests valuable time in their busy day, and make it easier than ever to keep running on Dunkin’,” said Scott Hudler, vice president of global consumer engagement.

3. SONIC Drive-In | Mobile Score: 90.16

In the first half of 2015, SONIC is the only brand to carry through from one quarter to the next. Although it bumped down to third place in Q2, it has still increased its mobile score as a whole to 90.16. In other interesting news, SONIC is playing with a new platform: Snapchat’s recent update, the elimination of having to hold down photos to view them, has had the quick-service restaurant jumping in to incorporate the new function and secure fans. Sonic Corp. sent a series of snaps, celebrating the relief of the users’ fingers.

“The better user-viewing experience allows us to...get the benefit of full-screen impact,” said Sarah Beddow, VP of national marketing.

“It is a native behavior for users to take screenshots of snaps and post them to Twitter or other platforms. Now that action is frictionless, and that allows for us to lean into Snapchat as a tool to not only tell stories on Snapchat, but also across platforms.”

And there you have it, the Mobile Masters among thousands and thousands of restaurant brands. But hold the (smart)phone! We still have the rest of 2015 to go. Which brands will follow the footsteps of Panera, SONIC, Firehouse Subs, Chipotle and Dunkin’ Donuts? What innovative ways will they all manipulate the mobile experience?

Regardless of how the rankings unfold, one thing’s for sure: all brands must go mobile. Not only is mobile the way most in the U.S. access their information, this technology powerfully reaches customers in a location-based, real-time way. Mobile marketing is the key to success for all the doors they want to open.