Total Restaurant Industry Visits are Down but These Brands see a Major Spike

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

The consumers’ smart phone obsession has created a world where brands can engage, track and target their customers better than ever. With the location data that can be pulled from these remarkable devices, restaurant operators can measure in-store customer visits, while tracking ROI.

Location-based actions (LBAs) are when guests share their dining experience on social media with a “check in” on Facebook, Foursquare and other social media platforms. These actions document a guest’s in-store visit, while broadcasting their visit to their followers. This is exactly the kind of organic conversations you want from your customers. It's also a way to measure if your restaurant visits have increased or decreased. 

Through Foodable Labs and data pulled from the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI,) a proprietary system of our sister company DigitalCoCo– we track over 151 million US social restaurant consumers across 17 social platforms. With over 21k restaurant brands and 507K US store locations indexed, Foodable has just pulled the second quarter data (for the months of April, May and June) for 2016. 

In terms of LBAs, the number has dropped to 344 million from the 369 million in the first quarter. “This is the biggest hit we have seen in the last four years in tracking location based actions for the restaurant industry,” said Paul Barron, founder of the Restaurant Social Media Index. 

Interestingly enough, the top 10 brands and some other leading brands had an impressive increase in LBAs. 

 “What we are seeing are less occasions so the brands that are dominating social and creative media campaigns are gobbling up the competitors traffic which has slowed for some brands. Unique winners like Taco Bell, Arby's, Jersey Mikes and Tender Greens are seeing the most impact from the consumers who are eating out,” said Barron.

Let’s take a closer look at how some of the top 10 brands are encouraging these LBAs with effective social campaigns. 

Why Taco Bell's Restaurant Visits are Up

This quick-serve chain with over 6,000 stores has created a particularly loyal almost cult-like following on social media by rapidly engaging with customers and sharing user-generated content. 

The brand consistently validates customers by not only listening to their complements and complaints, but then responds accordingly. For example, in April Taco Bell bought back the beloved Beefy Crunch Burrito and the Cheesy Double Beef Burrito after fans started the ‪#‎BeefyCrunchMovement. Taco Bell fans took to social media and begged the brand to bring the burrito back starting in 2011. The chain briefly reintroduced the Beefy Crunch Burrito for the second time in 2013. But, it was removed again. This only added fuel to the fire as the ‪#‎BeefyCrunchMovement was ignited with an official Facebook group dedicated to the campaign, along with thousands of posts on all social media platforms pleading that Taco Bell bring back the Beefy Crunch. The brand heard their passionate fans loud and clear and brought it back again.

Then in May, the brand had an influx of LBAs from the holiday Cinco de Mayo. To celebrate, the taco chain launched a campaign with limited edition taco holsters. This encourage customers to share their colorfully wrapped tacos in honor of the holiday, while checking in at stores.

These kinds of campaigns fostered guests to visit and participate in LBAs at Taco Bell with social posts like “Yay! The beefy crunch taco is FINALLY back” and “time to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with my fav.”  

The brand saw a 3.25% increase in LBAs from the first quarter of the year.  

Arby’s LBAs jump by 11.24%

Fast food chains represent the majority of the brands that experienced an increase in LBAs. In the 2nd quarter, Arby’s restaurant visits were up with an impressive 11.24% increase in LBAs since the last quarter. 

Taco Bell’s former VP of Brand Marketing, Rob Lynch signed on as the Brand President and CMO at Arby’s in October 2013. That is when the marketing at the quick-serve got a total makeover. 

Social media became much more of a priority. Before Lynch joined the Arby’s team, there was one guy monitoring the restaurant’s social channels. Lynch created a full team for social engagement and management. “One of the first things I did was build a social-listening center and made sure that we had the right personnel in place to make sure that we were not only pushing out the right content but also listening,” said Lynch to CMO.com. 

Since then the brand has been especially responsive and engaging on social. “For us, social media is a two-way street. Social is just as important as a listening tool as it is an engagement tool. We do very little sales-driving advertising on Arby’s social media. Most of our content is about engaging--creating an emotional and thought-provoking connection with our guests and fans. We put out content about what is happening in culture or our brand that we think is interesting, and we are adding value to the social feeds that our guests are paying attention to,” said Lynch to Adweek.

The brand cleverly pairs their menu items with pop culture references in photos or short animated videos posted on social media. It’s not uncommon for these share-worthy images to get 40k+ shares and 200K+ likes.

Shake Shack and Tender Greens Visits are Also Up

Although quick-serve giants experienced an increase in-store visits and LBAs, there are some fast casual brands that received a significant increase in LBAs. 

Shake Shack, a concept that started as a wildly popularly food stand/shack in NYC’s Central Park, is rapidly expanding. With more stores, the more burger lovin’ consumers can show off their smartphone photography skills with Shake Shack menu items. The brand posts on Facebook roughly two times a day and majority of its social posts are crowdsourced from their guests. This encourages foodies to bring their food snapping game, while tagging the brand and “checking in” to their local store. Shake Shack’s LBAs jumped by 9.23% from the first quarter of 2016. 

Another Danny Meyer backed fast casual, Tender Greens also had a major increase in LBAs in quarter two with a 11.98% spike. The good-for-you concept has as simple approach to social with sharing links to its active blog and user-generated content. 

Want to see if you restaurant's visits were up last quarter? For more information, reach out to DigitalCoCo here.